Should Christians Participate in Christmas and Easter?
Many have questioned what relationship ancient and present ways of worship engaged in by pagans have to do with Christian practice and liturgy today. For a long time in my life I believed (and taught as a Church Pastor) that any celebration of these two events must come from pagan origin since some of the accoutrements predate Christianity. My parents celebrated Christmas in traditional ways until I was twelve years old, but when they became members of what was then called the Worldwide Church of God, we stopped – cold turkey! The teachings of the WCG during those early years (1966 for our family) labeled both Christmas and Easter as pagan celebrations and therefore displeasing to God. We judged others who celebrated these days as misinformed at best, and ‘Christians so-called’ or ‘deceived by Satan’ at worst.
Before I discuss each event from the Biblical perspective and our church view of them in worship, it may be helpful to take note of how much of our everyday life, culture, and communication come from some kind of pagan origin. Every time we make an appointment to meet someone on aThursday, we are taking the name of an ancient God/King “Thor” and making a practical application for planning our week’s activities – without giving thought to its pagan origin or meaning. The same is true of Saturday (Saturn’s day), and Wednesday ‘Woednesday’ (spelling?) – and of course we all know about Sunday – a day for Sun worshippers! Pagans have and do worship everything in the created realm.
The point is that the meanings of the names given to these days of the week and months of the year in an original language from the past which at that time accompanied idolatrous worship practice, no longer holds that meaning for you and me today. (Paul said that the idol of itself is nothing -we don’t view culture, days, or celebrations from the same perspective that ancient Israel did because we are under a new and different Covenant.) Israel was intended to remain physically separate from the nations around her and commanded NOT to imitate some of the accoutrements of the pagan worship practices. I say some, because even in ancient times there were many overlapping symbols, worship accompaniment, and liturgical practices used by both the Hebrew people and the pagan nations around them. (Ex: The use of candles and lights, the use of music in worship, incense, prayer, petitions, special days set aside for worship, special clothing and rules of engagement for those set apart for the priesthood who served in constructed temples were used by both God’s people and the pagans. Some forms of sacrificial participation involving shedding of blood are also common to both.) Regarding the use of music in worship, there are some Christians who refrain from the use of any instrumental music citing pagan misuse of musical instruments throughout history. Yet others point out how the lute, the lyre, the flute and timbrel, the horn sections (even an instrument called a ‘sackbut’ -probably some kind of saxophone like wind instrument J) – were all used in splendor accompanied by thousands of singers in the temple of King David’s court by God’s command! Once pagan (or used by pagans) always pagan – doesn’t hold up in light of the meaning of the New Covenant.
The book of Hebrews explains how the signs, symbols and shadows given by God to His people under the Old Covenant were pointers to the work and person of Christ under the New Covenant where God makes us new from the inside out and those who worship “Worship in Spirit and in Truth”. The outward appearance, including clothing, hairstyles, non-sinful habits, eating this or not eating or drinking that, the touching of dead animals, physical circumcision, Holy Days, times and places, (worshipping only at one temple location, etc.) are no longer the measuring stick for what is or is not appropriate Christian conduct.
John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
A present day example of our use of something which was once pagan and appropriating it within the framework of the true God’s faithful intent for us can be seen in taking a marriage vow for example – – no doubt marriage has its origin in God’s intent and blessing, “In the Beginning God made them male and female”… But our vows, throwing rice (an ancient pagan fertility right), exchanging rings, (also a pagan practice, originating from pagan worship of the ‘circle of life’, fertility rites and procreation process), even the bride throwing her garter to other single females in her entourage and the ‘best man’ scenario came out of the darkest part of the Middle ages. This doesn’t mean we are idolatrous today if we throw rice at a wedding, or if we choose to honor our partner with the gift of a wedding band, (now considered a token of fidelity, not fertility.)
The New Covenant relationship opens up many means of worship beyond ancient cultural expressions because under the New Covenant all are included. (The entire gentile world as narrated through the book of Acts.) When we look at history we can also see that the meaning of certain activities has changed over time and between cultures… Men don’t greet each other with a “Holy Kiss” in America, normally! – but the men who read Paul’s words would have followed this cultural norm throughout the middle east without thinking anything of it – and still do so today in the Arab world. Culture of itself is not sin, and there is no culture on earth unaffected by the fall of man, family by family, tribe by tribe, nation by nation. Worship is only sinful if it encourages sin or holds up another god in place of the Triune God. There is no part of creation that pagan worship and idolatry have not touched because there is no part of the creation that did not suffer from sin and now awaits the ‘restitution of all things’. (Acts 3:19) Creation groans awaiting God’s redemptive work in us to be complete! (Rom 8:) Temples, alters, priests, sacrifices, incense, prayers, music, dancing, fire/candles, tables, chairs, clothing, food and drink, decorations, insignia’s, banners, crowns, rings, jewelry, makeup, — “and a partridge in a pear tree!” can be used for good purposes or fallen purposes. This is the story of the depth of love God has for us in Christ as the God Man given to us for all of us. We to were once pagan, as Paul wrote, and he has cleaned us up so that we who were originally corrupted, fallen, and in blind idol worship (often of self) can now use our bodies and minds to glorify God for His use.
