Are we looking for a fight or are we seeking truth? This is a great question, even if I say so myself. To be more specific, I want to direct this question to the idea of Christians celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th. That is to say, are there really grounds to be objecting to it, in the sense that it is some how immoral or sinful, let alone blasphemous? So it would seem that the best way to settle this question is to start at the beginning. Let me lay out a case, an antithesis toward this idea that it is some how evil to celebrate Christmas especially on December 25th.
The idea of celebrating the birth of Jesus was not an issue at all for the early Church, until about the third century, establishing a date on the resurrection was of more importance. What is interesting is that the church seemed to settle on a spring date for the resurrection, March 25th. This was an Eastern/Western Church debate one used the Greek calendar (Eastern) the other the Roman calendar (Western). What is interesting is the fact that the Church seemed to be influenced by a Jewish tradition namely, “whole year theory.” The tradition here is meant to portray that the life of a prophet began and ended on the same day. Which meant that at one point early Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth and death on March 25th. Later to be challenged by Sextus Julius Africanus, a Christian in the third century. He argued that the Messiah’s life began at His conception. This matters to our discussion because they then marked the March date as his conception, thus nine months later signifying December 25th as the physical birth. This shows us where the dating came from that we have today. As well as showing us that December 25th was not the initial date and they probably did not count back nine months to determine the conception. Another aspect that this evidence shows is that the church did not necessarily choose the December date to combat pagan holidays, although the idea is not anywhere near repulsive. To aid in this point Angie Mosteller argues,
“If the dating of Christmas was influenced at all by pagan celebrations, the most likely candidate was a holiday established in 274 AD by the Roman Emperor Aurelian (around 214-275 AD) called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, “The Birth of the Unconquered Sun,” on December 25. However, it is equally possible that Aurelian was attempting to co-opt a date that already had significance for believers. According to history professor William Tighe, “The date had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.”2
By the time of Aurelian’s reign, it appears that the god Mithras (originally a Persian deity who was said to be either the son of the sun or the companion of the sun) was earning popularity among traveling Roman soldiers. Aurelian decided to seize on an opportunity to bring a monotheistic cult to the Roman Empire, and it is likely that his motivation was to compete with Christianity – a growing monotheistic religion that he saw as a threat to the empire.”
Christianity did not follow pagan practices history shows it was the other way around. A disclosure is needed here, I am not saying that over the years some worldly ideas have not crept into Church practices, but this is true of areas more important that this dating. Does this date or the celebration conflict with any scripture?
What does the Bible say of the celebration of Christ’s birth, absolutely nothing, in the sense of obligation to celebrate or to sustain from celebrating? The date? Well, again nothing, zilch, zero, nota, that is to say it discloses no date. Now I know we can deduce a date from the Bible and extra Biblical events and documents. And to make is clear, I know Jesus was not born on the 25th of December. But that begs the question, doesn’t that make it blasphemous to celebrate it anyways? Well, let me just say this, the burden of proof to show that it is indeed blasphemous is on the one that makes that claim. As we have seen the Church did not simply pick a date out of the air and run with it. And if they did use it at all to counter a pagan festivals, good for them, missionaries do this all the time. It allows them to find a point of commonality in order to promote the Gospel message. It only compromises the message central to the Bible when the message is left out. The Egyptians used interesting enough, circumcision before God implemented it, into Jewish worship and religious practice. This is a Biblical example of repurposing or reinvesting a once pagan practice for good. We should be apt to doing this, taking a practice in culture and reinvesting it for the gospel. My case here is not that we can take any false religious practice and Christianize it; I am not promoting this idea. One reason is that we must be careful, we must ask how the culture will see it; words and practices can and have changed meaning through out the centuries. One example would be the idea to implement Yoga, in its mystical and New-age practices into the church as a form of evangelism. Its tenants are counter to the Christian tradition, as you can see this in not a parallel to the Christmas celebration. Another point to make while we are here is, if the date of December 25th has pagan and Christian significance it does not follow that it is therefore Pagan only. If that were the case then any day of the week, which just so happens to be named after pagan gods, would rule out ever single event in Christian history. Another way to illustrate this is, does everyone who purchases coffee from Starbucks automatically succumb to pagan worship because this corporation’s logo is that of a Siren? I would hope we are thoughtful enough to see just how silly this is.
If the date its self is a stumbling block I am not sure what else could be said. If you’re a Christian and you’re objecting I would then ask for consistency, I would like to see the date you may be promoting as “correct” be the date you’re are celebrating. I would assume that not many people follow that ideal. See, its not that the date isn’t important to those of us who are careful with the facts. The point is to know the facts as well as understand that if changing the date we celebrate is going to genuinely change the impact of the Gospel then we should, right? Otherwise we should recognize intent is prior to content and be thankful that there still is a day in America that 92% of Americas celebrate Christmas and don’t mind the salutation “Merry Christmas,” one that proclaims the birth of a savior.
I have only one more point to add to this topic it is a bit off this focus but necessary to mention in passing. I have heard people mention that God was born on Christmas. Although in one sense Jesus is God, one needs to make a very important distinction to how the Gospel narratives describe this. For if God was born that day we have a major issue with not one, but every Christian doctrine that supports the eternality of the Godhead. I would recommend wrestling with the doctrine of the Trinity. In doing so you will not only see my point but also understand for yourself that God is eternal but the incarnate son, Jesus was “made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7-8).
So lets celebrate His birth, His resurrection any day and every day. It is not in the date that we find the real significance but in the fact that these events, along with others, are rooted in history. And let us take advantage of these celebrations as an opportunity to engage our neighbors and coworkers and strangers on the street, Christmas gives us open season to share our faith. To God be all the glory.
- Some of the content in this article is drawn from Christmas, Celebrating the Christian History of Classic Symbols, Songs and Stories, © 2010 (our featured Christmas Book). The bulk of the scholarly content can be count in this book and some on the web address here. http://www.celebratingholidays.com/?page_id=9746
- Warner Wallace; “What is the Date and Origin of Christmas;” Stand to Reason Blog; 12/1/2013; http://www.str.org/articles/what-is-the-truth-about-the-date-and-origin-of-christmas#.VntDQISCj7Y
- Greg Koukl; “Is Christmas Pagan?;” Stand to Reason Blog; 3/11/2013; http://www.str.org/articles/is-christmas-pagan#.VntEOISCj7Y
- Brett Kunkle; “Is Christmas Pagan?” Stand to Reason; 2/20/2013; http://www.str.org/videos/is-christmas-pagan#.VntE9YSCj7Y
- E. McLain; “The True Birthdate of Jesus;” Southwest Radio Church; Oklahoma City, Ok; 1974