Should You Celebrate Christmas?
TO ILLUSTRATE the similarity and the difference between the Eastern and the Western way of celebrating Christmas, the information here presented takes the form of two letters exchanged between a Japanese writer and his friend in England. The information will help you to answer the question: Should I celebrate Christmas?
They are at it again. The merchants are leading the people like chief priests. Santa Claus is the master of ceremonies. Christmas trees serve as the symbol of the celebration. And offerings of Christmas cakes and toys are presented. The merchants are propagating the religion of Christmas in Japan. Their mission has been quite successful in the past three or four decades. An enormous number of Japanese are converted to this “religion”—at least for a couple of days a year!
This has intrigued me. I have often wondered why so many Japanese, who are mainly non-Christians, would be celebrating a “Christian” holiday. When did the Japanese begin to celebrate Christmas to such an extent? What is behind all of this?
Looking for the origin of the Japanese Christmas, I found this interesting story. Sōseki Natsume, a great writer of the Meiji era (1868-1912), sent a Christmas postcard from England to Shiki Masaoka, a famous poet, describing the fascinating Christmas scene in London at the end of the year 1900. Shiki even composed a haiku, the shortest form of Japanese poetry, about a small chapel on a Christmas Day. Apparently, Christmas was still a novelty at the turn of the century in Japan. So, exactly when did the Japanese celebrate their first Christmas?
You may be interested to know that some authorities claim that Christmas was celebrated in a girls’ school in Ginza as early as the eighth year of Meiji (1875). Yet “the custom of celebrating Christmas did not really begin to take hold in Japan until 1945,” observed The Christian Century. That was when the Japanese saw the families of American soldiers and missionaries celebrating Christmas. After being defeated in World War II and being left in a spiritual vacuum, the Japanese in general needed something to cheer them.
Christmas satisfied that need. As you can imagine, merchants did not waste any time in using Christmas decorations to promote their year-end sales. Christmas decorations “worked like magic in drawing customers,” says a newspaper columnist, Kimpei Shiba. “This,” he added, “was because these ornamentations were attractive and generated gaiety.”
But, David, since you live in England, you may not know that the Japanese had the custom of exchanging year-end gifts long before Christmas presents came along. December has always been a boon for retailers. People with thick wallets from their year-end bonus go out on a spending spree. “This atmosphere [of Christmas],” however, “put the people into a merry, spending mood and induced them to buy more osei-bo [year-end gifts] than they usually did, so the custom of using Christmas decorations has continued,” explains Mr. Shiba.
Today, department stores and retailers climb on the bandwagon to make the best of the “Christmas spirit” that seems to work so well. Toymakers and bakeries zero in on this atmosphere to take advantage of the season. In December, sales at Kiddy Land, the biggest toy-store chain in Japan, have been four times higher than other months. It is estimated that 5 to 10 percent of all the cakes produced in Japan each year are what could be termed “Christmas cakes.”
I found out that some people are annoyed because commercialism rules the Christmas scene in Japan. For instance, The Daily Yomiuri quotes an American who has lived a long time in Japan: “The Japanese have adopted nearly all of the Christmas gimmickry but somehow the spirit of the season is not here.” He was talking about the religious aspect of Christmas.
This prompted me to look into the religious side of Christmas. Churchgoers claim that Christmas (December 25) is Christ’s birthday. How surprised I was to find in the Encyclopedia of Japanese Religions that it cannot be established that Jesus was born on December 25! The encyclopedia says: “Though the actual date of Jesus’ birthday is not known, Christmas has been celebrated on December 25 starting around the third century . . . This date falls approximately on the day of the winter solstice, and it took over the pre-Christian festival of the rebirth of the Sun.” Rebirth of the sun? I thought it was supposed to be the birthday of Jesus. Well, how could sincere Christians celebrate a festival that originally was a pagan celebration of the winter solstice? It was not the birthday of Jesus but the festival of the rebirth of the sun. How could Western churchgoers criticize the Japanese as being unprincipled in celebrating a “Christian” holiday while they themselves have essentially the same kind of observance?
So, David, I would appreciate it if you could answer these questions for me, as they are most disturbing.
