Should a Christian celebrate Christmas?

When they first hear this question, many people are perplexed by the seeming ridiculousness of it. “Of course Christians should celebrate Christmas,” they say, “after all, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the founder of the Christian faith, isn’t it?” But, it isn’t that simple. There has been controversy over the observance of Christmas since the time Christmas began being celebrated. Why, you ask? There are two primary reasons. First, it is unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25. Second, many of the traditions that go along with Christmas have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ. So, again, the question: Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

Regarding December 25, the first record of December 25 being Jesus’ birthday is found in the writings of Hyppolytus, who lived from AD 170—236. December 25 is also identified as Jesus’ birthday in the writings of John Chrysostom and Cyril of Jerusalem. There is good reason to be suspicious of December 25, however. The days immediately preceding December 25 were when the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a festival for the Roman titan Saturn. Many believe that December 25 was selected as the day of Jesus’ birth so that Christmas would replace Saturnalia. Some Christmas traditions do seem to be at least vaguely similar to aspects of the ancient Saturnalia celebration.

The Bible nowhere specifically indicates the day, or even time of year, that Jesus was born. Based on information given regarding the conception of John the Baptist (Luke 1), some Bible scholars believe the fall, September—October, would be a more likely time for Jesus’ birth. Whatever the case, the key point is that the Bible does not say on what day Jesus was born. So, ultimately, December 25 is no more or less likely to be Jesus’ birthday than any other day of the year. December 25 has a 1-in-365 chance of being Jesus’ birthday, just like every other day on the calendar. So, since December 25 has been recognized as the day of Jesus’ birth for nearly 2000 years at this point, we might as well go with it.

Regarding Christmas traditions, it is absolutely true that Christmas trees, bells, candles, lights, holly, mistletoe, Santa Claus, reindeer, etc., etc., have nothing to do with what the Bible says about Jesus’ birth. Some of these traditions have clear parallels in non-Christian religions and/or pagan origins. At the same time, none of these traditions are evil, sinful, or anti-Christian in and of themselves. If a person is bowing down to a Christmas tree and worshipping it, yes, obviously that is a sin. But, if a Christmas tree is simply a decoration, it is no more or less wrong than any other decoration. The determining factor in the rightness/wrongness of it is faith (Romans 14:23).

For me, what it comes down to is this — was Jesus born? Yes. Is Jesus’ birth worth celebrating? Yes. Was Jesus born on December 25? Probably not. Is December 25 just as good as any other day of the year? Yes. Should Christians allow Santa Claus and Christmas trees to becoming the focus of Christmas? Absolutely not. Can Christians use these cultural traditions to point people to the true meaning of Christmas? Absolutely!

So, please, let’s stop arguing about Christmas and instead be grateful there is a holiday that is still at least slightly related to the Christian faith…and an easy bridge to sharing the gospel with someone.

S. Michael Houdmann

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Should a Christian celebrate Christmas?