Christmas has been and always will be an integral part of our Christian lives. It is the time of year when much of the world pauses to celebrate and commemorate the birth and incarnation of Jesus Christ. The very man who's life impacted our status in life, our spirit lives, our calendaring system, who's name is known throughout most of the world, who's book is read by millions, and has a following of billions since his birth.
A read of History of the Christian Church by Phillip Schaff will show us the journey of Christmas. The Scriptures, themselves, do not explicitly reveal the exact date of Christ's birth; the earliest Christians had no fixed time for observing it as well. However, by the late fourth century Christmas was generally celebrated in the churches, although on differing dates in different locales. Various methods were used in an attempt to compute the day of Christ's birth; among dates suggested by early church leaders were January 2, April 18, April 19, May 20, and December 25.
December 25 eventually became the officially recognized date for Christmas because it coincided with the pagan festivals celebrating Saturnalia and the winter solstice—a time when the sun is the farthest from the equator. The early church thereby offered Christmas on December 25 as a Christian alternative to the pagan festivities that were active simultaneous in their society. Many in the church eventually reinterpreted many of their symbols and actions in ways acceptable to the Christian faith and practice. Many Christians, today, do similar things annually with Halloween by having Harvest Festivals and etc.
Some of the Christmas re-interpretations have very obvious affinities. For example, Jesus Christ was presented as the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2) therefore replacing the sun god--Sol Invictus. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, it assimilated into its observances many customs of the pagan winter festivals such as holly, mistletoe, the Christmas tree, and log fires. At the same time, Christians introduced new Christmas customs such as the nativity crib and the singing of carols.
In every period of Christian history, a minority of Christian leaders have opposed the observance of Christmas. Usually there are one or more of three reasons for this objection. A rejection of ecclesiastical or church authority in its attempt to establish official feast days, of which Christmas is one. An objection to the drinking, partying, and immorality associated in every age with Christmas festivities. The long-standing and continuing associations of Christmas with pagan religious ideas and practices. Some Protestants, especially those in the Calvinistic tradition, including Calvin himself, the English and American Puritans, and many Presbyterians, refused to celebrate Christmas. However, the Lutherans, the continental Reformers and most other Protestants defended the observance of Christmas and sought to emphasize its deeper truth expressed in the doctrine of the incarnation. By the mid-twentieth century, Christmas had come to be observed almost universally in some form or another by Christians throughout the world. With the expansion of Christianity into the cultures of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, many new customs and ideas were incorporated into the Christian celebration of Christmas. (1)
It is my humble opinion, that regardless of Christmas history—as it relates to paganism or church history—Christmas is and still should be a time that we celebrate. This is due to the overwhelming fact that as Christians, we would and should naturally select a time to celebrate the birth of the icon of our worship, i.e. Jesus Christ. It is a natural response from the followers of Christ to celebrate His birth, His resurrection, and His soon return. In what detail we celebrate Christmas is somewhat arbitrary. I feel that the focus, as many realize, should be inproportionately centered upon Jesus Christ. This holiday should be one that exalts the giver of life and not the earthly gifts wrapped in paper and ribbon.
The once atheist turned Christian, and author of The Case for Christmas--Lee Strobel--has been a great blessing to the Christian community in advancing and evangelizing basic theistic concepts to the masses, especially to the gnostic and athiestic community. He recently wrote this note:
"Interest in the story of Jesus’ birth has been heightened this Christmas season with The Nativity Story, a major motion picture that follows the contours of the biblical account. This has meant a lot of discussion in the media about the facts surrounding the Incarnation. So here are four common questions about Christmas and some answers that I hope will be helpful to you. In the meantime, I trust you and your family will have a wonderful Christmas season!"
Click here tofind out more about Christmas from Lee Strobel.
1. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (C) Copyright 1984, by Baker Book House Company.