article by Scott Ashley
It’s that time of year again! You’ll soon be barraged by the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. Shoppers will soon go into spending overdrive, and when the bills arrive, some will wonder if it’s really worth it. Here’s a perspective from one who kicked the Christmas habit.
What’s the real meaning behind Christmas?
Christmas is a hugely popular holiday celebrated by some 2 billion people worldwide. It has become such an ingrained part of modern culture that even people in nations with little or no Christian history or tradition are celebrating it in increasing numbers.
Christmas is so big that it plays a key role in the economies of many nations. In the U.S. retail industry, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday is commonly known as “Black Friday”—not because it’s bad, but because this marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and stores that have been “in the red”—operating at a loss all year—suddenly see their sales shoot up so fast that they are now operating in the black (at a profit) the rest of the year. “Black Friday” is the biggest shopping day of the year due to its Christmas sales.
Christmas is big— very big. Schools and colleges commonly take a week or longer break at this time, some businesses shut down to give their employees time off, many families plan trips and get-togethers, and some people darken the door of a church for perhaps the first time all year.
So it’s not surprising that I get some pretty shocked looks when I tell people I don’t celebrate Christmas. That is unusual for anyone, much less someone who has been an ordained minister for 15 years and edits a Christian magazine.
So what is up with this? Why would no one want to celebrate Christmas like nearly everybody else? Are there valid reasons for not participating in all the holiday hoopla?
American Late Show television program host David Letterman is famous for his “top 10” lists in which he offers pointed commentary about popular culture and current events. So here I offer my top 9 reasons for not celebrating Christmas!
1. Christmas is driven by commercialism.
It is not that difficult to recognize what really drives the holiday in our age. Cal Thomas, an American syndicated columnist who often writes from a Christian perspective, acknowledged uncomfortable truths about Christmas in a December 2003 column.
“I’m not sure it’s worth keeping Christmas anymore,” he began, lamenting that the holiday has become a “road show of reindeer, winter scenes, elves and the God substitute, Santa Claus, who serves as a front for merchants seeking to play on the guilt some parents bear for ignoring their kids the rest of the year.”
He asks a great question: “Why participate any longer in this charade where the focal point of worship has shifted from a babe in a manger to a babe in the Victoria ‘s Secret window? . . . No room in the inn has been replaced by no room in the mall parking lot.”
But perhaps his most insightful statement is this: “It’s instructive how just one season away from lusting after material things can break the habit. It’s something like liberation from an addiction or lifestyle choice. Being away from it can cause one to realize the behaviour is neither missed nor needed for fulfilment and enjoyment.”
Having said good-bye to the Christmas habit several decades ago, I couldn’t have said it better myself!
2. Christmas is nowhere mentioned in the Bible.
This is rather obvious, but most people never give it a second thought. The books of the New Testament cover 30+ years of Jesus Christ’s life, then another 30+ years of the early Church following His death and resurrection, but nowhere do we find any hint of a Christmas celebration or anything remotely like it.
Yes, the Bible does give us quite a few details of His birth—the angelic appearance to Mary and then Joseph, the conditions surrounding His birth in a stable in Bethlehem, the heavenly choir’s performance for the shepherds in the fields outside the town. But nowhere in the Bible is there any record of anyone observing Christmas or any hint that God the Father or Jesus Christ expects us to do so.
3. Jesus wasn’t born on or near Dec. 25.
Surprising but true! Remember those shepherds who were “living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night”? (Luke 2:8). December weather around Bethlehem is often miserably cold, wet and rainy. No shepherd in his right mind would have kept his flocks outside at night at that time of year!
The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary says this passage argues “against the birth [of Christ] occurring on Dec. 25 since the weather would not have permitted” shepherds to be out in the fields with their flocks then.
And Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays tells us that Luke’s account of Christ’s birth “suggests that Jesus may have been born in summer or early fall. Since December is cold and rainy in Judea, it is likely the shepherds would have sought shelter for their flocks at night” (p. 309) rather than keeping them outdoors.
Also, Luke 2:1-4 tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because his parents came to that town to register in a Roman census. The Romans were well known as highly efficient administrators. It would have made no sense to have conducted a census in the dead of winter, when temperatures often dropped below freezing and travelling was difficult due to poor road conditions. Taking a census under such conditions would have been self-defeating!
4. The Christmas holiday is largely a recycled pagan celebration.
Again, surprising but true! Read it for yourself in just about any encyclopaedia.
Consider the customs associated with Christmas. What do decorated evergreen trees, holly, mistletoe, yule logs, a jolly plump man in a fur-lined red suit, sleighs and flying reindeer have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ?
None of these things have anything to do with Him, but they have a lotto do with ancient pagan festivals. (Read the eye-opening details in our free booklet Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep? )
And what about the date of Dec. 25? How did it come to be assigned as the supposed date of Jesus Christ’s birth? Historians Gerard and Patricia Del Re explain:
“The tradition of celebrating December 25 as Christ’s birthday came to the Romans from Persia. Mithra, the Persian god of light and sacred contracts, was born out of a rock on December 25. Rome was famous for its flirtations with strange gods and cults, and in the third century the unchristian emperor Aurelian established the festival of Dies Invicti Solis, the Day of the Invincible Sun, on December 25.
