Should Christians Celebrate Easter and Christmas?
Thank you so very much for your insights and teachings on God's Word. I would like to know your thoughts about Christmas and Easter holidays. In your opinion do you think it is wrong to celebrate these holidays since they have their roots in pagan worship, or do you believe that it is permissible to celebrate these holidays and bring glory to God because we afre focusing on the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ? What about Santa Claus?
Thank you for your email, and for visiting our site. Let me try to answer your questions. I know that there are a few Christians who believe it is wrong to celebrate Easter and Christmas because the roots of these holidays are in paganism. There is no doubt that they have their roots in paganism. This is not disputed. What I do believe should be examined is the argument that says anything which has its roots in paganism should be avoided by Christians today. I would argue that nearly everything in our culture is rooted in paganism. Even the names of the months of the year and planets are named after pagan gods. The names of the days of the week also have their origin in paganism. "Thursday originally stood for the Germanic god of the sky or of thunder. Tuesday stood for Tiw, the god of war. And Wednesday is derived from Woden, the chief god in Germanic mythology. Sunday and Monday were related somehow to the worship of the sun and the moon.. Saturday is from Saturnus, or Saturn, and Friday comes from Fria, the goddess of love."1 The basic idea behind our government is Roman, which is a pagan culture. The fact of the matter is that our entire culture is rooted in paganism. Just because something has its roots in paganism, does not mean that it is evil today. The question we must ask ourselves is whether something that is pagan in origin still carries the same pagan connotations it once did. Christmas and Easter were Roman pagan holidays. Christmas came from the Roman feast of the Unconquered Sun (Sol Invictus) celebrated on December 25th. Later, when Christianity was legalized by Constantine I, this feast day was replaced with a celebration of Christ's birth. Obviously in our culture Christmas and Easter have become Christian in meaning instead of pagan. That which has its roots in paganism is often divorced from its original meaning, and invested with new, non-pagan meaning over time. This has been the case with Easter and Christmas.
If we were to try to divorce ourselves from everything pagan, we would have to go out of society. The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a Christian culture. Christians can only separate themselves from evil aspects of the culture as much as they can, and attempt to live the best godly lives they know how. The question remains, then, as to what is evil in the culture. Part of the solution lies in common sense. Applying common-sense to the Easter and Christmas issue, when people see Christians celebrating Easter and Christmas, do they view this as a pagan celebration, or a Christian celebration? Of course they view it as Christian. The pagan roots of these holidays have been divorced from these holidays, and they have been invested with new Christian meaning, and even new American cultural meaning. Easter egg hunting, Easter bunnies, and Christmas trees may have had pagan meaning, but they have been replaced with an American cultural meaning which has nothing to do with their original meaning.
Some object to celebrating Christmas or Easter because we are not commanded in the Scripture to do so. While it is a truthful observation that we are not commanded to do such, I would question as to whether or not the lack of such a prescriptive command means that we cannot celebrate the birth of Christ or His day of resurrection (Easter)? A lack of mention is not tantamount to a prohibition. The Scripture does not mention many good things the church does: choirs, Sunday-school, prayer-altars, and pews. These may not be necessary, but it is quite presumptuous to argue that we should not do these things simply because they are not mentioned in Scripture. We must be sure that our practices are consistent with the Bible's explicit commands, and principles, but we are being illogical to say that we cannot do something if it is not mentioned in the Scripture.
Others object to celebrating Christmas as the birth of Christ due to the fact that we cannot be certain that this was the date of the Lord's birth, and in fact, probably was not the exact date of his birth even though December 25th is a very old Christian tradition for the date (Luke 2:8 says that "there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over there flock by night." This suggests that the time was possibly mid-fall, or early spring, not December, because shepherds would normally not be in the fields so late in the year, but the evidence is not conclusive even in this regards). The fact that we cannot be absolutely certain as to the date of Christ's birth does not negate the possibility of celebrating His birth. The date Jesus was born is not the center of the Christmas holiday, but rather His birth itself.
For the above reasons I do believe that it is good to celebrate Easter and Christmas because we are celebrating the resurrection and birth of Christ by doing so. In fact, when non-Christians see Christians who refuse to celebrate these Christian holidays, it sends a very confusing message to them. Not only do I believe it is permissible to celebrate these holidays, but I also believe that it may be a bad witness to the world if we refuse to do so. I remember a time when a lady asked me what I was going to do for Christmas, and I didnít really seem too excited about the holiday, explaining to her that I am not a big holiday person. She was so shocked because I was a minister who did not seem excited about Christmas, which in her words "Was a celebration of Christís birth." I learned right then and there how the world views Christmas, and the way in which they expect Christians to respond to the holiday.
What about Santa Claus? Is it wrong for a Christian to add this fabricated characther to the Christmas season? To the surprise of many, the myth of Santa Claus is actually based on a true historical figure: Bishop Nicholas of Myra. The Biblical Studies Foundation relates the historical basis behind Santa Claus in the following manner:
During the fourth century, a young man by the name of Nicholas lived in the country of Myra (modern-day Turkey). He was reared by Christian parents who faithfully taught him the Bible. Nicholas particularly enjoyed hearing stories about Jesus. When his mother told him how Jesus healed the sick, cared for the needy and performed miracles, he found himself wishing Jesus were still on earth. Later, he discovered the Church, Christ's body on earth, is responsible for carrying on His mission.
