How should a Christian approach Christmas?
Question: Does the Bible give any guidelines as to how Christians should observe Christmas?
Answer: Many are surprised to learn that there is neither biblical command nor biblical example supporting the commemoration of the anniversary of Jesus Christ’s birth.
Not once does Scripture record a birthday celebration for or by Jesus Christ. Some wrongly assume that Matthew 2:11–12 is the first occasion of Christmas gift-giving, but in fact the “wise men” were paying homage to the “King of the Jews”—already a young child—not giving birthday gifts to a newborn infant.
It is instructive to note that the only “birthday parties” we find in Scripture are associated with unpleasant events. In Matthew 14, for example, King Herod’s “birthday gift” was the decapitated head of John the Baptist. Even as late as 245ad, the noted scholar Origen “repudiated as sinful the very idea of keeping the birthday of Christ” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed.).
Scripture does, however, give us some hints about the date of Christ’s birth, telling us that He was born when there were “shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). During the cold Judean winters, shepherds slept indoors. We also read that while Zacharias was serving at the Temple in the division of Abijah, an angel appeared to him and announced that he would have a son—John the Baptist (Luke 1:5–25, 57–58). The division of Abijah was the eighth to serve each year, and by calculating the dates forward we find that John the Baptist was born near Passover, in the spring, and Jesus was born six months later (Luke 1:24–26), which would place His birth in September or October—not on December 25!
Since Scripture does not establish a celebration of Jesus Christ’s birthday, and makes it clear that He could not have been born on December 25, how did the date of “Christmas” originate? In Rome, December was the time of the celebration of the pagan Saturnalia as well as the “holy days” of worshippers of Mithra and Sol Invictus. As pagan “converts” changed the original teachings of Christianity to suit their old habits, they continued to observe their end-of-December festivities, merely changing their object of worship.
But is there anything wrong with “Christianizing” the world’s custom of birthday celebrations and applying it to our Savior? Scripture explains that we cannot worship the true God by abandoning His ways in favor of customs used in the worship of false gods (Deuteronomy 12:30–32). Notice: “Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not” (Jeremiah 10:2–4, KJV). God’s people should not adopt heathen customs, such as the custom—described in these verses—of decorating a tree as part of a celebration. Yet how many decorate Christmas trees every year, contrary to these verses?
Jesus Christ asked His followers, “But why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). In a world that becomes obsessed with “Christmas” festivities, it may be tempting to take part in what may seem like an “innocent” celebration, and it may be socially awkward to refuse. But, as Christians, we must refuse. Instead, we should follow Jesus’ example and observe the actual Holy Days that God gave His people, which portray His plan of salvation for humanity. To learn more about these Holy Days, please write for a free copy of our booklet, The Holy Days: God’s Master Plan.