Many believe the birth of Jesus was the origin of Christmas celebrations, but the Bible and history don’t agree. Why not put the origin of Christmas on trial?
Imagine a courtroom where Christmas is on trial, charged with false impersonation of legitimate, godly worship. Both sides have presented their cases. Now it’s the prosecutor’s turn to make his closing argument. It could well go something like this:
Christmas on trial: closing argument
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you’ve heard the defense supporting the religious practice of celebrating Christmas. I trust you noted it was not a biblical defense, because none exists.
Let’s step away from human reasoning and emotion, and revisit the facts presented to you by history, scholars and God’s Word itself.
Origin of Christmas
You’ll recall that all the expert witnesses—secular historians and theologians alike—attested that modern Christmas practices can be easily traced back to non-Christian origins. Their sources were so numerous that no one bothered to present counterarguments.
Please remember these facts:
- Christmas is a man-made holiday. The Bible has zero reference to celebrating Jesus’ birth, which was probably in the autumn, not winter. Not until nearly three centuries later, in fact, did a “birthday party for Jesus” make its way into religious observance. Not until A.D. 336 did a Roman calendar officially note celebrating Jesus’ birth on Dec. 25.
- So how was Dec. 25 selected for this celebration? Pope Julius I decreed it. Why? Because syncretism, the blending of religions, had become a common tool employed by the Roman church for assimilating “heathens” into its fold. Midwinter pagan festivals were immensely popular throughout Europe, so mixing these into the church’s rituals was an easy method to induce nonbelievers to embrace their version of Christianity.
- What were these festivals? They included:
- The birthday of the sun god Mithra.
- Saturnalia, a time of debauchery honoring the Roman god of agriculture, Saturn.
- Northern European celebrations of the winter solstice glorifying the sun’s return.
- The Scandinavian Norse religion’s yule celebrations Dec. 21 through January, with its abundant superstitious customs.
- The German version revering their god Odin. Interestingly, Odin is supposed to have made nighttime flights during which he would watch people and decide who to bless and curse. Hmm. Isn’t that reminiscent of a modern tale of a mythical guy who flies at night, somehow having godlike powers to know “who’s naughty and nice”?
People aren’t easily converted from entrenched popular customs, but church leaders had their methods. Let the people keep their customs, they figured, but simply syncretize them with ours and call them Christian. Instead of celebrating Dies Natalis Solis Invicti—the birthday of the unconquered sun—we’ll say we’re now honoring Jesus, the Son of God.
I remind you of the historian who quoted Augustine of Hippo, a great church influence, as saying in a Christmas sermon, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by believers as much as ourselves, but for the sake of Him who created the sun.”
Christmas is purely a pagan festival
I’ve barely recapped the historical evidence, but clearly, no one can legitimately argue for any biblical support upholding any aspect of Christmas as a Christian holiday. In fact, virtually all of our Christmas traditions—trees, mistletoe, gift-giving, wreaths, caroling, Santa Claus—sprang from these pagan festivals.
It is the thought that counts!
So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s examine the defense’s arguments in support of observing Christmas today, beginning with the contention that “at the end of the day—so what? It’s the thought that counts!”
Actually, I agree 100 percent! It is the thought that matters—and it’s God’s thought that matters most! God left ample evidence of His thought on this in His Word, the Bible.
What does God think about Christmas?
I remind you of the religious scholars who admitted that God has always adamantly opposed syncretism, often bemoaning how His people mixed their idolatrous neighbors’ customs with their worship of Him.
When God delivered Israel from Egypt, what did He command? “Do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.”
What part of “you shall not” is so confusing for us humans?
For emphasis, He added, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” That’s in Deuteronomy 12:30-32.
So, centuries later, after watching the people continually blend pagan practices into their worship, taking from and adding to everything He’d said, God told them through the prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your feast days” (Amos 5:21).
Did God use lightly the words hate and despise? If not, why should we assume He feels differently today?
In the same verse He also said, “I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (Revised Standard Version). Today’s most important “solemn assemblies” are Christmas and Easter, but they are not the holy days God appointed.
Even then, God told them, “Take away from Me the noise of your songs” (verse 23). They may be beautiful and catchy songs, but because of what they represent and where they come from, to God they are just noise!
