“ ‘Christmas is coming,’ is the note that is sounded throughout our world from East to West and from North to South. With youth, those of mature age, and even the aged, it is a period of general rejoicing, of great gladness. But what is Christmas, that it should demand so much attention? …..” The Adventist Home, p. 477.
Well before time, there will be tinsel in the shops and Christmas Carols serenading the shoppers. There will be an atmosphere of goodwill and everyone seems a little more pleasant and relaxed. Festivity is in the air. Many toy/gift catalogues will enter your mailbox advising you of how to spend your money on the ones you love and Santa Claus’ merry face and his elves will be dancing over their pages. The banks willingly come to the aid of the gift-givers, and many a home will pay for Christmas long after the season is over. What does all this mean to you and especially to our youth and little children?
Where did all this festivity and goodwill begin? Since its introduction Christmas has evolved into a symbol of peace and joy, family gatherings and exchange of gifts, entertainment and feasting. Santa Claus is a jovial mascot of goodwishes and cheer with decorations and tinseled evergreens decked for the child’s delight. Let us refresh our memories on the origin of the season.
The Origin & History of Christmas
“The first mention of the celebration of Christmas occurred in AD 336 in an early Roman calendar, which indicates December 25 as the day of observance. This celebration was probably influenced by pagan (non-Christian) festivals held at that time. The ancient Romans held mid-winter celebrations to honour Saturn, their harvest god; and Mithras, the god of light. Various peoples in northern Europe held festivals in mid-December to celebrate the end of the harvest season. As part of all these celebrations, the people prepared special foods, decorated their homes with greenery, and joined in singing and gift giving. These customs gradually became part of the Christmas celebration.” 1999 World Book Encyclopedia.
The Origin of Christmas Customs
Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas, (A.D. 300’s), is a popular saint of the Catholic church. He was Bishop of Myra in Lycia, on the coast of Asia Minor, and is the patron saint of sailors, travellers, bakers, merchants, and especially children.
“By 1100, Saint Nicholas had become a popular symbol of gift giving in many European countries. According to legend, he brought presents to children on the eve of December 6. Nonreligious figures replaced Saint Nicholas in certain countries soon after the Reformation, and December 25 became the day for giving gifts.” Ibid.
“The first Dutch settlers who went to America maintained their custom of celebrating the saint’s feast day on December 6. They told their children that the saint visited their homes and left gifts on Saint Nicholas Eve. In time, English settlers adopted the legends and festivities associated with Saint Nicholas. English-speaking children spoke the Dutch name for the saint, Sinterklaas, quickly and excitedly so that it sounded like Santy Claus or Santa Claus.” Ibid.
“The popularity of Christmas grew until the Reformation, a religious movement of the 1500’s. This movement gave birth to Protestantism. During the Reformation, many Christians began to consider Christmas a pagan celebration because it included nonreligious customs and during the 1600’s Christmas was outlawed in England and in parts of the British colonies in America. However, people continued to exchange Christmas gifts and soon started to follow the other old customs again.” Ibid.
Christmas tree. “The Christmas tree probably developed in medieval Germany from the ‘Paradise Tree,’ a type of evergreen. This tree, decorated with red apples, was used in a popular Christmas play about Adam and Eve. By 1605, many German families decorated their homes with evergreens for Christmas. They decorated the trees with fruit, nuts, lighted candles, and paper roses.” Ibid
Today the trees are decorated with tinsel, bright ornaments, flashing lights and sweets. A star is mounted on top of many Christmas trees to represent the star that led the wise men to the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
Historically, “According to a Roman almanac, the Christian festival of Christmas was celebrated in Rome by A.D.336. In the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, however, a festival on January 6 commemorated the manifestation of God in both the birth and the baptism of Jesus, except in Jerusalem, where only the birth was celebrated. During the 4th century the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25 was gradually adopted by most Eastern churches. In Jerusalem, opposition to Christmas lasted longer, but it was subsequently accepted. In the Armenian Church, Christmas was never accepted; Christ’s birth is celebrated on January 6.” Encyclopaedia Britannica
“The exact day and year of Christ’s birth have never been satisfactorily settled, but when the fathers of the church in AD440 decided upon a date to celebrate the event they wisely chose the day of the winter solstice which was firmly fixed in the minds of the people and which was their most important festival. Because of changes in man-made calendars, the time of the solstice and the day of Christmas vary by a few days.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol.5, p.643.
From these reputable sources it becomes obvious that various non-Christian traditional celebrations during December in the early centuries have been adapted by most Christian religions of today. Many Christians have questioned its legitimacy. Today, we as reformers need to understand not only the origin of Christmas, but its influence upon our children and us as it is celebrated today.
Was Christ’s birth intended by God to be a focus of celebration?
