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For many, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Yet how many celebrate Christmas without really understanding why they do so? It’s time to find out.
Modern America is deeply divided, and those divisions seem to grow every day. However, you might be surprised at what does unite Americans. Despite a wide divergence of opinions on just about everything, at least 90 percent of people in the United States observe Christmas, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study. Yet when it comes to underlying reasons for observing Christmas, Americans are once again divided, with just over half celebrating it for religious reasons, and about one-third doing so for cultural reasons, with little or no “religious connection” at all.
What about you? If you observe Christmas—why?
Truly, Christmas is enormously popular, and people across many nations and cultures observe this annual festival. As History.com notes, “Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe” (“Christmas Traditions Worldwide”).
Norway popularized the custom of the “yule log,” but Germany added the tradition of decorating an evergreen tree. The custom of caroling, which features groups of performers traveling from house to house, originated in England. Central and South American cultures focus strongly on the birth of Christ and the so-called Nativity scene. In Australia, where Christmas occurs in the heat of summer, people commonly celebrate the day with beach outings and outdoor barbecues. In the Philippines, snowflakes are a rare sight—but decorations featuring Santa and his reindeer appear in shopping malls nationwide.
Christmas allure runs wide and deep. For many, it has become one of the most important events of the year. If you observe Christmas, what is it like for you? Author Desmond Morris describes it like this:
Why is that woman over there buying enough food to withstand a siege? What is that man doing, trying to wrestle a small fir tree into the back of his car? Why is that couple staggering along the street clutching a mountain of parcels?… What on earth is going on? The answer, of course, is that Christmas is coming…. The human race is preparing to celebrate its great midwinter festival. There are many other special days in the year… but there is nothing to touch the huge impact of Christmas Day (Christmas Watching, p. 2, emphasis added).
A lot of shopping, baking, decorating, ornament-hanging—and that’s just the beginning! This annual observance touches virtually everyone, and fills countless hearts with anticipation well in advance. Mr. Morris notes that, at Christmastime…
…everything changes. Work stops, vast business empires grind to a halt. Traffic jams vanish. People eat differently, dress differently and decorate their homes differently…. There is feasting on special foods and drinking of special drinks. There are gifts to be opened and games to be played. Above all, there is a whole series of special rituals to be performed—everything from kissing under the mistletoe and hanging baubles on the Christmas tree to setting light to the Christmas pudding and pulling Christmas crackers (p. 1).
People unfailingly follow the same script every year. But why? What is the purpose of it all? Mr. Morris concludes:
Why do we indulge in all these curious customs?… What does it all mean and what are the origins of the many, seemingly irrational acts we perform each year on the 25th of December and the days around it? Although officially Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, hardly anything we do during the Christmas festivities has the slightest connection with Christianity, let alone with the arrival of the infant Jesus…. Because it is much more than a simple religious festival, Christmas appeals to almost everyone. It becomes a national event. People who have never entered a church in their entire adult lives still perform the Christmas ceremonies without question. Usually they have no idea why they are doing them (pp. 1–2, emphasis added).
Mr. Morris provides a remarkably candid summation of the supposed “most important event of the year,” and exposes the Christmas traditions as empty and meaningless. Are you willing to examine these traditions? If you have the courage to do so, you might be shocked to discover how much more satisfying it is to keep the special days that God actually intended for us to keep.
Many people observe Christmas in an effort to show honor and loyalty to Christ. Their answer to the question “Why Christmas?” would be, “Well, to worship Christ.” And yes, we should worship Christ! He is our Savior, the Captain of our salvation, the One who will return to rule the world as King of kings and Lord of lords. We should honor Him! The question is, how?
When Jesus was speaking on the Mount of Olives, He asked those in the crowd,
Why do you call Me “Lord, Lord,” and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock (Luke 6:46–48).
We all want more peace of mind. Everyone wants to feel settled, instead of like everything is spinning out of control. Think about what Jesus said in relation to your life. When you have trials, do you want God to “have your back”? Do you want to be more confident that, no matter what comes, you will have His help?
We are living in uncertain times. Our world is becoming more dangerous and unpredictable, and many are justifiably worried about the future. Prophecy warns us of hard times ahead, but as Christ said, those who build on the true Rock can have confidence amidst the storms of life.
By contrast, notice what happens if we do not build on the Rock of Christ: “But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great” (Luke 6:49).
Where are you building your life’s foundation, and what about your children? Are you helping them build a foundation that will weather the coming storms?
Many modern Christmas traditions center on an imaginary figure who loves children, flies at supernatural speeds on a mythical sleigh, knows who has been “naughty or nice,” and brings wonderful gifts to those who have been good. This is, of course, Santa Claus. And sure, everyone knows Santa isn’t real—right?
But consider for a moment that there really is a Being who loves children, can travel at supernatural speeds, and knows our every action and thought! He really does know if we have been good or bad, and He rewards us based on our works. Of course, this Being is the Christ of the Bible, and we can easily find scriptures that reveal His nature:
Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them and departed from there (Matthew 19:13–15).
Every year during Christmastime, men dress up as Santa and take prominent places in many of our malls and shopping centers. Ecstatic children wait in great anticipation for their turn to sit on Santa’s lap and whisper requests in his ear. But in the inspired word of God, there is a record of Someone who is real and alive, who proved, when He was on earth, how much He loves children and wants to hear of their lives and concerns. Even when His disciples thought He was too busy, He made time for children. He brought them close, hugged them, laid His hands on their heads to bless them, and prayed for them. That is the Jesus Christ of the Bible. Who is more real to your children? Santa Claus, or Jesus Christ?
