Is Christmas a happy fiction—something good for Christians and their families even though Jesus Christ was not really born on December 25? Or is there something sinister about Christmas, which few realize, but which can do great damage if overlooked?
Shiny new toys… colorful lights… festive decorations… a midnight visit from "jolly old Saint Nick"… family and friends gathered for a lavish meal. What could be more family-friendly than a Christmas celebration?
For hundreds of millions across the Western world today, Christmastime is a family time. And it is especially a time of fun for children! Nativity plays, Christmas carols—and of course waking up with great anticipation on Christmas morning, expecting to find gifts under the Christmas tree—are childhood memories cherished by countless millions. With its candy and sweets, colors and lights, songs and stories—and of course the gifts—today's Christmas traditions are designed to create powerful memories children will look back on fondly for the rest of their lives.
Why would any parents choose to deprive their children of these memories? Ask yourself: if you knew Christmas was actually unhealthful for your children—even hazardous to their spiritual health—would you continue to observe it?
What could possibly be wrong with children enjoying a festive holiday? Nothing—if that holiday upholds God's law and His values. It is not only our modern world that has at times turned to pagan rites that mock or discard God's instructions. Long ago, the prophet Jeremiah wrote: "The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron… while their children remember their altars and their wooden images by the green trees on the high hills" (Jeremiah 17:1–2). Yes, more than 2,000 years ago, the children of Judah were led astray by false worship made memorable amid its green trees and beautiful setting. Are we so different today?
It is no secret that many Christmas customs have an anti-Christian heritage and core. As author Desmond Morris wrote, "Although people tend to assume that the proper roots of Christmas lie in Christianity, in fact hardly anything we do during the Christmas festivities has the slightest connection with the arrival of the infant Jesus" (Christmas Watching, p. 2) Yet billions of people continue to observe Christmas, even though it bears no real connection to the event it purports to celebrate.
Is there something wrong with this—especially for children? Could it possibly be wrong to teach children to observe a Christmas holiday that seems to embrace family values, love and adoration of Jesus Christ?
Every year, we hear well-meaning "religious" people complain that Christmas has "become commercialized." But was there ever a truly non-commercial Christmas, at least in the United States? "There never was a time when Christmas existed as an unsullied domestic idyll, immune to the taint of commercialism," writes Stephen Nissenbaum, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts. From the beginning, he says, Christmas American style has been "commercial at its very core" (The Battle for Christmas, p. 318).
In 2006, according to consumer survey firm BIGresearch, the average American spent $794 on Christmas purchases, which totaled a record $154 billion. Authors Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli point out that the advertising forces driving Christmas traditions are at once hard-hitting and seductive. "The Christmas Machine has this power over us because it knows how to woo us… If it appeared as a monster, we would rise up and stop it. But the commercial messages of Christmas appear as promises that bring tears to our eyes" (Unplug the Christmas Machine, p. 10).
Christmastime, supposedly an occasion for happiness and celebration, every year leaves many with feelings of depression and emptiness. The focus on excessive consumption at Christmastime causes some to become despondent, when they feel they cannot afford to keep up with the pace demanded by the merchants and advertisers who profit from the holiday.
Yet Jesus Christ—who is supposedly the center of the Christmas holiday—taught against the obsessive materialism Christmas encourages. He said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15).
Are you teaching your children to obey Christ's instruction? Or are you just feeding the "Christmas Machine?"
A few years ago, the morning disc jockey at Babylon, New York's WBAB-FM told his young listeners that there was no Santa Claus. Outraged mothers and fathers complained to the station, and disc jockey John Parise was forced to apologize. What a paradox! Parents want their children to learn to tell the truth. Yet they set an example of lying to their children about Santa Claus—and may even become upset when the lie is exposed!
Reporter Denise Flaim talked to an Ithaca College professor of psychology who studies children's attitudes about Santa. Professor Cyndy Scheibe points out, "Who tells you Santa Claus is not real? It's usually someone you don't know or someone who's not particularly trustworthy, like your annoying older brother… And who tells you he does exist? People you trust" (Newsday, December 23, 2004). How many parents are missing the opportunity to show children—by example—that they can trust their parents? What about you? Are you telling your child lies?
