The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is Christmas God’s Gift to You?
CAN you imagine a year without Christmas? Or December 25 without gifts? Why, even soldiers in battle have stopped fighting on Christmas Day and exchanged gifts! Millions of people believe that Christmas is God’s gift to us. But is it?
It is reported that more than three out of every four persons worldwide would answer no. That includes you if you are a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jew, an agnostic, or an atheist—and then neither do you believe that Christ is God’s Son, and Christmas supposedly celebrates Christ’s birth, thus the Christ’s mass. Yet—Christian or non-Christian—everyone’s future is tied to belief in him.
God’s Real Gift to Mankind
More than one billion people claim to acknowledge Jesus Christ as mankind’s Savior. The Bible agrees: Jesus was a perfect man. He lived a sinless life, remaining free of any condition that could justify his death. So he had the right to live forever and father a perfect human race of his own.
But he did not claim that right. Instead, he died as “a ransom in exchange for many” of existing mankind, bequeathing human perfection and endless life to them. Therefore, Jesus is God’s gift to mankind.—Matthew 20:28; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Hebrews 2:9, 10.
Your acceptance of this gift can bring you lasting benefits. The Bible says that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) So faith in Christ matters; your future life depends on it. No wonder that about a quarter of mankind celebrates his birth at Christmas. And yet, was he really born on Christmas Day?
When Was Jesus Born?
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, “there were also in that same country shepherds living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks.” (Luke 2:8-11) But in that region of Palestine the temperature at night averages 45° F. (7° C.) in December. There are chilly rains on some days. Those shepherds would not have been out of doors with their flocks at night. Their custom was to bring them into enclosed shelters.
Also, Jesus’ parents had gone to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus had ordered an empire-wide registration, “and all people went traveling . . . each one to his own city.” (Luke 2:1, 3) Would the Roman ruler have chosen a cold, rainy month for requiring his often rebellious subjects to make long, arduous journeys? Hardly!
Then, when was Jesus born? There is strong evidence that the date was early in October. The prophet Daniel had foretold that Messiah (Christ) would appear at the start of a seven-year “week” and would be “cut off” in the middle of it, or after 3 1/2 years, when he would die a sacrificial death. (Daniel 9:24-27) Jesus was “about thirty years old” when he began his ministry as the Christ. So he was about 33 1/2 when he died about the beginning of April, on Passover Day. (Luke 3:21-23; Matthew 26:2) He would have been 34 about six months later, in October. Evidently he was not born in December!
Does It Honor Christ?
But why quibble about the date as long as Christ is honored and the spirit of Christmas is observed? After all, the festival is sacred for devout worshipers. It is a time for carols and hymns, a time for gifts and family gatherings. It is a nostalgic time, a time to be remembered. Yet, that may be the problem.
Often the memories are of personal pleasures that do not pertain to Christ. Gifts do not always express the joy of giving but, rather, the pleasure of receiving. Then there is the excessive revelry and the growing commercialization of the occasion. This is the spirit that makes Christmas popular, but it does not honor Christ.
Therefore the question arises: Is Christmas even Christian?
The Roots of Christmas
A corresponding celebration was observed by polytheistic sun worshipers. According to The Encyclopedia Americana, such people in northern Europe “celebrated their chief festival of Yule at the winter solstice to commemorate the rebirth of the sun . . . The Roman Saturnalia . . . also took place at this time, and some Christmas customs are thought to be rooted in this ancient pagan celebration. It is held by some scholars that the birth of Christ as ‘Light of the World’ was made analogous to the rebirth of the sun in order to make Christianity more meaningful” to converts who had previously honored their own mythical gods by such festivals.
Jesus’ followers, however, held no commemoration of Christ’s birthday at all—not on December 25, not even in October. And this held true until about the middle of the fourth century. Origen, a third-century historian, wrote that “of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a . . . birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born.” (Genesis 40:20-23; Mark 6:21-28) According to McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, Jews of Bible times “regarded birthday celebrations as parts of idolatrous worship.”
Could Christ be honored by festivals originally designed for mythical gods and idolatrous worship? The Bible answers: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For . . . what agreement does God’s temple have with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16) Dressing idolatrous festivals with a Christian name does not make them acquire harmony with Christ.
Really Appreciating God’s Gift
No wonder Jesus did not command a commemoration of his birth! But he did inaugurate a binding Memorial of his death (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) He died that you may have life. And you can show appreciation for this and truly honor him by not going beyond his instructions. As he said: “He that has my commandments and observes them, that one is he who loves me. In turn he that loves me will be loved by my Father.”—John 14:21.
Such obedience is all the more vital because Jesus is now neither a babe nor a dead Savior. He was resurrected to immortal life on the third day after his death and has been given “all authority . . . in heaven and on the earth.” As mankind’s rightful Ruler, he will shortly remove all causes for sorrow so that those truly loving him can receive the gift of everlasting life on a paradise earth.—Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:22-36; Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:1-5.
Yes, Christ, not Christmas, is God’s gift.
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Rooted in Mythology
□ Birthday observance was common in many polytheistic cultures. Idolatrous rites were performed in honor of the patron gods of each particular birthday, and birthdays of mythical gods like Saturn and Apollo were also celebrated. States Dr. John C. McCollister in his book The Christian Book of Why: “Christians of the first century did not celebrate the festival honoring the birth of Jesus—for the same reason they honored no other birthday anniversary. It was the feeling at that time by all Christians that the celebration of all birthdays (even the Lord’s) was a custom of the pagans.”
□ Ancient peoples thought that certain evergreen plants like the mistletoe and holly had great magical powers. They decorated their houses with these to ward off evil spirits and witches. This practice developed into the Christmas decorations.
□ Trees were venerated in most polytheistic cultures. Sacred groves were believed to be inhabited by ancestral spirits, and presents were offered to them in return for favors. This is still done in West Africa.
□ The European Christmas custom of burning a huge . . . log in the fireplace can be traced back to the Scandinavians who kindled enormous bonfires in honor of their god of thunder, Thor.
□ Gift giving, rather than being patterned after the gifts offered by the so-called wise men, or astrologers, is really based on the pagan Roman gift giving of the Saturnalia (festival that honored the god Saturn) and of calends (New Year) celebrations.
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Do you know the origin of these Christmas customs?