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Holidays

Christmas Traditions
Steve Wallace


The Bible records the birth of Jesus and some of the events surrounding it (Matthew 1-2; Luke 2:1-20). As other articles in this special issue of Watchman Magazine show, it was never the expressed will of God that Jesus’ birth be remembered in any way other than the study of it in his word. In light of this fact it is simply amazing how many traditions, religious and otherwise, have grown up around the supposed “birthday” of Jesus Christ. The limited research done by this writer revealed some interesting facts on this matter.

Variety and Similarity in Christmas Traditions

The winter holiday celebrations in our world evidence degrees of uniformity and variation. Let us notice what is going on in the world in the time leading up to and including the traditional holiday season in the United States. In Lebanon, people plant seeds in small pots a month before Christmas. When Christmas arrives they place the resultant little pots of green around a “Christmas Cave” (which holds a nativity scene) and their Christmas Tree. Well in advance of Christmas, many Germans put out mainly white lights for outdoor decorations as harbingers of the holiday season. Beginning with the first Sunday in Advent, the Finns hold “Advent concerts” throughout their country. In northern France, the children receive their gifts December 6. Lucia day, December 13, is a part of Finnish traditional Christmas. Lucia is a young girl chosen to visit holiday gatherings, hospitals and schools with happy messages. Mexicans have, as part of their Christmas observance, the “Novena” (9 days), which start 9 days before Christmas eve, called “Holy Night” (December 24). The “Posadas,” which take place at this time, are a reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. At sunset on Christmas Eve, Finnish churches hold a special service around 5 p.m. Attending a sauna is also an integral part of Christmas Eve in Finland, while in France, following midnight mass, they have a special meal symbolizing part of the Christmas story. Special Christmas Eve services, often in the form of Catholic mass, are a part of the tradition in many cultures. The Christmas tree is also a widely accepted symbol of the holiday season. In Great Britain, many will have a special “Yule Log” to be burned in the fireplace on Christmas. Irish children will often put up Christmas sacks instead of stocking. In Kenya, church buildings are decorated with balloons, ribbons, flowers and green plants as well as Christmas trees. Christmas dinner is often a barbecue with family members traveling from far away to be together. While gift giving takes place on December 25th in many countries, there are variations as we have already seen in the case of Northern France. Mexican children do not receive presents until January 6th, which, in that country, is a celebration of the visit of the Wise Men. According to one source, “St. Nicholas Day (December 6 or 19, sw), not Christmas, is the usual gift-giving day in much of Europe including Ukraine, although for Christmas it was the custom of all members in the family to get a new article of clothing.”[i] The Australian say that Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight white kangaroos![ii]

This brief view shows both religious and non-religious Christmas traditions.

In addition to the above traditions, alcohol has become a major part of the holiday merriment in many countries besides the U.S. A headline from a British source reports, “Hospitals set for 20% increase in alcoholic admissions following Christmas and New Years.”[iii] In Western Australia, an article dealing with the problem of drunk driving includes the following: “High-risk times for these people are occasions when more alcohol is likely to be consumed, such as Christmas and Easter holidays and celebrations.”[iv] The side-effects of this kind of celebrating include immorality, violence and, of course, drunk driving.

Tracing the Origins of Some Christmas Traditions

As noted in other parts of this special issue, the observance of Christmas did not come from God and is not found in the Bible. In light of this we should expect that the various practices that have grown up around this special day to have originated in the mind of man. Please notice that this is exactly what we find. In the Ukraine, “The Ukrainian prince Vsevolod Yaroslavych introduced the feast of St. Nicholas during the time of Pope Urban II (1088-99 AD).” [v] Many of the Finnish Christmas traditions date from the 20th century, one from as recently as 1950. Most have been imported from other countries.[vi] We are told that “The hanging of greenery around the house, such as holly and ivy, is a winter tradition with origins well before the Christian era. Greenery was brought into the house to lift sagging winter spirits and remind people that spring was not far away.”[vii] Mistletoe is said to go back to the time of the ancient Druids. In England, the practice of decorating Christmas trees is said to go back to 1841. Christmas was not a public holiday in Scotland until after the Second World War. It is now a major celebration in that country.[viii] The spread of the observation of Christmas as the birth of Christ is mainly due to the influence Roman Catholicism and to religions with roots similar to it such the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican/Episcopalian and Lutheran churches. None of these churches are found in the Bible. Rather, they represent apostate forms of Christianity. While the ultimate origins of many Christmas traditions may never be known, it is clear that they did not come from God as one cannot find them in the Bible.

