Christmas Reality Check

     “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, time for family, friends, fun, food, fellowship and gifts (I know couldn’t find an f-word for gifts). Many this time of year, even with the stress of finding something great then buying it and immediately finding something that would have been better. We love the snow, the busy shops, the cards, all of it. I do know good Christians who don’t know what to do at Christmas. What traditions to embrace, which to ignore and which to have but limit. I want to get some known points out there so that we can at least be honest about the origins and purposes of Christmas.

     Our current traditions are fairly new. The earliest Christmas card known is from 1843. Christmas trees were made popular when Prince Albert of Germany married Queen Victoria and put up a huge Christmas tree in their home. The family posed in front of it and the picture was published in American papers popularizing the practice. Santa Claus derives somewhat from the Dutch Saint Nicholas who was famous for giving gifts to children. Santa was originally portrayed in various outfits until a Coke add popularized the red and green. Christmas poems like the night before Christmas filled in the rest of his image. 

     It is worth pointing out that most of our Christmas traditions are far too recent to have been greatly influenced by ancient paganism. 

     The idea of celebrating Christ’s birth as a Christian practice took a while to catch on. The first observance took place in 336 and December 25 was chosen because it corresponded to a time most people were celebrating anyway. Much of the party atmosphere and immorality that had been a part of older celebrations continued to be a part of Christmas. We still have problems today with over indulgence during the holiday season. This has resulted in a history of certain religious bodies keeping a distance from Christmas. Puritans for example outlawed Christmas both in England and later in North America where you could be fined five schillings ( a large sum at the time) for showing Christmas spirit in Boston. Others have opposed Christmas because observing it as a special day has no mandate in scripture.

     In light of all this what is a Christian to do? The first thing to remember is that scripture makes allowances for personal preference. In Romans 14:5 some wanted to observe certain days in honour of the Lord. Paul says it’s fine to do or not to. Although not a specific reference to Christmas the principle is the same.  Further, acknowledging that Jesus birth is a significant event is something that the Bible does (Mat 1:18-2; Luke 2). There is nothing inherently wrong with observing Christmas, so long as we leave off the overindulgence that is a big part of Christmas for some. We should also be careful that we don’t force Christmas observance on those who don’t think it’s something they want to do. Finally we shouldn’t let Jesus birth overshadow his death and resurrection which we are specifically told to commemorate on the first day of the week (Matt 26:26-29; I Cor 11:17-34; I Cor 16:1). These same principles can be applied to virtually all holidays, unless observing them would specifically send an anti-Christian message. 

     Christmas in our time is largely a culturally derived holiday with some religious connotation. We can observe it and I would suggest should take advantage of the special opportunities if offers for outreach. If Christmas is not your thing, great, if you only observe it as a secular holiday good, if you want to set it aside as a day to honour the Lord that’s good too.

     As for me I will be honest about the origins of Christmas, enjoy its traditions, and always remember the significance that God became man and dwelt among us.

~ Kevin Cleary