While it is true that we can only speculate on the exact date of Jesus birth — the When, scripture is quite clear on the What, Where, Who, How, and Why. We know that when he was born (miraculously) the angels sang in all their glory and noblemen traveled from afar to pay homage to the new born king. (From scripture in the book of Revelation, Satan hated that birth and tried to destroy the Christ child before He could complete His purpose on earth. Rev 12) Many of the traditional Christmas songs come right out of scripture’s revelation and the pronouncement of angels. Those lyrics that speak of Him as the light of the world, the promised Emmanuel (God with us), the shining star which eclipses all others — He is the bright and morning star spoken of in Revelation 22:16, the uncreated light which illuminates our path, John 1 and Matt 2:1-7 I believe the heavy doses of scripture which follow may be helpful to you in seeking God’s use of the symbol of light in reference to Christ’s first coming, beginning with John 1. (2 Sam 23:3-4, Psa 19:1-5, 36:9, 43:3, 104:2, 112:4-9, Prov. 4:18) He truly is the brightness of the Silent Night who has come among us and has changed the meaning of being human forever for us.
In two symbolic references within scripture God inspires us to read of the created light of the ‘sun’ which points to that uncreated light of the ‘Son’. The “sun” of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, Mal 4:2 and Luke 1:76-79… 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (NIV) This isn’t sun worship, but if we have a knee jerk reaction to all things pagan then we will have trouble with God’s freedom to redefine and redirect us from the pagan to the true. By his grace and freedom He may direct us to utilize any aspect of this physical creation in pointing to the new spiritual creation in Christ. Of course, many candles were used in worship in the Temple of the Old Testament signifying God’s presence among his people.
God inspires a freedom in worship style, place, and accoutrements under the New Covenant that were not an option under the old. Paul’s words about each man commending a day according to his own schedule and conscience in Romans 14 would have been blasphemous under the Old Covenant worship guidelines. We don’t teach that December 25th is Christ’s birth day any more than an American history teacher would suggest to his classroom that all of our Nation’s independence took place on one day, July 4th in 1776. But July 4th is celebrated as a representation of a great event in our Nation’s history which actually unfolded over a several year process with signatures and documents prepared in the process. The church also has the freedom to set December 25th aside as a time of worship each year to remember and celebrate the fact that Christ was born of a virgin in the fullness of time for God’s divine purpose to be completed among us – and this true and real event in history really is good news which brings good tidings to all men!
You and I have had difficulty in reconciling the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ not because we don’t see the event recorded in scripture, but, like many of our puritan ancestors, we’ve read or heard of ancient pagan festivities in December (Saturnalia for one, where drunken orgies in the dead of winter were intended to woo the sun back from its far place in the sky to warm the earth again with Spring)… Again, just because man has misused the creation does not mean that God cannot redeem it for himself! (Ancient German tribes worshipped the forests and the trees… but God uses the evergreen in scripture to point to His sovereignty over creation to preserve his people and make them fruitfull long before the German tribes got hold of it.
Hos. 14:8 O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him. I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me. (NIV) Ezek 17:22-24
He tells us that the trees of the forest worship Him! (1 Chron 16:31-34, Jer 17:8, Psa 1:1,3 Psa 92:12, Prov 15:4)
God created the earth and it’s fullness before man attributed anything pagan to it and He said, “It is good.” (the sun, the moon , the stars, the earth and its vast oceans, fields, valleys, mountains, forests and trees!) He made it for man to His (God’s) glory – even detailed the arrangement of the celestial bodies so that we would look at him as creator and provider and the one who has set us in ‘time and space’. Is Santa Claus real? Of course not… Nor would I lie to my children or grandchildren about who really gives us every good gift from above- the Father of “Lights”! But Mickey Mouse isn’t real either, and when our children and grandchildren return from a Disney trip with a couple of mouse souvenirs, we don’t rant and rave about how mice can’t really talk and suggest that Walt Disney was really a fallen angel who created a satanic counterfeit for the Kingdom of God just to deceive people- you catch my drift. God’s truth speaks for itself and points to Him as the only God who deserves our worship and allegiance. I’ve included a couple of articles from our website below for you which include a brief treatment of our stance on Easter as well. The life of the early church was closely tied to their understanding of who the resurrected Christ was. I do realize these kinds of discussions can be sensitive areas especially when the individual conscience is involved.
