Should Christians celebrate Christmas? It sounds like a ridiculous question to the average person, but it is an important one to those who seek to obey God’s Word. We can easily find the birth of Christ recorded in the pages of the New Testament of the Bible. We can find the message of the angel who announces it and the words of praise from a multitude of heavenly host who celebrate it in the Book of Luke. We can find prophecies about his birth recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible. What we cannot find anywhere in the Word of God is the holiday we call Christmas.
Let’s begin our discussion about Christmas by looking at the early Church as described in the New Testament. Most Bible-believing Christians base their present worship model on how the original Believers in the early years following the death and resurrection of Jesus gathered and worshiped God. They did not celebrate Christmas. Why? To find that answer, we must look at the history of this holiday which actually predates the birth of Jesus.
History teaches us that the earliest known observance of any kind of Christmas celebration occurred over two hundred years after the birth of Christ. This celebration took place in December. It sought to merge the ancient Pagan celebrations known as Hilaria Baldwin Responds To Critics Who Have Accused Her Of Publicizing Her Miscarriages For Attention Saturnalia (a Roman festival which took place each December 17th to 24th, celebrated the winter solstice and honored Saturn, the Roman god of sowing), the birth of Mithra (the Iranian sun god of righteousness born on December 25th) and a Roman feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun (which occurred around the same time as Saturnalia) with the idea of honoring or celebrating the birth of Jesus.
The celebration of Saturnalia was originally opposed by early Christians because it was a pagan holiday that involved the exchanging of gifts and was filled with all kinds of exaggerated behaviors involving food and drink, as well as rampant immorality. It was not until after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire that a Roman Emperor known as Justinian created the holiday known as Christmas. In doing so he replaced the worship of Saturn and the celebration of the birth of the Sun with the worship of the birth of Jesus.
It’s important to understand that when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it was not the Biblical Christianity that most Bible Believers accept today. It was an unholy marriage between many pagan beliefs and practices, and what the early church taught. This marriage produced a new religion. It was a perversion of Christianity which lead to many traditions and extra-Biblical practices that are not found in the Word of God being honored and accepted equally with Scripture. Bible Believers have always rejected this creation by the Roman Empire and continue to do so today.
Sometime after 500 A.D., the celebration now known as Christmas was mandated by the Roman Empire. People had to celebrate this holiday. The excesses of Saturnalia were retained and Bible Believers of that time were often shocked at the socially and morally depraved way that Romans celebrated the birth of the Savior. By this time additional pagan elements had been added to the holiday. These include various festival celebrations originally tied to the early days of January. This is why people celebrate Christmas and New Year’s so closely together today.
January 1st was the Roman New Year. The celebrations surrounding this festival included the decorating of houses with candles, green plants and small trees. Gifts were given to children and the poor. Again, these festival traditions slowly became a part of the Roman Christmas celebration so that the festivals of Christmas and New Years merged. December 25th became the focal point of all these celebrations because the Roman Emperor Aurelian had much earlier declared that the pagan festival of natalis solis invicti (or birth of the un-conquered sun) should occur on that date beginning in the year 274 A.D. It was a popular festival and seemed to present an easy transition from celebrating the birth of the sun to celebrating the birth of God’s Son.
Additional elements were added to the Roman Christmas after Germanic tribes infiltrated Rome, overran the empire and moved on into Gaul and Britain. Many in these tribes readily accepted and gravitated toward the Druid and Celtic traditions they encountered. German, Druid and Celtic traditions became intermingled and the celebration known as Yule was born. Elements of the Yule festivals were later added to the Roman Christmas celebration. Yule rites included the setting up of decorated celebration trees in the home, the yule log, and the exchanging of gifts.