“The twenty-fifth of December is supposed to be the day of the birth of Jesus Christ, and its observance has become customary and popular. But yet there is no certainty that we are keeping the veritable day of our Saviour’s birth. History gives us no certain assurance of this. The Bible does not give us the precise time. Had the Lord deemed this knowledge essential to our salvation, He would have spoken through His prophets and apostles, that we might know all about the matter. But the silence of the Scriptures upon this point evidences to us that it is hidden from us for the wisest purposes.
“In His wisdom the Lord concealed the place where He buried Moses. God buried him, and God resurrected him and took him to heaven. This secrecy was to prevent idolatry. He against whom they rebelled while he was in active service, whom they provoked almost beyond human endurance, was almost worshiped as God after his separation from them by death. For the very same purpose He has concealed the precise day of Christ’s birth, that the day should not receive the honor that should be given to Christ as the Redeemer of the world – one to be received, to be trusted, to be relied on as He who could save to the uttermost all who come unto Him. The soul’s adoration should be given to Jesus as the Son of the infinite God.”
“There is no divine sanctity resting upon the twenty-fifth of December; and it is not pleasing to God that anything that concerns the salvation of man through the infinite sacrifice made for them, should be so sadly perverted from its professed design.” The Review and Herald, December 9, 1884 (emphasis supplied).
From my first introduction to Reform it has been an honour to be among a people who are not caught up with the customs and practices of the world – to be part of a people who are endeavouring to practice the Spirit of Christ, rather than a worldly spirit of festivity with a price tag. But my early experience was not free from anguish. I come from a large and close-knit family where Christmas meant family reunions and expressions of love in giving of gifts. It was not easy to break this tie with my family, knowing that it would cause pain to those I loved. This issue arises in many hearts and homes as we approach the season. “How can I hurt those I love. They will not understand.” Let us prayerfully consider how the servant of the Lord advises us in these matters.
Focus on Christ, Not on the Festivity
“Even Christmas, the day observed professedly in honor of the birthday of Christ, has been made a most effective means of turning the mind away from Christ, away from his glory. If Christmas is kept at all, it should be kept in a way that will be in harmony with its significance.” Ibid., December 9, 1890 (emphasis supplied).
“Christ should be the supreme object; but as Christmas has been observed, the glory is turned from him to mortal man, whose sinful, defective character made it necessary for him to come to our world. Jesus, the Majesty of heaven, the royal King of heaven, laid aside his royalty, left his throne of glory, his high command, and came into our world to bring to fallen man, weakened in moral power, and corrupted by sin, aid divine. ….
“Parents should keep these things before their children, and instruct them, line upon line, precept upon precept, in their obligation to God,–not their obligation to each other, to honor and glorify one another by gifts and offerings. But they should be taught that Jesus is the world’s Redeemer, the object of thought, of painstaking effort; that his work is the grand theme which should engage their attention; that they should bring to him their gifts and offerings. Thus did the wise men and the shepherds.” Ibid., December 9, 1884.
“In celebrating Christmas, fathers, mothers, children, and friends are diverted from the great object to which the custom is attributed. They give their whole attention to the bestowal of gifts upon one another, and their minds are turned away from the contemplation of the Source of all their blessings both spiritual and temporal. In their attention to gifts and honors bestowed upon themselves or their friends, Jesus is unhonored and forgotten.” The Bible Echo, December 15, 1892.
Clearly, Christmas is a pagan festival that has become a custom of the professed Christian world. In adopting this custom, nominal Christians have attached a religious significance to it, but have failed to focus adequately on the true meaning the celebration should call to mind. There may be many opportunities during this time for Christians to improve upon the world’s traditions, but we need to be keenly aware of the influence such action has upon our children and youth. When we try to improve upon a custom, there is danger that our efforts are perceived to be an acceptance of the custom at large and everything that is attached to it. This is especially so, when formerly we have had nothing to do with the custom.
Unselfish Giving for the Right Reasons?
“The holidays are approaching. In view of this fact, it will be well to consider how much money is expended yearly in making presents to those who have no need of them. The habits of custom are so strong that to withhold gifts from our friends on these occasions would seem to us almost a neglect of them. But let us remember that our kind heavenly Benefactor has claims upon us far superior to those of any earthly friends. Shall we not, during the coming holidays, present our offerings to God? Even the children may participate in this work. Clothing and other useful articles may be given to the worthy poor, and thus a work may be done for the Master.” Messages to Young People, p. 311.
“Shall presents be purchased, and money be expended for unnecessary things, and no wisdom be manifested in the outlay of God’s intrusted means? Will parents come out from the world and be separate from its customs? Let them obey the injunction of God, and put forth judicious labor properly to train and educate the young in true knowledge and wisdom.” The Review Herald, November 13, 1894.
“You can teach your children a lesson while you explain to them the reason why you have made a change in the value of their presents, telling them that you are convinced that you have hitherto considered their pleasure more than the glory of God. Tell them that you have thought more of your own pleasure and of their gratification and of keeping in harmony with the customs and traditions of the world, in making presents to those who did not need them, than you have of advancing the cause of God. Like the wise men of old, you may offer to God your best gifts, and show by your offerings to him that you appreciate his Gift to a sinful world. Set your children’s thoughts running in a new, unselfish channel, by inciting them to present offerings to God for the gift of his only begotten Son.” Ibid.