Just after He was resurrected, Christ provided a glimpse of His power:
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord (John 20:19–20).
Our culture glorifies stories of a magical figure who brings gifts on Christmas Eve before vanishing into the night. But Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, really did have the power to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye. He even appeared instantly in a room with closed doors, something clearly beyond natural powers!
When Jesus Christ returns, the Bible shows that He will reward human beings according to their works: “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Revelation 22:12–13).
Jesus Christ knows who has been “naughty or nice,” and He is going to give rewards to everyone according to their works. While salvation is a free gift from God for those who seek Him in faith and obedience, Christ does see what we do and will reward both our service to Him and the loving, caring kindnesses we extend to those around us.
In light of all of this, whom should we honor and adore? Clearly, our devotion belongs to the One who really can walk through walls and travel at unfathomable speed across the globe. We should honor and adore the One who really knows our every thought and deed—the One who really does love us and our children, who has proven it by giving up His life!
Yet popular culture glorifies another figure, a fictional hero who has robbed attention from the One who truly deserves it. Later in his book, Desmond Morris makes this exact point:
Santa Claus began life as Nicholas, a saintly bishop in the ancient coastal city of Myra in what is now south-west Turkey…. Because of his generous gift-giving and his protection of small children, [Nicholas] became an immensely popular saint all across Europe…. (p. 12).
Mr. Morris then explains how this figure changed and evolved over the centuries to become the Santa Claus of today:
The name Father Christmas [was amalgamated] with the personality of Santa Claus, to create our own, immensely popular, Christmas figure. Much to the disgust of the more pious clergy, Santa eventually became more popular than Jesus with modern children. This outraged certain elements in the church, but they were helpless to halt his ascent to the central peak of the Christmas festival… Father Christmas, alias Santa Claus, was here to stay (p. 13, emphasis added).
Is Santa Claus more real to children than Jesus Christ? If so, is it not obvious that something is terribly wrong?
All of us need to get to know the real God better. This requires us to recognize and reject the imaginary imposters that seek to take His place.
Thus far, this article has focused on those who keep Christmas for religious reasons, but many observe it for secular, non-religious purposes. They see it as an occasion to spend time with family and friends, to cultivate goodwill and positive feelings. It is good to spend time with those we love. God created us in families, and made us desire close bonds with others. Even the simple act of eating together strengthens connections between human beings.
But should our mealtimes—and our get-togethers throughout the year—be focused only on being with one another? Should not those special times also include the One who made us in the first place? It is interesting to note that even the word “holiday” hints of a religious past, and one really cannot divorce it from religion. The word itself is a combination of two words: “holi” or “holy,” and “day.” This indicates a time to commune with our divine Creator.
The early New Testament Church did break bread together, but what Holy Days did they keep? Acts 2 describes one of them—Pentecost, or the “Feast of Firstfruits.” Why did they keep this Holy Day, or “Feast”? Because it was one of the days God had required His people to keep as a commanded assembly since the time of Moses and the Exodus. Another such festival was called the Feast of Tabernacles, and Jesus Christ Himself kept this Feast, as John 7:10 shows.
The Bible contains a fascinating description of the Feast of Tabernacles, picturing it as a wonderful time for families, during which fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and other relatives can enjoy being together:
Then in the presence of the Lord your God, in the place where he’ll choose to establish his name, you may consume the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your livestock and flock, so that you’ll learn to revere the Lord your God all your life…. You may spend the money to your heart’s content to buy livestock, flocks, wine, strong drink, and whatever you desire. You and your household may eat there and rejoice in the presence of the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 14:23, 26, International Standard Version).
Who would not enjoy feasting on a delicious meal of fine steak and roasted lamb garnished with tasty fruits and vegetables, perhaps while enjoying a glass of wine produced from one’s very own vineyard? Imagine multiple generations together at the table, laughing and smiling, telling stories, good-naturedly teasing and kidding one another, loving every minute of it! This is the picture, entirely within the context of learning to love and serve the Creator God.
The Feast of Tabernacles not only brought family together, but also involved the whole community. It included those who would otherwise be disenfranchised or alone: “Foreigners, orphans, and widows who live in your cities [will] come, eat, and be satisfied. That way, the Lord your God shall bless you in everything you do” (Deuteronomy 14:29, ISV).
What a joyous event, creating memories to last a lifetime! Who would not want to take part in it? The Bible reveals in Zechariah 14:16 that all humanity will keep this same Feast of Tabernacles during the millennial reign of Christ!
Jesus Christ is our Savior. He voluntarily came to earth. He lived and died for us, to save us from our sins. He’s coming back as King of kings and Lord of lords. Honoring Him is good, even essential. But we must honor the King in the way that the King tells us to honor Him. Christ sternly corrected the religious leaders of His day, who kept many traditions but didn’t acknowledge the true God: “He said to them, ‘All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition… making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do’” (Mark 7:9, 13).
God tells us in Jeremiah 10:2–3, “Do not learn the way of the Gentiles…. For the customs of the peoples are futile.” That is God’s instruction. Furthermore, Deuteronomy 12:30–31 tells us, “do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way….”
If our customs are “religious, but not biblical,” could we be missing something? And if our observances are only secular and do not honor the God who gave us breath, are they not ultimately empty and meaningless?
Now is the time to ask yourself: Why Christmas? You might be surprised at the answer you discover.