This post is the second in a 3-part series in defense of Christians celebrating Christmas. In part 1, we began by looking into the arguments against Christians celebrating Christmas. To read part 1, please go here. We now resume the defense by continuing to look at other arguments against celebrating the holiday before we go into arguments for celebrating Christmas.
2. The Bible Specifically Forbids Christmas Trees.
Besides the date itself, the most cited pagan element associated with Christmas is the decorating of a tree during the celebration. Those who believe Christians should avoid Christmastime celebrations often cite a passage in Jeremiah as a clear association of Christmas trees with paganism in the Bible:
Jeremiah 10:1-4: “Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: ‘Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers, So that it will not topple.’”
Certainly the passage seems to be discussing decorating a tree with gold and silver and how the pagans do this as part of their practices, but if you read the entire passage in context, it has no relation to a Christmas tree. Here are the following verses which clarify the meaning:
“’They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.’ Inasmuch as there is none like You, O Lord (You are great, and your name is great in might), who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is your rightful due. For among all the wise men of the nations, And in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine.”
There is absolutely no confusion in context that this is referring to the pagans who take a tree, carve it up and decorate it into an idol, not someone who takes a tree and uses it in a symbolic way to celebrate a holiday. In the passage, the tree is not left as a tree, it’s carved and chopped and shaped into an idol – there is no connection to Christmas trees. The entire point is these wooden idols are not real, they have no power, they are not like the living God. They are dead, weak, foolish, and worthless. Even if the passage did refer to Christmas trees, the command to Israel to not do the same thing is not because there is an inherent evil in Christmas trees and decorating trees, it would be because the pagans do it and God’s people (Israel) are not to be confused with the pagan nations surrounding them. Actually, many prohibitions in the Old Testament (cultural) are simply to keep Israel distinct from the pagan nations, such as the type of clothing they wear. But Christians today wear jeans without fear of their connection to pagan practices thousands of years ago (mixed fabrics), because jeans are not associated with paganism in the minds of those to whom we are trying to shine the light of Christ toward.
Now, you may say, “The Christmas tree originates in pagan practice even if Jeremiah isn’t speaking of a Christmas tree,” and you may be correct. Many cultures used the evergreen tree in different celebrations and festivals, but again, that doesn’t mean they have copyright on the tree. Actually, the Christmas tree wasn’t popular for most of church history; it was a later element in the Christmas tradition and quickly became part of it, even if it originated in non-Christian festivals throughout history. Again, the only biblical principle applicable to this topic is to avoid the appearance of evil and not confuse the world into thinking Christians and the pagans are no different. But one can convincingly argue that Christmas doesn’t do that today.
One doesn’t need to look far in Scripture to find symbols which were originally used to symbolize evil but are now used to symbolize good. The cross itself began hundreds of years prior to crucifixion of Jesus. It was a symbol of death, disgrace, and humiliation, yet the symbol has been adopted by Christianity to be a sign of salvation, life, and hope in Jesus Christ. Christmas trees, in the mind of our culture, is not a pagan symbol. Instead it’s a Christian symbol that reminds us of God becoming flesh and dwelling among mankind.
3. Other Aspects Originate in Paganism
As a side note, there are other aspects of Christmas that people claim originate in pagan culture, such as Santa Clause, candy canes, etc. Here is my approach to dealing with these topics and choosing which is appropriate and which are not. First, is the practice, object, or tradition associated with paganism in the minds of people today? Second, is it associated with Christianity in the minds of our culture and does it point people to the Christian message of God becoming flesh? If it’s associated with paganism, don’t do it. If it’s associated with Christianity, there is no issue with doing it, but every believer has the freedom to choose if they want to observe these days or not (Romans 14).
Santa Clause would be one example of something that doesn’t match either criteria mentioned above in the minds of our culture, though there is an interesting (and possibly correct) argument that the character originates in paganism. I choose not to include Santa Clause in our celebration of Christmas because it detracts from the true message, and also feeds false ideas that tend to deceive rather than promote imagination. (Another topic for another paper.)
I should note here, the above is the reason why I celebrate Christmas, but not Halloween in any traditional sense. The things associated with Halloween (death, ghosts, candy, blood, costumes, etc.) remain pagan in their appearance and in the mind of our culture. And so, while I can make a biblical argument for providing alternatives and using Halloween as an opportunity to reach out and share the gospel, I cannot celebrate the holiday along with our culture and in the same way. (Again, another topic for another paper. I simply wanted to include this as a side note.)
Finally, I am not here to defend every aspect of Christmas in the eyes of our culture. Commercial companies use Christmas as an opportunity to sell their wares, and the commercialization of Christmas can be rightfully disliked by Christians. However, the only reason to dislike the commercialization of the holiday is if it’s a distraction from the appropriate reason for celebrating the holiday: The birth of Jesus.
Please join us next time for part 3 as we look into arguments for why Christians may celebrate Christmas.