During his teen years, his wealthy parents died, leaving Nicholas a great fortune. With time on his hands, he often attended church services, seeking God's will for his life. A few weeks later the local bishop also died. Finding a replacement for the respected clergyman would be a difficult assignment. One night, the head of the church council was told in a dream to stand by the front door of the church the next morning, and ask each entering person his name. The first person responding, "Nicholas", was to be appointed the new bishop.
You can imagine young Nicholas' surprise when confronted by the church official. After much consideration, he accepted the appointment as Bishop of Myra around 300 AD
Bishop Nicholas was a staunch defender of God's Word. When the Arian heresy (which denied the deity of Jesus Christ) raised its ugly head, Nicholas strongly opposed it. Because of this bold stance for Christ, he was imprisoned by Diocletian, the evil Roman emperor. He was not released until Constantine became emperor. According to tradition, Nicholas was a participant in the Council of Nicea (325 AD), the stalwart body who gave us the Nicene Creed.
Early in his ministry, Bishop Nicholas learned the importance of a faith that works. This faith motivated all the bishop's actions. He personally felt responsible for meeting the needs of his parish, and dedicated his enormous wealth to this end. At times, he disguised himself and secretly visited the homes of the most needy. Under the cloak of darkness, he delivered food, clothing and money. The recipients had no idea where the blessings originated. As far as they were concerned, the Lord had answered their prayers and met their needs.
The story of a nobleman's three daughters perhaps best illustrates the magnitude of Nicholas' generosity. Having lost his entire fortune, a nobleman was left without means of paying his daughters' dowry. This gift was customarily given by a father to help the couple begin their marriage. Without an adequate dowry, a young lady could not find a respectable mate. One daughter decided to sell herself into slavery to provide a dowry for her sisters. When Nicholas heard of the predicament, he secretly went to the noblemen's house at night and threw in a bag of gold. At a later date, he tossed in a second bag. When it came time for the third daughter to be married, the nobleman was determined to discover the identity if his secret benefactor. He tied a string around the circumference of the house, attaching several bells. When the culprit approached the house, his foot would touch the string and ring the bells. He would be caught in the act! Sure enough, Nicholas was apprehended. The embarrassed bishop made the father promise he would not tell the secret. The father's vow was short-lived. Word spread quickly throughout Myra that Bishop Nicholas was responsible for the hundreds of good deeds performed over the years.
Nicholas began teaching others the blessings of secret giving (Matthew 6:1-4). As a result, many learned how greatly God uses those not seeking personal recognition. Upon his death, some citizens of Myra picked up where Nicholas left off. They secretly began meeting the deepest needs of hurting souls, desiring no credit for their benevolent actions. When the recipients asked who provided the gifts, their neighbors merrily replied, "Saint Nicholas must have brought them!" The practice of secret giving brought great joy to the people of Myra.
Italian sailors, whose ships frequently docked in Myra, took the story and teachings of Saint Nicholas back to their homeland. Before long, the practice of secret giving had spread throughout the Western world. Wherever the story of Nicholas was told, a spark of generosity was ignited within the hearts of the listeners. Many began giving in secret.
When the customs of Nicholas filtered into Germany, the old saint's name was translated Saint Nicklaus. From Germany, the story of Saint Nicklaus was carried into Holland. In the Dutch language, his name became Sinter Klaus. The Hollanders brought the traditions of the ancient bishop to the New World. They settled in New Amsterdam (modern-day New York City). Thus, Saint Nick burst onto the American scene in the early 1600s. In the English language, Sinter Klaus became Santa Claus.2
I do believe we would do well as Christians to beware of the Americanized version and cultural story of Saint Nicholas. We teach our children through tradition and songs that Santa Claus sees them when they are sleeping, knows when they're awake, and knows if they've been bad or good. He is a being with unbelievable abilities. He can visit every house in the world in twenty-four hours. Santa is a figure being portrayed as omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Santa Claus sure sounds a lot like God! What happens when we finally tell our children that Santa Claus really doesn't exist, but God does?! Isn't God also omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient? To make matters worse, God cannot be seen. He is invisible. A child is prone to reasoning that if Santa (and the Easter Bunny for that matter) does not exist, maybe God doesn't exist either. As adults we can separate Santa from God, and view Santa as a cultural, mythical figure associated with Christmas cheer, but a child does not have the logic of an adult and is likely to confuse the two, which might hinder their faith in the real person of Jesus Christ. I do not claim that a child who has believed in Santa will reject God. I myself was taught to believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny, and still believed in God. I did, however, briefly question God's existence when I found out that Santa and the Easter Bunny did not truly exist. It is possible to incorporate Santa Claus into Christmas cheer without propagating the "cultural theology" of his nature by communicating the historical roots of his person, and explaining to the children that there is no real being named Santa who can see all, know all, and do all. Santa should never be the focus of the Christmas holiday, but rather Jesus Christ Himself.
I hope these comments have been of value to you in working out your own opinion on this subject.
1. J. Hampton Keathley, "Should Christians Celebrate Christmas," available from http://www.bible.org/docs/pastor/seasonal/xmas/argument.htm; Internet; accessed 4 January 2001. <back>
2. "What About Santa," available from http://www.bible.org/docs/pastor/seasonal/xmas/santa.htm; Internet; accessed 4 January 2001. <back>
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