Your brother in Christ,
From GCI’s website under literature: https://www.gci.org/christmas/tolerance
A Call for Tolerance on Christmas
In Luke 2:10-11, an angel of God describes the birth of Jesus as “good tidings of great joy for all the people.” Since it was appropriate for angels to rejoice at the birth of Jesus (verses 13-14), we believe it is certainly in keeping with the message of Scripture for Christians to do so.
Following the apostle Paul’s instruction in Romans 14, it is important that Christians respect one another’s views on this subject and not judge one another. Neither those believers who celebrate the birth of Jesus, nor those who don’t, are more righteous or more evil than the other. Christians are free in Christ to celebrate Christmas — or they may avoid it.
Some Christians avoid Christmas celebrations for conscience sake. There is no sin in their abstinence. Others devote themselves to worship, and celebrate with thanksgiving the miracle that God sent his Son into the world for our salvation. We can all learn to say with Paul: “Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord…. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:6, 10).
Love, not command, is what motivates many Christians to celebrate during the Christmas season. They love their Savior and they love their families, and the Advent season provides an opportunity for them to express love to both. Similarly, love motivates some Christians who choose not to celebrate Christmas. They also love their Savior and their families. Their discomfort with the Christmas celebration is based on their desire to avoid taking part in something that defiles their conscience.
Can we respect one another’s views, and follow Jesus’ command that we love one another? I believe we can. The fact that non-Christians or even some Christians celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday or in a profane way is not a reason for all Christians to avoid Christmas. No matter what the holiday or holy day, some will observe it for the wrong reasons, or get involved in ungodly conduct. These are not reasons for everyone else to avoid those same holidays.
The fact that many Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus in December or January does not mean that all Christians must do so. After all, there have been faithful Christians throughout the centuries who never celebrated Christmas.
Every pastor should provide meaningful worship opportunities during the Advent season for members who want to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. Many people will be thinking about the birth of Jesus, and pastors can build on those thoughts and direct members to the spiritual significance of his birth. Whether his birth actually happened in December is not important—what is important is that we can build on the thoughts that are seasonally common in December, just as we usually use Thanksgiving Day as an opportunity to discuss thanksgiving.
Not every member has to participate, nor to observe Christmas at home. That is a personal matter. Some Christians celebrate Christmas with traditional customs, while some celebrate it without traditional customs. Some avoid it altogether. Those who celebrate Christmas and those who do not should seek to honor Christ (Romans 14:5-6).
All our annual occasions should serve to draw us into a closer walk with Christ. They are opportunities to preach Christ, celebrate Christ and drink deeply of the living waters. May God grant us peace and unity as we live together in his grace and obedience.
A Call for Tolerance on Easter https://www.gci.org/church/holidays/tolerance
Christians should remember Christ’s resurrection, just as we remember his death. The two go together. The New Testament does not require Christians to commemorate the resurrection in any particular manner or on any particular day. Yet millions of Christians throughout the centuries have found it helpful to do so, and the Bible does not forbid them to do so.
Some churches stigmatize their members against celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Often, this is based on accusations made without investigating to see whether they are true. Rhetoric about pagan customs in northern Europe, for example, is irrelevant, because Christians were celebrating Jesus’ resurrection long before northern European customs were involved.
It is not a sin to celebrate the resurrection, and not a sin to use to the word Easter, no matter what its origin. It is not a sin to gather at sunrise to worship our Savior. Easter is the spring celebration of Christians honoring the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not an occasion to honor Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess.
I do not think we can be “neutral” about celebrating such a key event in our Savior’s life, such a key event in our own salvation. Christians are not neutral about the victory over sin and death that Jesus won. So I encourage Christians to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some may choose to do it one day, some on another, some perhaps on several days each year. Wonderful! Let good news be celebrated!
It is not a sin to eat chocolate eggs and chocolate rabbits, or to eat eggs that have been colored and dyed. These things are no more pagan today than the names of the days of the week and month are. The same logic that one might be offended by the word “Easter” would suggest that the same person should be offended by “Sunday,” “Thursday,” or “Saturday.” Whatever pagan associations these names may have once had are now gone. No one suspects that egg-dyers or egg-hunters are worshiping other gods.
I encourage people to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, but I am not exhorting people to immerse themselves in customs that have little or nothing to do with the resurrection. But neither do we superstitiously have to avoid Easter eggs and other customs. Some Christians choose to avoid such things; others see no harm in participating in them. Different people will “draw the line” in different places, and here I ask that we live in peace with one another. Differences do exist, and emotions can run high on this issue. So seek peace and pursue it. Those who participate in all the Easter customs need not flaunt it; those who refuse do not need to make a big deal about it.
Each of us must answer to the Lord, for it is to the Lord that we live and die — and we are not called to judge the Lord’s other servants. We are each called to do the work God has called us to do, and we are to do it whether or not the other person is doing what he or she is supposed to be doing. We need tolerance, not mutual criticism. We need grace, not more legislation. Let’s celebrate and worship together!