Many children in Western countries have little or no concept of God, but do have a clear concept of Santa Claus. Santa Claus "sees all and knows all." He judges "whether children are naughty or nice." He rewards good behavior with blessings—gifts. Interestingly, these characteristics are normally attributed to God (Hebrews 4:13; 1 Peter 4:5; James 1:17)! Santa even comes from the North Pole, while the Bible describes God's throne as in the north (Psalm 75:6; Isaiah 14:13).
It is no surprise that Santa Claus is more real than God to many children—after all, they see Santa every year at the mall! The letters they send to Santa, amazingly, seem to be answered with the presents they receive on Christmas morning! Even in many families where Santa does not take the place of God, he is often seen as "God's helper."
Newsday reporter Flaim talked to Professor Cindy Clark, who studies human development at Pennsylvania State University. Clark interviewed youngsters who still believed in Santa Claus, and found that children "had various ways of connecting Santa Claus and God. Like 'God gave Santa Claus his job,' or 'The way Santa Claus knows if you've been good or bad is God tells him.'"
Are you teaching your children to focus on the real God, and His true attributes? Or are you diminishing His role in favor of a made-up folk hero? God—not Santa—is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). God is the One who protects our children and deserves our trust (Psalm 36:7). God—not Santa—is the one we are to approach when we have needs (Matthew 7:7).
Some countries observe Christmas with little or no emphasis on the "Santa Claus" tradition. Instead, they focus on the traditional "Nativity" story. Is that a better and more scriptural way to keep Christmas? Or is Christmas itself fundamentally flawed?
The early Church took great care to maintain doctrinal purity. Jude exhorted Christians to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Paul wrote, "I delivered to you first of all that which I also received" (1 Corinthians 15:3). Paul admonished the evangelist Timothy, "the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Timothy 2:2). Holding to accurate, biblically based doctrines and practices was of utmost importance to early Christians (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2).
Indeed, the earliest Christians did not observe Christmas—a fact recognized even by churches that now keep Christmas with great fervor. Notice: "Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Ireneaus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen… asserts… that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday…" ("Christmas," The Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 724, Vol. III, 1908). In its article "Christmas," the Encyclopaedia Britannica (14th edition) further elaborates that "as late as 245 Origen repudiated the idea of keeping the birthday of Christ, 'as if he were a king Pharaoh'" (Vol. 5, p. 642).
Before Pope Julius in 350ad proclaimed December 25 as the date of Christ's birth, practically every month of the year had been suggested, by some teacher or another, as the month of Christ's birth (The Pageantry of Christmas, ed. Stanley Fillmore, p. 10). But can we trust the December 25 date?
Biblical evidence of timing, such as the the shepherds and their flocks in the fields, disproves the notion that Christ was born in mid-winter (Clarke's Commentary, Adam Clarke, Vol. V, p. 370). The commonly told "Christmas story" departs in other key ways from the Bible's account. For example, the wise men from the East did not visit Jesus as a baby in a manger. Luke 2 describes an angel telling shepherds they could find the newly born Messiah as "a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12). But by the time the wise men came to look for the "King of the Jews" (Matthew 2:2), Jesus was already a young child and lived in a house (vv. 9, 11). At the time of the wise men's visit, Christ would have been close to two years old (v. 16). These visitors, who recognized Jesus as a King, gave gifts to Him—not to each other (v. 11)!
Sadly, many professing Christian teachers have been very careless with the facts—not only about Christ's life, but also about His teachings and the practices He commanded for His followers. Later scholars acknowledge how the early Church Fathers, recognizing the superstitious and emotional attachment of the people to their pagan rites, sought to give them a Christian significance. "Most of the Christian missionaries who moved into Central and Western Europe as the Roman Empire crumbled, followed the advice of Gregory the Great. He wrote, in 597, that they should not try to put down pagan customs, 'upon the sudden,' but adapt them 'to the praise of God'" (Fillmore, p. 10).
What about you? Which will you follow? Will you follow the traditions of men, or the original Christianity of Christ? If you have children, which will you teach to them?
Author Hugo Slim reminds us that Christmas "is perhaps the best example of the early Church Christianizing the traditional non-Christian festivals of a season—in this case the festivals of returning light surrounding the winter solstice" (A Feast of Festivals, pp. 36–37). The Romans celebrated the solstice season as the "Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the god of agriculture" (Fillmore, p. 10).