Some Conclusions:

1. If the traditions of men are our authority, compromise is continually necessary in order for unity to exist. One involved in the religious observance of Christmas has to have some convictions with regards to those who observe Christmas in other ways in other countries. If such a one is to count them faithful he/she must compromise on how he/she believes Christmas should be celebrated. Indeed, it is here that the insidious nature of this so-called “holy day” can be clearly seen. The many and varied times and manners of observing the birth of Christ naturally give way to the belief that “It does not matter how we worship God.” This is true in other areas, such as accepting different beliefs about the Genesis account of creation, or divorce and remarriage. If we are going to uphold beliefs that conflict with scripture as acceptable in these areas we will continually compromise with regards to who we recognize as faithful. Such compromise leads one to be wide open for every new doctrine that comes down the pike (2 Timothy 4:3-4). The traditions surrounding Christmas speak volumes on this subject.

2. The faith was “once delivered” to the saints (Jude 3). A cursory examination of Christmas traditions shows a tacit belief in a rather informal type of continuous revelation. If the many different ways devised to please God on this day are to be accepted as valid in his sight, one of at least two things must be true: 1) Either God is continuously revealing his will on this and, logically, other matters or, as we noted above, 2) He does not care how people worship him. Jude 3 shows that God is not continuously revealing his will. Does God care how people worship him? We seek to answer this under our next point.

3. Jesus taught that we must do God’s will to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). God cares how we worship him! Those who are involved in the many and varied religious observances surrounding the birth of Jesus need to hear his words in the afore cited scripture: “Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out demons, and in thy name done many wonderful works? Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from me ye that work iniquity.” It is necessary to one’s salvation that they learn to separate truth from tradition (Matthew 15:9; John 8:32; 4:24).

4. All traditions are not inherently sinful. Many things involved in the religious observance of Christmas are sinful in that they represent departures from divine truth (Matthew 15:9; 2 John 9-11). In condemning such departures, care should be taken with regard to what we teach others (in contrast to what individual Christians may feel constrained to practice). Not everything connected with a non-Christian religion is inherently sinful. Circumcision is an example of this. While a part of God’s covenant with the Jews in the times before Christ, there is nothing inherently religious about circumcision. It is a neutral act in the sight of God (Galatians 5:6). When men seek to bind circumcision it is wrong (Acts 15:1ff). However, if a person chooses to be circumcised for his own reasons, he has not sinned. Similar arguments could be made on the subject of eating meats (1 Corinthians 8:8). The point we seek to make in all of this is simply this: Just because something is connected with false religion does not make that object or practice sinful.

We hope that the application to things connected with the religious observance of Christmas is clear. There are many things connected with Christmas that represent religious error, such as manger scenes, Christmas carols about the birth of Jesus, special church services, religious cards, etc. However, there are many things connected with it that are neutral acts, such as gift giving, sending holiday greeting cards, and trees or greenery in one’s house (see under our second point re. origin of indoor greenery). Indeed, such are found among many irreligious, unbelieving people in our society. Whether or not an individual Christian can in good conscience be involved in any of these things is up to each person to decide. However, in our teaching, let us be careful to see the difference between a religious practice and a practice that is neutral in the eyes of God.

5. We must also beware of the immoral influences of the holiday season. Please remember what we noted above about the high consumption of alcohol that takes place during the holiday season. Pressures may come to some Christians during this time of year to be a part of the office Christmas party. Those of the opposite sex, emboldened by alcohol, may make sexual advances on a brother or sister. The atmosphere at family gatherings that include non-Christian family members may become unwholesome. The Christian must mentally prepare his/her self to either refuse invitations to some holiday gatherings or leave when things become improper.

Conclusion

Christmas, in truth, represents much of what is wrong with efforts to serve God today. Good but uninformed people seek to serve God in a manner that seems acceptable to them and/or to those around them (Romans 10:1-3). God’s word, if consulted at all, is studied for the purpose of authorizing practice or general relevant information, rather than to seek his will (1 Kings 22:4-8). The joint participation in events that please man warms the heart, giving joy and a sense of belonging to what are thought to be “fellow Christians” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). The continuance in error over a long period of time hardens the heart to any dissenting voice (Acts 7:51-52). By contrast, religious figures that agree with the ways one has chosen are gladly heard (Jeremiah 5:31-32). It all results in efforts, often massive, intended to bring glory to God that are an abomination in his sight and work to the damnation of souls involved (Isaiah 1:10-15; Micah 6:6-8; 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Let Christians take warning of the varied lessons to be learned from Christmas traditions. Let those who practice the religious observance of Christmas take warning that it does not please God.


Footnotes

[ii] much information in this paragraph was gleaned from the following web sites: http://northpole.net/world.htm; http://virtual.finland.fi/finfo/english/joulueng.html; www.wickham.newbury.sch.uk/xmas/xmastory.html (Christmas and New Year Traditions in the UK)

[iii] www.priorityhealthcare.co.uk/cf/newsdetails.cfm?ID=14 (Note: Link now inactive)

[vii] www.wickham.newbury.sch.uk/xmas/xmastory.html (Christmas and New Year Traditions in the UK)

[viii] information in last three sentences obtained from: www.wickham.newbury.sch.uk/xmas/xmastory.html (Christmas and New Year Traditions in the UK)

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