Over the Christmas holiday period I found it really interesting, and was even contacted by some friends, that there was a whole lot of discussion about what day Christmas actually is.
I was actually quite surprised about this because I’d never really thought it was a big deal, but all of a sudden there were blog posts and videos and discussions about why it’s wrong to celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Here are some reasons that were given, and then I’ll respond with some reasons why it actually doesn’t matter!
- Jesus was born in warmer weather, shepherds were outside and so it can’t have been winter. Therefore can’t be December 25
- Was a pagan holiday, and so its roots are corrupted, can’t be any good or of value.
- It has become a secular holiday which is focussed on consumption, and so we can’t get any value out of it.
- There are still too many pagan symbols attached to the celebration of Christmas, and so let’s just get rid of the whole thing.
- It is an arbitrary choice – why don’t we make another one that is more in line with when Jesus might have actually been born?
The fact of the matter is that all of these arguments are really moot. They are actually irrelevant to the debate, and in fact the debate itself is irrelevant.
Let me try and take you down the path of my reasoning, and you can decide for yourself if I’m headed in the right direction. I want to take as a starting point a particular text from St Paul:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. – Romans 14:5-6
Here we see the apostle talking to the church in the city of Rome. The situation, as I’ve come to understand it, is that the Jews had been expelled from Rome, and the church, which had been mostly Jewish up until then, had become entirely Gentile. These non-Jewish believers had then had to figure out how to ‘do church’ without the guidance of their brothers and sisters who had converted them.
They did well, until the ban was lifted and the Jewish believers were allowed back in to the city. At this point some contention arose over different things like the observance of the Sabbath and other ‘Holy Days.’ The Jewish believers thought that you had to observe them (as was their habit and custom), while the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers thought that each day was created equal. Paul is addressing this particular discussion/disagreement here in this section.
So what does he say? Essentially that each person is free to observe or not observe, as long as they are doing so to honour God, and not simply because they want to be lazy or to be hyper-religious.
How does this apply to our discussion of Christmas? Let’s go through the points and provide brief rejoinders to each:
- It’s pretty clear that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, in fact we will never know with any degree of certainty what date He was born on. This clearly falls into the category of each should be convinced in his own mind.
- Sunday is a day with pagan roots. Should we stop meeting on Sundays? What about the other days that are named after Roman gods? Should we name the days different days? Set up our own system of dating?
- Are we using the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus? Seems to be a good enough reason for me.
- Again, have we not contextualised the meaning of these symbols – the tree, the star, the presents. These all have a deeper meaning for us, and help us to focus on what God has done in Christ. Should we not use anything in our worship? Just because other people use the same things for different meanings doesn’t mean we can’t use those same things for good an holy purposes.
- Can you name another day that we should use? What would make your day any less arbitrary? Feel free to do so on whatever day you think is best. If your intention is to worship God and celebrate the arrival of Jesus the Christ, then by all means!
What are your thoughts?
*I may revisit this topic in the months to come – but let’s see what people think about this first…