The Christmas Tree
“It is our privilege to depart from the customs and practices of this degenerate age”, says Sister White, referring to the celebration of Christmas. (Ibid., December 11, 1879). “Let the gifts be placed in the Lord’s treasury” she adds. (Ibid., December 9, 1884).
Referring to the two isolated statements some use to endorse the world’s yearly custom of erecting a Christmas tree, we need to understand the ramifications of going backward in our experience and to understand the consequences of its use. “Shall we have a Christmas tree? Will it not be like the world? We answer, You can make it like the world if you have a disposition to do so, or you can make it as unlike the world as possible. There is no particular sin in selecting a fragrant evergreen, and placing it in our churches; but the sin lies in the motive which prompts to action, and the use which is made of the gifts placed upon the tree.” Ibid., December 11, 1879. A similar statement is found in The Review and Herald, December 9, 1884.
Both statements condemn the ‘worldly policy of gift giving’ and the ‘wrong motives’ in the common practise of raising ‘Christmas trees’ in the churches. To use these statements to justify ‘the introduction’ of the world’s practice into the church is unwise. The churches were already in the practise of celebrating Christmas. They were already in the practise of ‘raising Christmas trees’ in their churches. The churches were already degenerated to the world’s level. It is no wonder that she stated, “If Christmas is kept at all, it should be kept in a way that will be in harmony with its significance.” Ibid., December 9, 1890, (emphasis supplied). Sr White was not even convinced on the benefit of keeping a day that God’s Word did not endorse (see The Review and Herald, December 9, 1884). Yet she used the popular symbol of the world’s festivity to refocus minds on the world’s Redeemer, true benevolence and self-sacrifice.
Any form of imitation of the world’s practise has been foreign to us as a people, for we have always endeavoured to project Christ and the spirit of unselfish Christ-like service. To endorse the use of the Christmas celebration would be deleterious upon our young people. Such an example would be irresponsible – as the ramification would be unfavourable to spirituality.
If the church is striving for unselfish benevolence without the use of the symbol of the world’s festivity, then why use the world’s symbol to that end if it will break down the high, noble barriers against the world? Isn’t it better to keep these strong influences of the world out of the church? To follow the instruction as outlined by God’s servant is to bring your means, money and cheques to be placed before the Lord as a gift to God’s cause.
When I have seen little children colouring in Christmas trees with its tinsel and decorations during the festive season, it saddens me that their focus is upon the worldly aspects of Christmas rather than upon the beauty of Christ. Are parents conscious of the influences moulding the minds of their little ones?
When the symbols of festive decorations begin to adorn the homes, the shops and the cities, be assured that the impressions imprinted upon the minds of children and youth is not the character up-building of the Christ in the Bible. The season is encrusted with forms of idolatry with no Biblical support.
“Thousands of dollars will be worse than thrown away upon the coming Christmas and New Year’s in needless indulgences. But it is our privilege to depart from the customs and practices of this degenerate age; and instead of expending means merely for the gratification of the appetite, or for needless ornaments or articles of clothing, we may make the coming holidays an occasion in which to honor and glorify God.” Ibid., December 11, 1879.
The True Spirit of Worshipping Our Saviour
Dear Brothers and Sisters, as we approach this season once again, let us determine to use every opportunity it presents to us to truly worship our Saviour. Christmas, with all its intended symbolism, is lost to display, commercialism, aggrandizement and festivity. Irrespective of argument and evidences by the nominal Christian world for or against the genuineness of the day being the birth of Christ, commercialisation has taken it over.
History reveals that the origin of Christmas is clearly from pagan sources. The nominal Christian world has been caught up by this counterfeit day of celebration. Scripture has not revealed a birthday to be celebrated for the birth of Christ. And we do not need to mimic the world by departing from the simple practise of worship which is in harmony with God’s Word.
“Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.” Jeremiah 10:2-5.
Homes or churches which have been affected by the influences of the world, which have been in the habit of using the Christmas tree and the festive season for the wrong purpose, let them follow the counsel of God’s messenger. Use the day to solicit sacrifices for missionary outreach, for benevolence to the poor and for self-sacrifice, as instructed by the servant of God.
As it is not our practise to imitate the world; then let us not go backward in our experience. Let us continue to uphold the high standard of revealing Christ – without the use of the world’s symbols. They may have their Christmases and decorated trees, but we will have our Christ. Thus we will save our children and keep their minds free from the glitter and tinsel, free for holier and nobler aspirations.
If we have consecrated our will to the Lord, if we are ready to worship Him in Spirit and in truth, we will have no part in the festivities of the season. Our gifts will be only those that feed the hungry, satisfy the soul’s need, or support the Lord’s treasury. Let yourselves be given up entirely to the Lord, and this season will bring you and your families peace and goodwill beyond anticipation.
~ Peter J Jackson