Christmas Fact and Fiction

This time of year there is always discussion about holidays by people that love the LORD. And people are very opinionated because they have to be. Where people are opinionated you’ll find lots of good and bad information. So this is a much more practical thing to discuss than where we are in Jeremiah on Wednesday. Let’s talk about the holidays and Christmas fact or fiction.

Is it OK to celebrate holidays that are “man-made”?

  • When we say man-made, it means these aren’t the national holidays and feasts prescribed to the nation of Israel under Moses or holidays prescribed in the New Testament. These holidays came into existence because men decided to celebrate apart from the direct revelation of God.
  • Now, we all celebrate things God didn’t specifically tell us to celebrate. Including anniversaries, the death of a loved one, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, the day you prayed about eternal life, kids’ graduations, etc. All of those celebrations are man-made.
  • What did Jesus do? On two occasions it’s recorded that Jesus celebrated holidays not prescribed by God.
    • In John 5, Jesus celebrates Purim by going to Jerusalem. Purim is the holiday associated with the book of Esther. The day was chosen by Hamaan who wanted to kill the Jews, but circumstances changed and the Jews were delivered. The Persian King Ahasuerus with his Queen Esther at the request of Mordecai authorized a holiday that became Purim. It was a man-made holiday that Jesus celebrated.
    • In John 10, Jesus celebrates Hannakuh. The events are recorded in the Maccabbes about a heroic standoff by a group of Jews against Rome. Jesus celebrated this man-made holiday.
    • Jesus Christ celebrated holidays for reasons far less important than the birth of the Son of God into humanity. The birth of the Son of God is far more important than Hanakuh or Purim.

Is the event that Christmas is celebrating worthy of celebration?

  • The holiday called Christmas is not in the Bible, but neither is my anniversary. Without argument, the event of the Son of God being born into humanity is a much more worthy event to remember.
  • There are a couple of lies regarding birthdays in the Bible that get passed around. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach this doctrine that only two birthdays are celebrated in the Bible, Pharaoh and Herod. And since they’re wicked, birthdays are bad.
    • The Pharaoh in Joseph’s day is not wicked. He’s very accommodating to Israel.
    • Job’s children all celebrate their birthdays in Job 1.
    • Then the biggest birthday event of them all is the reason Christmas exists. The birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated by an entire heavenly host and an invitation to shepherds to come and see and then go and tell. Wise men from the East come to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
  • It’s true that deaths are more celebrated than births. There are more memorial markers for death than for life. This is true of heathen culture as well as Christianity. Jesus’ death is far more remembered in the New Testament. Just like our preaching here. Every week of the year something is said and celebrated about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But we don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ every week. That comes once a year.
  • I appreciate this fact about Christmas. It’s one of a couple of times of year when it’s expected to talk about Jesus Christ.

Where does Christmas come from and does it matter?

  • Christmas, like many other holidays, is a mixture of several different elements that were not together at one time when the holiday began. It’s changed through the years. (When you read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, you find that Santa Claus is not  mentioned as a part of Christmas in 1843 England.)
  • The origin stories are largely irrelevant when it comes to the morality of something.
    • Let’s take your origin. You’re born into sin, does that mean you’ll never be redeemed because you start bad? No.
    • Biblically speaking, origins generally take a back seat to whatever the current understanding and motives are. See 1 Corinthians 10:25-26.
    • If you eat food sacrificed to idols but don’t know it, and you bow your head and thank God for the food, that’s what counts with God. Not the fact that it was sacrificed to idols. If you encourage someone in their idolatry, that becomes a problem. But God doesn’t emphasize hidden meanings. He emphasizes current motivations that are real.
  • So what’s the origin of the Christmas holiday?
    • While there have been attempts to tie it to some pagan holiday by “shock jock” preachers, the first record of Christmas comes in 336 A.D. with someone compiling a list of Christian bishops said 25. Dec. natus Christus in Betleem Judae. This is the first record of a date associated with Jesus’ birth and possibly some celebration along with it.

What about Santa Claus?

  • Again, there are attempts at making Santa Claus a Greek god named Odin, but he’s actually a real person.
  • He was a Dutch Christian in the 3rd century who was imprisoned by Diocletian but set free under Constantine. Santa Claus name is sort of a transliteration of the Dutch name Sinter Niklaus, Saint Nicklaus, which was shortened to Sinter Klaus. 
  • His life was celebrated through Western history for centuries and in 1804 John Pintard gave out woodcuts of him to the New York Historical Society. He became much more popular when Washington Irving wrote about him a few years later in his book The History of New York.
  • 1820 is the first record of his association with Christmas as a gift-giving personality in the poem The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore.
  • By the late 1800’s in America, the marketing of Santa Claus with Christmas was becoming much more of the character known today. His origin is Christian, but the figure today is mythical. I say bring back the Christian origin of Santa Claus.

What about Christmas trees?

  • Some have taken a couple of verses out of Jeremiah 10 to say there is a Christmas tree there, but they’ll also say Christmas isn’t in the Bible. Now, Jeremiah 10 has nothing to do with Christmas or Christmas trees. We’ve gone over that in our study in Jeremiah. Jeremiah is talking about someone making an actual idol, with a face, eyes, ears, hands, feet, etc, a statue that will be sacrificed to.
  • The first records of decorated trees around a Christmas-type celebration come from Germany.
  • 1600s – By the 17th century, it was common in Germany to decorate Christmas Trees with apples. This practice was a holdover from the 14th and 15th centuries when evergreen boughs hung with apples were the only prop used in the “miracle plays” that were performed at the churches on December 24. December 24 was Adam & Eve’s Day in the early Christian calendar, and the plays were used as ways of teaching the Bible to a largely illiterate population. Martin Luther, a very public figure in Germany, popularized this practice.
  • 1800s – The Christmas Tree was introduced in the United States by Germans with this tradition. It rapidly grew from tabletop size to floor-to-ceiling.
  • 1851 – Christmas Trees began to be sold commercially in the United States. They were taken at random from the forests.
  • 1853 – Franklin Pierce is credited with bringing the first Christmas Tree to the White House.
  • Late 1800s – The first glass ornaments were introduced into the United States, again from Germany. The first ones were mostly balls, but later chains of balls, toys and figures became more common.
  • Around 1883 – Sears, Roebuck & Company began offering the first artificial Christmas trees – 33 limbs for $.50 and 55 limbs for $1.00.

Christmas music and caroling

  • As far as the records go, Christians were writing songs about Christ’s birth roughly the same early centuries we start finding manuscripts of scriptures.
  • Some of the famous songs that we sing today:
    • O Come All Ye Faithful was written before the 1600s probably.
    • Hark the Herald Angels Sing was written in the 1700s by Charles Wesley. Some obscure words were modified by George Whitefield in the 1750s and it was given the tune we know by Felix Mendelssohn in 1804.
    • Away in a Manger appeared in the 1880s in an American magazine by an anonymous author.
    • O Come O Come Emmanuel was written as far back as the 12th century with the music we currently know was written in the 15th century.

Romans 14:5-6 is the very clear principle. It even applies to when you have church services. We could change services to Tuesday at 7PM because the day isn’t holy in and of itself. Food isn’t holy in and of itself. It is what you do with it. While nothing is said about what days you should celebrate on or what days you should gather together as a congregation on, the principle is give thanks and serve God with it.