Thank you very much for your letter describing the Christmas celebration in your country. It is most interesting for us Westerners to learn how Eastern people celebrate a Western holiday.
If I may be quite pointed, you are perfectly justified in saying that Christmas is a pagan holiday. Almost any reference work will tell you that the festival of Christmas originated in the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, the Roman festival for their agricultural god Saturn.
Yes, just as you Japanese people have taken Christmas into your Buddhist and Shintoist cultures, the churches of Christendom have taken pagan festivals into their “Christian” tradition. In a sense it may be even more sinful because while the Japanese celebrate Christmas as a foreign festival, the churchgoers observe the pagan celebration of Saturnalia as a “Christian” Christmas.
Actually, there was a time here in England when the secular and religious celebration of Christmas was outlawed as a pagan practice. That was when the Puritans ruled England. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony in North America, the Puritans who left England because of their beliefs also banned Christmas and imposed fines for merrymaking during this season.
But I think you should know the Bible’s view of fusing Christianity with pagan religions. “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.” That is what the apostle Paul urged in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16. Then in 2Cor 6 verse 17 he went on to quote from the book of Isaiah (52:11, for your reference): “‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing.’”
How can we separate ourselves from unbelievers while still celebrating a festival originating in pagan religions? This question has moved many sincere Christians to abandon their tradition of celebrating Christmas. (It should prove to be interesting for you to open your Bible to Matthew 15:3-6 and read Jesus’ words recorded there.) Yet there are more reasons to shun such celebrations.
If December 25 is not the birthday of Jesus, celebrating that date as his birthday amounts to lying. Just as you have mentioned in your letter, how can a Christian who loves truth and is commanded to be honest promote falsehood? (Ephesians 4:25) From the date itself to the Santa Claus story, Christmas has become packed with lies. Christians, however, are told at Revelation 22:15 that “everyone liking and carrying on a lie” will end up without the divine blessing of everlasting life.
Then, why do so-called Christians in the West celebrate Christmas? One of the reasons is commercialism, just as it is in your country. I read about a Baptist minister over in the United States who lamented: “If the commercial aspect were removed entirely, most folks would feel that they had not experienced Christmas. But the religious focus could be removed entirely and a large number of people would not notice the difference.” These words apply in England as well.
Interestingly, the Bible reveals a close tie between commercialism and what it calls “Babylon the Great.” After depicting the fall of this “Babylon the Great,” the Bible (in Revelation 18:2, 11-19) says: “The traveling merchants of the earth are weeping and mourning over her, because there is no one to buy their full stock anymore . . . The traveling merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of their fear of her torment and will weep and mourn.”
Can you identify “Babylon the Great”? Well, who has given “the traveling merchants of the earth” here in England and in Japan enormous profits by spreading false teachings about Christmas? Is it not Christendom’s religions? Yes, I have learned from my studies that “Babylon the Great” stands for the worldwide empire of false religion, including Christendom.
What do you think we should do? The Bible account of “Babylon the Great” helped me to decide what I should do. Revelation 18:4 urges: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.”
‘Getting out of her,’ that is, leaving religion that promotes falsehood, meant decisive action on my part. It was not easy to break away from all the customs blended in with Christmas. Christmas is a social as well as a religious holiday here. I had to muster up courage to be different from others. The words I found in Proverbs 29:25 proved to be helpful: “Trembling at men is what lays a snare, but he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.”
I came to see these points with the help of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thousands of people in England have taken the same step and ‘got out of Babylon the Great’ with all its false religious practices, including the Christmas celebration. But it does not mean we do not honour Jesus Christ. We honour him, not by showing a “Christmas spirit” only once a year, but by displaying the Christlike spirit all year round.
Your sincere friend,
(See Ephesians 4:20-24; Philippians 2:1-6; Colossians 3:1-14 for the Christlike spirit that they try to cultivate.—Editor.)
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The merchants are like chief priests. Santa Claus is the master of ceremonies
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Merchants used Christmas to promote year-end sales
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This prompted me to look into the religious side of Christmas
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“Therefore get out from among them . . . and quit touching the unclean thing”
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“The traveling merchants of the earth are weeping and mourning over her”
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“Trembling at men is what lays a snare, but he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected”