About this time every year a campaign is launched to “keep Christ in Christmas,” as Christians protest against the “Happy Holidays” mantra that removes any mention of Christmas or against the ban on nativity scenes in schools and government buildings or against the “Xmas” abbreviation that removes any mention of “Christ.” But was “Christ” ever in “Christmas”?
It has become a custom on my radio show to hold an annual debate on whether Christians should celebrate Christmas, a debate totally driven by callers, who tend to be equally divided over the issue.
On the “con” side callers will present arguments like these:
1) We can be almost certain that Jesus was not born on December 25th, so why celebrate his birthday then? Do we celebrate our own birthdays on the wrong day of the year? (Some of the callers will argue that Jesus was most likely born in the fall, during the Festival of Tabernacles, Sukkot.)
2) While it is biblical to celebrate the Savior’s death and resurrection, there is no scriptural mandate to celebrate his birth. Plus, Jesus and his first followers, all of them Jews, would have celebrated Hanukkah, not Christmas.
3) Christmas is nothing but a pagan holiday taken over by the Catholic Church. (The name “Christmas” comes from the words “Christ’s Mass,” pointing to its Catholic roots after being borrowed from paganism.) The feast of the Babylonian god Isis was celebrated on December 25th, replete with gluttonous eating and drinking, while the Romans celebrated the festival of Saturnalia on this date. The various Christmas customs also have pagan origins, including the making and adorning of the Christmas tree and the burning of the yuletide logs. And what does Santa Claus have to do with the birth of Jesus?
4) Christmas has become nothing more than an excuse for materialism and greed. What could be further from the self-sacrificing example of Jesus?
5) Jesus taught that “the world” would hate his followers the same way it hated him (see John 15:18-20), and yet the world loves Christmas, with even irreligious people putting up Christmas trees, giving Christmas gifts, and attending church services. If “the world” loves it, that’s a bad sign, not a good sign.
On the “pro” side callers will present arguments like these:
1) It is true that December 25th was a pagan holiday, but with so many pagans coming to faith in Christ, this was the Church’s way of redeeming the day, taking something with pagan origins and making it into a Church celebration. Isn’t that what Jesus is all about, namely, redeeming sinners and sinful things?
2) The Gospel writers take considerable time to describe the Messiah’s birth (see Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2). Shouldn’t we also take time to remember this amazing event, one that has changed the world forever? This is a great time of the year to meditate on these extraordinary chapters in the Bible.
3) Just think of all the wonderful hymns that we sing at this time of the year, like “Joy to the World” and “Come Let Us Adore Him” – there’s even the special custom of singing Christmas carols from door to door – and only a spiritual Grinch would want to steal this joy from us.
4) This is a special time for families to enjoy quality time together, a time for thanksgiving that the Savior has come into the world, a rare family-oriented, holy day on the Christian calendar. If we get rid of this, what are we left with?
5) Although many irreligious people love the trappings of Christmas, “the world” actually hates Christmas and the Christ after whom it is named. That’s why there’s such an effort to remove Christ from Christmas and to secularize completely the holiday season. This alone should be a sufficient sign to Christians that this is a sacred holiday worth fighting for.
So, Should Christians celebrate Christmas? Should we fight to keep “Christ” in Christmas? Or should we celebrate Hanukkah instead? What are your thoughts?
Let the debate begin.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.