How the Church Grinch Stole Christmas

With turkey and dressing still being digested, many begin to decorate for the holidays. Whether a Christian should celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, New Year’s, etc. has been a matter of debate for quite sometime. So I want to consider the question, “Can a Christian celebrate the holidays?” As should always be the case, we turn to the Scriptures. In Col 2:16-17, Paul says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” His first word is “therefore,” meaning that his remarks here are tied to the previous context (Col. 2:13-15). One of the things that Jesus did for us on the cross was free us from our obligation to observe certain “holy days” (i.e. holidays). Here, Paul says we are under no obligation to celebrate them, but neither should we judge others based on what they do. At the cross, “holy days” were taken out of the “have to” category and placed in the “totally up to you” category.

In the next verse, and though he was specifically referring to the holy days of the Mosaic Law, Paul says that all holy days are but a shadow of the real thing, but the reality is always found in Christ (Col. 2:17). If you study the gospels, you discover that Jesus celebrated many holidays in his life. It was during the observance of Passover that he instituted the Lord’s supper. He could also be found in Jerusalem during holidays mandated by the Law. But what of holidays not commanded (or sanctioned) by God? What of holidays that hold some religious significance, but are mainly cultural/political? John 10:22-23 tells us that during Hanukkah (“Feast of Dedication”), Jesus was in Jerusalem. Recall that Hanukkah was a holiday commemorating Jewish independence in 164 BC. It was a holiday with religious overtones, but was primarily cultural and political in nature. It seems, then, that Jesus felt freedom to celebrate a holiday that was somewhat religious (e.g. Christmas), but mainly cultural (e.g. Thanksgiving) or political (e.g. Independence Day).

Finally, some remarks on Rom. 14 are appropriate. In this chapter, Paul addresses what he perceives to be real problems in the church at Rome. He mentions taboos concerning holy days, and what one can eat or drink. In his concluding remarks, he says, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Rom. 14:10). As he did in Col. 2, Paul makes clear that we should not judge others on how they approach issues upon which the Bible is silent. Because Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. are holidays that have arisen after the Bible was written, Scripture does not give us an explicit “Thus saith the Lord” on the matter. It is therefore left up to the discretion of each individual person.

So how do these answer the question: “Can a Christian celebrate the holidays?”

Love Thy Neighbor

If my Christian brother feels free to celebrate any holiday, I should allow him to do so, and not judge him. If he does not feel comfortable doing so, I should not demean him. To encroach upon my brother’s freedom to choose for himself is not walking in love (cf. Rom. 14:15). It surely saddens the heart of our Father when Christians have sparred over whether to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We have no command to do so (we don’t even know his true birthday), so it should be left to individual discretion.

Defer to Leaders

Deeper passions are stirred, for whatever reason, when it comes to whether a congregation (vs. an individual) can observe or celebrate the holidays. Can a church throw a Christmas party? Can we invite Santa? Can we sing “Joy to the World” in the month of December? What about candlelight services or nativity scenes? These are real issues that church leaders must consider. Based upon the above passages from Scripture, I believe that elderships must chart a middle course on this issue. I’m not sure what the best route to take is simply because each congregation is different. One thing that must be considered, however, is the fact that some people consider all church functions, no matter how inane (e.g. Christmas party), to be official policy. In other words, if a church has a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, then it must believe Christmas to be Jesus’ birthday. If a church invites Santa to the Christmas party, it must be a “liberal church” because it is giving credibility to a pagan ritual. Some of these things seem silly, but they have to be considered.

While we’re on the subject, I have to say this: Churches that celebrate Halloween to the extent of hanging up skeletons, witches, or ghosts (i.e. things “of the darkness”) and holding “Halloween” parties, all under the guise of “its for the kids,” but then turn around and tell its members that it is wrong to celebrate Christmas—those churches are so up-side down I don’t know where to begin. But Paul’s phrase in Rom. 1, “their foolish hearts were darkened,” comes to mind. If you can find it within yourself to celebrate the powers of darkness, but not the glory of the Son, you will feel right at home when you reach your eternal destination.

Putting “Christ” Back in Christmas

In many Christian circles, much is made this time of year about putting “Christ” back in Christmas. As culture becomes increasingly hostile to the cause of Christ, there is a noted downplaying of “Christmas” in favor of “Holidays,” etc. Whether this is indeed a conspiracy that started communist conspiracy, I’m not sure (an e-mail I received recently made this claim. Also, President Obama is somehow involved with the conspiracy; again, I’m not sure how). Here’s what I do know. With many thinking about Jesus this time of year, this is a great opportunity to discuss with friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers the person, nature, and work of Jesus. If his birth comes up, bring up the reasons for his birth (Luke 19:10). Ask if they are “in Jesus” (2 Cor. 5:17). Have they obeyed the gospel (cf. John 8:24; Acts 2:38)? I have known of churches that clammed up in December and never mentioned Jesus once. Shame on them. By acting as if nothing is going on this time of year, we squander a great opportunity to proclaim “good news” to a lost and dying world.

So “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or “God bless you.” Regardless of which is appropriate for you, maintain perspective in the holiday season, and don’t judge your brother.

Editor's Note: This post was originally written in November 2010.

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