How Will You Be Spending Christmas?
ARE you eagerly looking forward to Christmas, perhaps even counting the days? Millions of persons are. Or will you be celebrating only halfheartedly? or perhaps not at all? There are millions of persons who are not enthusiastic about the festivities. How will you be spending Christmas?
Many people consider Christmas to be one of the most beautiful times of the year. Though its many customs differ from land to land, yet each, in its own particular way, lends to the celebration’s popularity. In the northern hemisphere, it is the time to be “dreaming of a white Christmas”—the fragrant smell of fir trees; the festive air of crowded streets decorated with colored lights, and shoppers, loaded down with colorfully wrapped packages; the sound of familiar Christmas carols. In the southern hemisphere—in Australia for example—preparations are made for an open-air Christmas dinner, or, as is customary in Brazil, people head for the beaches.
Despite the popularity of Christmas, however, the number of persons celebrating it is decreasing. A European news agency recently reported that “for billions of people, this festival does not exist.” It explained that now that they have become independent some African and Asian countries have shaken off “Christian celebrations.” But even in the so-called Christian nations of Europe and the Americas many people have stopped celebrating. Why?
The Date of the Celebration
Obviously, a person not professing Christianity might object to celebrating what is commonly recognized as Christ’s birthday. On the other hand, persons who see in Christ Jesus a divine provision for man’s redemption from sin and death would properly be expected to show some kind of appreciation for this provision. Would not celebrating Christ’s birthday on December 25 be a fine way of doing this?
But was Christ really born on December 25? The New Catholic Encyclopedia answers this question by saying: “The date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month.” A newspaper writer, based in London, noted: “Just about the only real point of agreement [in this matter] among historians seems to be that it [Christ’s birthday] wasn’t December 25.”*
This writer continued by saying, however: “What really matters is the significance of the event commemorated.” You may agree. But still, does it not strike you as strange to celebrate a person’s birthday on a day other than the anniversary of his birth? Is the correct date of no consequence whatsoever? Would a person not rather pick a date with at least some backing, rather than one with little or no backing at all?
The Event Being Celebrated
For the sake of argument, let us concede that “what really matters is the significance of the event commemorated.” That Christ’s birth was important no Christian would deny.
Yet, as important as Jesus’ birth was, it could not undo the Bible truth recorded at Ecclesiastes 7:1, which says that “the day of death [is better] than the day of one’s being born.” Viewed from God’s standpoint, these words are readily understandable. During a person’s life he can build up a fine record of service to his fellowman and to his God, a fine reputation that will not go unrewarded. Life starts out at birth like a question mark. It ends up at death like an exclamation mark, a person’s life pattern openly identifying him for what he really was.
In Jesus’ case, he had served God faithfully during his prehuman existence in the heavens. But after his birth as a human would he continue to do so, now that he would be thrown into the company of sinners and be subjected to Satanic pressure? His death in faithfulness answered that question in the affirmative, and assured him a resurrection back into heaven to an even higher position than he had enjoyed before. (Phil. 2:5-11) So in a very personal way, the day of Christ’s death was better than the day of his birth.
Bringing the rest of mankind into the picture—which day has brought them the greater benefit? Was it the infant Jesus’ taking up human life at birth that effected a ransoming of mankind, or was it, rather, the anointed Jesus’ laying down his human life at death?—Heb. 9:14, 15.
Keeping these facts in mind, we should not be surprised that Jesus commanded his followers to commemorate his death. (Matt. 26:26-30; 1 Cor. 11:23-26) This was to be done on Nisan 14, the exact anniversary of his death, according to the Jewish calendar. However, the Bible nowhere indicates that Christ’s birthday should also be celebrated.
Despite possible sincerity, the person celebrating on December 25 Christ’s birthday, instead of celebrating on Nisan 14 Christ’s death, is actually celebrating on the wrong date the wrong event! How did such a mix-up come about?
European Roots of Christmas
Our remembering that Christmas is chiefly a product of the northern hemisphere will help us to understand. When European pagans were being converted to Christianity, an attempt was made to put to Christian use some of their popular customs and ideas. On December 25, at about which time the days begin to lengthen again, the sun-worshiping Romans celebrated the birthday of the unconquered sun (natalis solis invicti). In the fourth century C.E., this was changed into the celebration of the birth of God’s Son. Later, the fir tree used by the pagan Germanic tribes in their winter solstice celebrations was adopted as a “Christmas” tree. Little by little, pagan and Christian ideas and customs became fused or united.
Speaking of this development, a British Columbian newspaper said: “Christmas is the product of the early medieval church’s strategy of syncretism [an effort to reconcile and unite various systems of religious opinion] . . . The danger of syncretism and natural theology is that they open a two-way street. The intention is for Christian truth to supersede the pre-Christian beliefs they supposedly unfold, but inevitably the opposite happens as well. That is, Christian truth is colored by pre-Christian notions, and the net result is a genuine paganization.”
Perhaps now you can better appreciate why some persons who have great love for Christ and for what he taught have stopped celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday.
How About a Nonreligious Christmas?
Apart from any religious significance, some persons celebrate Christmas simply as a nonreligious holiday for the family, particularly “for the children.” They claim that doing so promotes a better family atmosphere and strengthens friendships.
The giving of gifts is a fine thing and no doubt it does deepen the bonds of love and friendship between friends and relatives. But are the appendages of Christmas, such as Santa Claus and Christmas stockings, really necessary before we can surprise our children, our relatives, our friends, with a gift?
Not all parents agree that humoring their children with the story of Santa Claus is a good thing. Problems can arise, as illustrated in the case of a seven-year-old girl interviewed in North America. She said: “Knowing Santa isn’t for real does sort of make me wonder whether Jesus is for real.”
A Canadian child of 10 was also disturbed: “I know there’s no such thing as Santa. When I saw the writing on presents supposed to be from Santa and it was my mom’s writing, then I knew. I told my folks. They told me it wasn’t a lie. They call it a fantasy. My father said: ‘I’ve never lied to you in my life.’ I said: ‘What about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and all that stuff?’ He said there’s some things kids really like to believe in because it’s really fun. But I still kind of call it a lie.”
This should give grown-ups, particularly parents, food for thought. Might not a practical gift given at a time of need be more appreciated than one given on a predetermined date just out of a sense of duty? Furthermore, leading a child to think that he has received a gift from a mythical Santa does little to strengthen the bonds of love between parent and child.
In the light of this, it is not difficult to appreciate why some persons, although loving to give gifts and do fine things for their family and friends, have stopped celebrating, not only a religious, but also a nonreligious Christmas.
Check it out for yourself in the Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana, or New Catholic Encyclopedia.
[Blurb on page 4]
“The date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia.
[Blurb on page 4]
“Jesus commanded his followers to commemorate his death . . . The Bible nowhere indicates that Christ’s birthday should also be celebrated.”
[Blurb on page 5]
‘In the fourth century C.E., a festival of the sun-worshiping Romans was changed into the celebration of the birth of God’s Son.’
[Blurb on page 5]
Said one young girl: “Knowing Santa isn’t for real does sort of make me wonder whether Jesus is for real.”