Millions of people around the world believe that the Christmas tradition is the birthday celebration of Jesus Christ. However, have you ever considered whether first-century Christians, those closest to Jesus, celebrated Christmas? And are you aware of what the Bible has to say about birthdays? Finding answers to these questions can help us determine if Christmas is for Christians.
First, the Bible does not mention birthday celebrations for Jesus or any other faithful worshipper of God. The Scriptures refer to only two individuals who celebrated their birthday. Neither of them was a worshipper of Jehovah, the God of the Bible, and their birthday celebrations were cast in a negative light. (Genesis 40:20; Mark 6:21) According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the early Christians opposed the “pagan custom of celebrating birthdays.”
On what date was Jesus born?
The Bible does not say exactly when Jesus was born. “The day of Christ’s birth cannot be ascertained from the N[ew] T[estament] or, indeed, from any other source,” states McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia. Surely, if Jesus wanted his followers to celebrate his birthday, he would have made certain that they knew the date of his birth.
Second, the Bible does not record that Jesus or any one of his disciples celebrated Christmas. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, celebrating Christmas was first mentioned “in the Chronograph of Philocalus, a Roman almanac whose source material can be dated to 336 [C.E.].” Clearly, that was well after the completion of the Bible and centuries after Jesus was on earth. Thus, McClintock and Strong note that “the observance of Christmas is not of divine appointment, nor is it of N[ew] T[estament] origin.”*
What event did Jesus instruct his disciples to commemorate?
As the Great Teacher, Jesus gave clear instructions on what he wanted his followers to do, and these are recorded in the Bible. Celebrating Christmas, however, is not one of them. Just as a schoolteacher does not want his students to go beyond the instructions given them, Jesus does not want his followers to “go beyond the things that are written” in the Holy Scriptures.—1 Corinthians 4:6.
On the other hand, there is one important event the early Christians were very familiar with—the commemoration, or Memorial, of Jesus’ death. Jesus personally told his disciples when to observe this occasion and showed them how to do it. These specific instructions, as well as the calendar day of his death, are recorded in the Bible.—Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:25.
As we have seen, Christmas is a birthday celebration, and early Christians did not follow that pagan custom. Furthermore, the Bible does not mention that Jesus or anyone else celebrated Christmas. In light of these facts, millions of Christians the world over have concluded that Christmas is not for them.
For more information on the origins of most Christmas traditions, see the article “Our Readers Ask . . . What Are the Facts About Christmas?” in The Watchtower of December 1, 2014, available online at www.jw.org.