By Larry Ray Hafley
From Missouri: “Is it scriptural to celebrate Christmas in any way? Do you think giving of gifts, sending cards, and a Christmas tree are contrary to scriptural authority? Would the above fall under the discussion of Romans 14? Would the observing of any of the customs above be forbidden by Galatians 4:10,11?”
Our inquirer readily recognizes that the birth of Christ is not to be especially honored on December 25, the day called “Christmas.” Although there is controversy among Christians relative to the queries presented, there is no saint known to me who sanctifies December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth. We shall dispense and dispose with that aspect since it is not germane to the issues we entertain in these questions.
Warnings Against Worldly Abuses
Christmas is more than a day. It is a season. It possesses a spirit, and not all of it is good. Frankly, much of it is evil. ” ‘Tis the season to be dolly,” the song says, but ’tis also the season for folly, for licentious, lascivious behavior. Drunkenness, revelings, banquetings, and excesses of all forms abound. Christians who will not join the drinking and unchaste words arid ways of an “office party,” will frequently indulge in gluttony which they label as “indigestion” or scale down to the relative propriety of “over eating.” “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them …. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:11, 15-18).
The First Three Questions
The first two questions essentially constitute one question. One may, as a citizen, celebrate many holidays. Yes, “holiday” comes from “holy day,” but that is not its general use. (Does “Holiday Inn” indicate “Holy Day Inn?”)
The giving of gifts is optional. One could make a sin of it by extravagant, debt-causing spending and giving. Again, Christians often are guilty in this regard. Their giving to the Lord shrinks while they play Santa Claus. Their abuses, though, do not negate the right for me to give gifts to friends and relatives. I do not give presents to honor the birth of Christ. The purpose of the gift determines its scripturalness. If I give a gift because gifts were given to Christ at his birth (Matt. 2:11), and if I say I am doing this in honor of Christ who was born “on Christmas Day,” I would be doing wrong (Matt. 28:20; Gal. 1:8, 9). But if I decide to give toys boys at a set time every year, that is my privilege.
Personally, we do not send cards during the Christmas holidays. Certain ones are not objectionable, but one must use judgment and discretion lest he grant spiritual credence to Christmas by the cards he sends. Some Christmas cards are so religiously oriented and tainted with the myths of Catholicism and Protestantism that my family could not and would not send them, even if we had such a practice. Such cards identify one with the false teachings and religious traditions of men (Eph. 5:11).
A Christmas tree does not necessarily reflect that one believes December 25th is Jesus’ birthday. A “manger scene” does perhaps, but having a Christmas tree, sending cards and giving gifts does not necessarily honor Christmas as a religious holy day. Atheists and infidels have trees in their homes, send cards and give gifts. Does any one assume from this that they have suddenly “got religion?” No, why? Because Christmas is not totally regarded as a religious day. If one takes the position that he cannot celebrate Christmas as a civil holiday, how can he agree to take the day off work? Is he honoring the birth of Jesus by not working on December 25th?
Some do not choose to give gifts, send cards, or have a tree in their home during Christmas holidays. That is their prerogative. Certain principles from Romans 14 are applicable. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). One must not condemn his brother, or his conscience. He must not cause his brother to stumble, to offend, to be made weak by his actions.
Some Oft Heard Objections
(1) “One cannot separate the civil from the religious atmosphere at Christmas.” I think I can and do. Unbelievers, on the other side of the spiritual spectrum, do also. They observe the day and its customs without religious significance, and I can do likewise. Again, if one cannot separate the civil from the religious, he is “religiously” observing the birth of Christ if he takes the day off work.
(2) “The world looks upon your tree, cards, and gifts as being emblematic of your belief in Christmas as the Lord’s birth.” Not all do, and those who do so make a false and unwarranted assumption. We have turkey and dressing every Thanksgiving. Someone may imagine from this that I believe Thanksgiving is a religious holy day. I cannot prevent all misconceptions of this nature. Remember the infidel. His neighbors know he has no faith in Christ, and a tree, cards, and gifts do not tell them he does have. The neighbors of a Christian know where he stands with regard to December 25th, and a tree, cards, and gifts do not destroy his teaching.
(3) “The very word `Christmas’ involves one in honor of pagan, heathen and Catholic superstitions.” Tuesday is the day of Tyr, Norse god of war. Wednesday comes from Woden, a Norse god. Thursday is the day of Thor, Norse god of war and brother of Tyr (Tuesday). Friday is the day of Freya, Norse goddess of marriage. Saturday is a derivative of Saturn. Should one cease to mention the names of the days of the week because of their origin? The same could be said for January, March, May, and June, for they are named after Roman gods and goddesses. Do these very words include one in honor of pagan gods?
Galatians 4:10, 11 Applicable?
“Ye observe days, months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain” (Gal. 4:10, 11). These texts, in principle, would be to the point if one revered Christmas as the birth of Christ. Paul is dealing with Judaizers who bind Jewish holy days as essential to faithfulness (Gal. 4:9). Gentiles, too, were being turned to the “bondage” of the law and to Jewish fables and festivals (Gal. 4:21). One could “observe” no day, month, time, or year and make it mandatory to holiness and acceptance before God. To do so would be to step beyond the bounds of Divine authority, to Christmas as walk without God. That is as true of it is of Easter and the Sabbath.
However, to say it applies to all observances of all days is to misapply the passage. Such a view would preclude and prohibit the notice of Memorial Day, Armistice Day, Groundhog Day, Thanksgiving, Lincoln’s birth, ad infinitum. One could not even acknowledge his own birthday if that view were taken! A parallel may simplify and clarify. Jesus said, “Call no man your father upon the earth” (Matt. 23:9). There is no religious or spiritual sense in which I may call a man “father.” From another standpoint, though, I can call a man “father” (Heb. 12:9; Matt. 10:37), even though Jesus said “Call no man your father.” Surely, all understand this.
Galatians 4:10, 11, is relevant if I seek to bind any unauthorized day as an essential to fidelity unto the Lord, but it is not pertinent concerning civil or social days.
Truth Magazine XIX: 55, pp. 866-867
December 4, 1975