This connection to the Saturnalia reveals an even darker side to Christmas traditions, and shows plainly why Christmas is not a child-friendly holiday! The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains that at the feast of Saturnalia, "all classes exchanged gifts, the commonest being wax tapers and clay dolls. These dolls were especially given to children…" (article: "Saturnalia," 11th edition). What was the purpose of those gifts? "Varro thought these dolls represented original sacrifices of human beings to the infernal god. There was, as we have seen, a tradition that human sacrifices were once offered to Saturn, and the Greeks and Romans gave the name of Cronus and Saturn to a cruel Phoenician Baal, to whom, e.g. children were sacrificed at Carthage" (ibid.).
Saturnalia—the festival Christmas absorbed—even carries echoes of ancient child sacrifice! It sounds horrific that dolls were given as gifts as symbols or proxies of children burnt to pagan gods. Yet this practice echoes the modern tradition of hanging cherubs or human figures on Christmas trees! The ancient Greeks placed small masks called oscilla on branches, where they could twirl freely in the wind. Encyclopaedia Britannica explains that oscilla were small figures, most commonly masks or faces, that were hung up "as offerings to various deities.… The custom of hanging these oscilla represents an older practice of expiating human sacrifice" (ibid.).
Not only did ancient Saturn-worship and fire-worship involve child sacrifice, it also included cannibalism. Author John Garnier noted: "Cannibalism appears to have been initiated by Cronus, i.e. Saturn… For we are told by Sanchoniathon that Cronus was the originator of human sacrifices… Saturn is represented as devouring his own children." (The Worship of the Dead, pp. 34–35).
When "Christian" missionaries turned a blind eye to the symbols of ancient pagan festivals observed by their converts, they absorbed into their own worship and practice a number of ancient rites that echoed child sacrifice and cannibalism. Symbols of these abominable practices are still extant today as grim reminders of the "dark side of Christmas!"
When the ancient Israelites entered Palestine, they encountered a people who worshiped the god Moloch, the precursor of Saturn and Kronos. Historian Alexander Hislop notes: "As the representative of Moloch or Baal, infants were the most acceptable offerings at [Nimrod's] altar. We have ample and melancholy evidence on this subject from the records of antiquity. 'The Phoenicians,' [Canaanites who settled the area around Lebanon] says Eusebius, 'every year sacrificed their beloved and only-begotten children to Kronos or Saturn'" (The Two Babylons, p. 231). Though God forbade His people from following the Canaanites' example, they slid into this morbid practice: "They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan" (Psalm 106:37–38).
Would God want you to observe traditions that contain trappings of child-sacrifice and fire-worship? Would God want you to teach your children beliefs that obscure the real God and instead focus on myths and fables? Would He want you to participate in traditions that are blatantly materialistic?
Wise King Solomon said: "My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you" (Proverbs 3:1–2). These are the instructions God wants us to heed—and teach to our children. The Psalmist wrote: "Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth… which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord" (Psalm 78:1–4).
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God anciently warned His people not to use pagan nations' customs in their worship of Him. "Do not learn the way of the Gentiles… for the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple" (Jeremiah 10:2–4). In Jeremiah's day, people were cutting down trees to erect as objects of worship. In our day, millions will gather around a "Christmas tree" on December 25, blind to the millennia of anti-God traditions underlying their worship.
Christmas obscures Jesus Christ's true plan of salvation, and substitutes empty myths and fables in its place. But God's Holy Days—which offer true hope and will bring ultimate peace to all of humanity—reveal His true plan of salvation. If you would like to know more about God's true Holy Days, write for your free copy of our booklet, The Holy Days: God's Master Plan.
In 1934, popular author Dale Carnegie wrote: "For thousands of years, the Romans, gorged with food, and drunk with wine, celebrated the feast of Saturnalia in December… they held high festival in [Saturn's] honor, decorating their houses with evergreen and holly, giving dolls to their children and showering gifts upon one another… Old Santa Claus, who is coming down your chimney on Christmas Eve, in his pagan youth was the fire-god of ancient peoples. He brought presents to the children in Rome thousands of years ago… Christmas may have been a pagan orgy thousands of years ago—but who cares?" (Little Known Facts About Well Known People, pp. 145–146).
God cares where the traditions of Christmas came from. Do you?