“Mithra was an embodiment of the sun, so this period of its rebirth was a major day in Mithraism, which had become Rome’s latest official religion . . . It is believed that the emperor Constantine adhered to Mithraism up to the time of his conversion to Christianity. He was probably instrumental in seeing that the major feast of his old religion was carried over to his new faith” ( The Christmas Almanac, 1979, p. 17).
It’s difficult to determine the first time anyone celebrated Dec. 25 as Christmas, but historians generally agree that it was sometime during the fourth century—some 300 years after Christ’s death. And then a contrived date was chosen because it was already a popular pagan holiday celebrating the birth of the sun god!
Similarly, virtually all of the customs associated with Christmas are recycled from ancient pagan festivals honouring other gods.
5. God condemns using pagan customs to worship Him.
Since Christmas is supposedly a day to worship and celebrate God the Father and Jesus Christ, wouldn’t it be a good idea to look into the Bible to see what it says about how we should worship God?
The answer is quite clear. God gives specific instruction about using pagan practices to worship Him— the exact thing Christmas does! Notice what He says in Deuteronomy 12:30-32 : “. . . Do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way . . . Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (emphasis added throughout).
And lest some think this is simply an Old Testament command that no longer applies, the apostle Paul makes the same point in 2 Corinthians 6, where he addresses whether unbiblical religious customs and practices have any place in the worship of God’s people:
“What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial [the devil and/or demons]? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God . . .
“Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.’ Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 7:1).
Rather than relabeling pagan customs as Christian, or allowing members of the Church to continue their old pagan practices, the apostle Paul told them in no uncertain terms to leave behind all these forms of worship and worship God in true holiness as He commands. Jesus likewise says His true followers “must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24)—not revel in recycled pagan customs and symbolism.
6. Christmas is worshipping God in vain.
Since Christmas is a jumble of ancient pagan customs invented by men, and a holiday found nowhere in the Bible, does God honor or accept such worship?
Jesus provides the answer in His stern rebuke of the religious teachers of His day, men who had substituted human traditions and teachings for God’s divine truths and commands: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites . . . ‘in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ . . . All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:6-9).
In the 17th century Christmas was actually outlawed in England and some parts of the American colonies because of its unbiblical and pagan origins. They knew something most people today have forgotten or have never known!
7. You can’t put Christ back into something He was never in.
Some people admit the many problems with Christmas. But rather than face up to those problems, some assert that we should “put Christ back in Christmas.”
However, it’s impossible to “put Christ back in Christmas” since He never was in Christmas in the first place! He never so much as heard the word “Christmas” during His lifetime on earth, nor did His apostles after Him. You can search the Bible cover to cover but you won’t find the words “Christmas,” “Christmas tree,” “mistletoe,” “holly,” “Santa Claus” or “flying reindeer.”
Putting Christ back in Christmas may sound like a nice sentiment, but it’s really only a misguided effort to try to justify a long-standing human tradition rather than what the Bible tells us we should do.
8. The Bible nowhere tells us to observe a holiday celebrating Jesus Christ’s birth —but it clearly does tell us to commemorate His death.
As noted earlier, the Bible nowhere mentions Christmas or tells us to celebrate Christ’s birth.
This is not to say that the Bible doesn’t tell us to commemorate a highly significant event in Jesus Christ’s life on earth. It does —but that event is His death, not His birth.
Notice what the apostle Paul, conveying the instructions of Jesus Himself, tells Christians: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’
“In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes . . . Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:23-28).
And yes, many believers do what they consider a form of this today in taking communion or “the Lord’s supper.” They fail to realize, however, the full significance of these acts, or that what Paul is actually describing here is the Passover — which is what Jesus Himself called this observance (Matthew 26:18-19 ; Mark 14:14-16; Luke 22:8-13, 15).
And many have no idea of the real date of Christ’s death and the annual Passover observance, but that’s an issue for another time. (Hint: It isn’t “Good Friday” prior to Easter as so many mistakenly believe. See our booklet Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep? for details.) The point is: Jesus clearly expects His true followers to commemorate His death—not His birth—by observing the Passover.
9. Christmas obscures God’s plan for mankind.
Passover, mentioned above, has enormous significance in God’s plan for humanity. The Old Testament Passover, described in Exodus 12, was symbolic of Jesus Christ’s future role and sacrifice. As the blood of the slain Passover lambs on the Israelites’ houses spared them while the firstborn of the Egyptians were slain, so does Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf spare us from death— eternal death.
Paul alluded to this great truth when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” Similarly John the Baptist, speaking under divine inspiration, said of Jesus, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Peter wrote that we are redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19)—a clear reference to the Passover lambs (Exodus 12:5
A central key to God’s plan for humanity is Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8)—meaning His death for our sins was planned before the first human beings were ever created (1 Peter 1:18-20). Only through His death to pay the penalty for our sins can human beings receive God’s gift of eternal life (John 3:14-17; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
Christmas, in contrast, teaches us none of this. Regrettably, because it is a hodgepodge of unbiblical customs and beliefs thrown together with a few elements of biblical truth, it only obscures the incredible purpose of Jesus Christ’s coming—as well as why He must return to earth a second time! (For more details, request our free booklets Jesus Christ: The Real Story and The Gospel of the Kingdom.)