I’m half a month late on this one. Usually, people who want to write about Christmas write their posts prior to Christmas day so everyone on Facebook can know (for the twentieth time) that Christmas is evil and should not be celebrated in any way. This is not a post like those. If you wanted a polemic against celebrating Christmas, you’ve come to the wrong place.
I want to write more than one post on this topic, and I want it to be a series both pastors and laypeople can reference every year when the anti-Christmas posts begin around the October-November months. I consider this series not to be a defense of Christmas day so much as it is an exposition of Romans 14 and a defense of the right understanding of that passage.
What is Christmas?
First, some housekeeping is in order.
What is Christmas? That question is very difficult to answer (more difficult than it is often made out to be). Some have defined it as a day based on a pagan festival. Some, like the Roman Catholic Church, would define it as a liturgical holiday to be celebrated in mass. Others, meaning most Americans, would simply like to think of Christmas as a fun (nostalgic) day to spend with family, exchange gifts, and eat tasty food.
The (well-intending) Christmas nay-sayers often want to tighten up the definition of Christmas, strictly seeing it as a pagan day which was absorbed into the Roman Catholic system years ago, only to become a liturgical holiday. This definition is, unfortunately, assumed rather than demonstrated. And the reasoning behind why that has to be the definition is more than a little unclear. The proponents of the anti-Christmas position often abhor the church of Rome and ascribes to it no ecclesial authority. So then, why does Rome have sole rights to define Christmas?
If Rome has no ecclesial authority, then it seems we should be able to define Christmas in any way we want. Secondly, to reject something simply because it came from an undesirable source is to commit what’s called the genetic fallacy. For Christmas to be evil simply because it came from a particular group would be to think the Eiffel Tower is evil just because the French built it or—to frame it in theological terms—to think the doctrine of the Trinity is correct solely because the Council of Nicaea deemed it to be so. The Eiffel Tower is not wrong because it was built by the French, and the doctrine of the Trinity is right, not because the Council of Nicaea says so, but ultimately because God has revealed Himself to be triune. Things can be good even if they come from bad sources and, likewise, things can be bad even if they come from good sources.
Just because something has pagan origins does not mean it is evil. The Western calendar is a great example of this. Most people who think Christmas is evil simply because it has pagan origins do not likewise think Saturday or Jupiter are bad words merely because both originated as pagan concepts. Saturday is not a bad day to have off work, and it’s certainly not wrong to name a planet Jupiter.
Because of etymology, the study of the origin of words, we know words change in how they are understood or used in contemporary parlance. This is the case with the word “Christmas.” Most of our society does not define that word in terms of a liturgical holiday proper to the Roman Catholic church. At most, they may understand it to be a day wherein the incarnation of the Son of God may be especially remembered, in the case of many Evangelicals. Whether or not their church celebrates it as a holiday is a separate question in most modern minds.
The Real Issue
On one hand, I want to grant to the anti-Christmas crowd the contention that Christmas should not be celebrated in the sense of the Roman Catholic liturgical holiday, that is, during a Roman Catholic mass. According to the Scriptures, there is no precedent for the church to observe any other day than the Lord’s Day as an official day of worship. The church is never given a command to worship on Christmas or to celebrate the Lord’s birthday on a particular day of the year.
On the other hand, I have to disagree that Christmas can only be understood as a pagan or Roman holiday. It is obvious that it’s not always understood this way by many Evangelicals. And if a Christian does want to observe a kind of “Christmas” in observance of the birth of Christ, or if a church wants to preach on the incarnation on a Sunday during the week of Christmas, then I believe it is within the bounds of biblical Christian liberty to do so.
In the next installment, I will look at Romans 14 and what it entails.