Christ never commanded us to celebrate His birthday or any other day. Early churches discouraged celebrating Christmas. Some even forbad it.
With Christian liberty, we can celebrate special days, or not celebrate them.
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind—Romans 14:5. The Apostle Paul probably had reference to the Passover and other Jewish feasts rather than any distinctively Christian holy day.
Christians who choose to celebrate a special day should not be criticized for it, nor should they criticize others who choose not to celebrate the special day. So we can celebrate Christmas, Easter, and even the Passover, if we choose, or we may not.
Many pagans and secularists celebrate Christmas. They put up a Christmas tree, exchange gifts, and have a family feast. To them, Christmas is a cultural thing. Each year Christmas is getting bigger in Japan. In places in the United States where only four per cent go to church, almost a hundred per cent celebrate Christmas.
Many of the trappings of Christmas have pagan origins. The decorated evergreen tree was part of a winter celebration in pagan Germany before Christ. The Druids of Britain burned the yule log and considered mistletoe sacred long before Christians started celebrating Christmas.
Pagan Romans celebrated Saturnalia around December 18-25 by exchanging gifts and feasting. Probably this is how we arrived at December 25 as the time to celebrate Christ's birth. Christian kids saw their pagan neighbors exchanging gifts and having a good time. So the Christians started their own celebration. They “Christianized” the holiday season.
There is a modern parallel. Jewish children saw Christian children exchanging gifts and having a good time at Christmas time. Jewish parents then began exchanging gifts and sending cards to celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights that commemorates reconsecration of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC after its defilement by Antiochus Epiphanies. That celebration doesn't mean these Jewish people are participating in Christianity.
Some “paganized” Christmas, others “Judaized” Christmas, like Christians had “Christianized” Saturnalia. We can't surrender part of our calendar because pagans used those dates first. If we did, we'd lose the whole thing. Every day of the year was a special day to the Romans. All seven of our days of the week are named after pagan gods, the Sun, Moon, Tiu, Woden, Thor, Frigg, and Saturn.
Muslims can worship on Friday without worshiping the German goddess of love or Venus. Jews can worship on Saturday without worshiping Saturn. Christians can worship on Sunday without worshiping the Sun.
Christians must, however, be careful to keep paganism and false religion out of our Christmas celebration. We should not teach our children to believe in some supernatural being who can do things only God can do. Only God knows what you've been thinking, and knows if you've been bad or good. Only God can be in millions of homes at the same time. Kids need to know that Santa Claus is a fictional character. If we teach children to believe in Santa, and then when they get older they see it was all fiction, might they expect to eventually learn that Jesus Christ too was all fiction? We should explain to babies that Santa is pretend, but Jesus is real. Truth won't warp their psyche; it will strengthen it. They can still enjoy Christmas. And they can enjoy Santa like they enjoy Superman, the Roadrunner, and Mickey Mouse.
Christmas celebration is a valuable tool for evangelism because it gives us opportunity to tell the world what we're celebrating, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. When Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, He was God in the flesh. It was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy made 700 years earlier, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God with us.”
Christians believe in Jesus Christ. Believing in Him does not make the Christmas story true. We believe because it is true.
Why celebrate Christmas?
First to commemorate Christ, God the Son, becoming flesh, being born of the Virgin to be our Savior.
Second, to have an opportunity to tell the world, “Jesus Christ is Born.”
Third, it's a great time to get the family and friends together and express our love for God and for each other, and enjoy good food.
Last, but by no means least, kids love Christmas.
—Joe Hewitt is a retired pastor living in Rockwall