Now, since God says in Malachi 3:6, “I am the Lord, I do not change,” and emphasizes in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” we have to ask, “Has God now changed His mind about such things?”
If Jesus appeared today, would He okay our worshipping on a holiday borrowed from pagan religions that idolized the sun, moon and rocks?If Jesus appeared today, would He okay our worshipping on a holiday borrowed from pagan religions that idolized the sun, moon and rocks? Because someone mixed it into religion and called it “Christian,” does that mean God sanctioned it?
It is the thought that counts—but what does God think?
But if my heart’s right …
You also heard from a defense witness who reasoned, “I know the origin of Christmas was wrong, but I know in my heart why I go to church at Christmas—it’s to honor Jesus—and I believe it’s what’s in my heart that counts!”
Absolutely—the heart does count! That’s big on God’s list of qualities! But don’t forget what Jesus said about the heart in Mark 7:6-9: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men.”
Jesus doesn’t accept just any worship, even if in our heart we think it’s okay.
Notice, too, He said, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”
Christmas offers a prime example of this. Isn’t God the One who said, “Do not lie”? But what is one of the biggest Christmas traditions people cling to? Lying to kids about Santa Claus! How does that honor Jesus, who commands us not to lie! And don’t forget Easter. How do people lie to their kids that rabbits lay eggs, then trot off to church saying it’s all about worshipping God?
Do we really think we can reject doing what God says, instead borrowing religious practices from pagan religions, and think He’ll be happy about it because we say “my heart’s right”?
Tradition does not trump obedience. If our heart’s right, won’t we be striving to worship God “in spirit and in truth,” as Jesus told the Samaritan woman (John 4:24)?
Saying “Lord, Lord” to no avail
You also heard this line of reasoning from the defense: “Yes, everyone knows the bad side of Christmas—the partying, commercialism, indebtedness, greed and so on—but most people have a very merry Christmas. What’s wrong with families enjoying being together with good food, gifts, pretty music and lights, or helping the needy? There’s far more good than bad, and a lot of it involves good Christian acts!”
Well, of course God loves good things and seeing people happy. But do good deeds justify bad actions?
Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Who was He addressing? Religious people proudly pointing out all their good deeds!
“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
There is more “Lord, Lord” talk at this time of year than any other, but does it impress God when we persist in lawlessness—doing things He tells us not to do?
We say we’re worshipping the baby Jesus, but we’re not doing what the grown-up Jesus told us to do! If people were really serious about doing God’s will, we’d see real “peace on earth” and “goodwill toward men.” We’d see good deeds all the time, not just during a few days when they get in the “Christmas spirit.”
Telling the truth about Christmas?
You also heard the defense try to poke a hole in our case by arguing, “The Jesus I know isn’t so radical about something that brings so much fun and enjoyment to everyone, even the fantasy part for the kids.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this one’s simple. Answer this, please: Would you like it if someone told your kids lies about you and got them to believe them? I don’t think so.
So how do you think God feels when He’s being lied about?
This is so important because of where it comes from. Jesus explained one time—in John 8:44—that the devil “is a liar and the father of it.” The people He was addressing were the religious leaders of the day, and He angered them by saying they were of their father the devil. It doesn’t matter who you are—if you lie, or perpetuate a lie, it’s wrong.
If people claim to follow God, isn’t it logical that He expects them to not lie? Aren’t Christians to be people of truth—telling the truth and practicing the truth?
Sad to say, for thousands of years God has seen people lying about Him, even under the guise of claiming to speak for Him.
Long ago God spoke through Ezekiel words that are just as true today: “Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have hidden their eyes from My Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. … Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord had not spoken.” That’s Ezekiel 22:26 and 28.
Putting words in God’s mouth is just a bit presumptuous, wouldn’t you say?
What’s really on trial?
So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me ask you again: Given the weight of evidence, both factual and circumstantial, if Jesus were here today, do you think He would attend Christmas Eve services, or exchange gifts around the Christmas tree? Would He have a “Put Christ back into Christmas” bumper sticker—or would He say He was never in it to begin with?
Would He still stand by His words in Matthew 4:4, that man shall live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”? I ask, can you do that and observe Christmas at the same time?
I rest my case; but as you make your decision, I urge you to remember that it’s not really Christmas that is on trial—we are.