Is Christmas the Signature Holiday of Christianity?
Let me start be wishing all of you a Merry Christmas, even those few of you who do not celebrate it -- and I am referring to those Christians who consider Christmas to be unbiblical in origin.
Supposedly, Christmas goes back to the Roman festival of Saturnalia, though it actually goes back further. The Puritans of New England considered the feast to be pagan and distracting, and made it illegal for a while.
[I]n 1659 the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony made it a criminal offense to publicly celebrate the holiday and declared that “whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way” was subject to a 5-shilling fine. -- History -- When Massachusetts Banned Christmas
What is more interesting is that the tradition of adding lights to the Christmas tree was supposedly started by Martin Luther, which strikes one as rather inconsistent, considering that Luther is considered the founder of Sola Scriptura Protestantism, which is technically opposed to man-made religious traditions.
Martin Luther... began the tradition of adorning the tree with lit candles. -- Reformation Tours
To Luther’s credit, however, he shifted the date from December 6th (a celebration of a saint) to December 25th, in order to focus on Christ.
It was the “saint” in St. Nicholas that so bothered Martin Luther -- he felt that focusing on this saint as the giver of gifts took the focus off Jesus Christ, the true giver of all gifts...
Before Luther’s efforts, most European Christians exchanged gifts on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day. After the Reformation, however, the traditional family gift day was changed to December 25th, the day of Jesus’s birth, to commemorate the Christ Child, from whom all gifts and blessings flow. -- Reformation Tours
I have seen the arguments by date setters, historians, strict Christians, and even by some unreliable cults that Christmas should not be celebrated at all. While it is true that Jesus was not born on December 25th, the Scripture does record an angel’s chorus singing, and from this it could be deduced that the celebration of His birthday is not unbiblical, even if our dating is off.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” -- Luke 2:13-14 (NKJV)
So in spite of all of the naysayers who would try to convince you otherwise, I wish you a joyous holiday, but with a caveat that many ignore.
Christmas is not the signature holiday of Christianity, nor should it be. As wonderful as the Incarnation is, it is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ which is the focus of Christianity.
One can argue whether Christ died on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, but it is his atoning death that is important, and it is His Resurrection which sealed its validity.
Had Christ not lived perfectly under the Old Covenant (on our behalf), then the Old Covenant could not have been replaced with the New Covenant. Had He not died, there would have been no atonement nor reconciliation.
…He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. -- Colossians 2:13-14 (NIV)
But he was wounded because of our transgressions, He was crushed because of our iniquities: The chastisement of our welfare was upon him, And with his stripes we were healed. Isaiah 53:5 (Jewish Publication Society -- 1917)
Had Christ sinned himself, then he would have been subject to death for his own sins, instead our ours, and would not have resurrected. Hence, it is His Resurrection which seals the whole process as valid, and is our guarantee.
I am not saying that Christmas is wrong. I am not a 17th century Puritan. Rather, Good Friday (or Thursday, Wednesday?!) and Resurrection Sunday (Easter) are more important.
As a holiday, Christmas is nice, but the latter is essential. Without the Resurrection, Christmas would not be celebrated. And notice that I treat the Crucifixion and Resurrection as if they were one, which they are. If Christ did not Resurrect, then His Crucifixion would have meant nothing.
And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.
-- 1 Cor 15:14 (NKJV)
A sad consequence of this overemphasis is the disconnection of Christianity from its Jewish roots. The Last Supper -- there are debates whether it was a Passover Seder or a preparation meal -- was certainly in anticipation of the Passover sacrifice that would be made the next day in Jerusalem.
Had Christian culture emphasized the Crucifixion and Resurrection more than Christmas, it is possible that a large part of erroneous replacement theology (the belief that the church has totally replaced the Jewish people) might not have taken hold, with all its deadly consequences.
Jews have no doubt that the signal center of Jewish life is Passover. Had Christianity’s emphasis been properly directed, the connection between Jesus’s death and the Jewish Passover would be readily apparent to ourselves and to our Jewish friends.
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. -- 1 Cor 5:7 (NKJV)
So enjoy the Christmas season, and sing some carols, but remember that our culture overemphasizes the wrong holiday. I am not opposed to the giving of Christmas gifts or its celebration. I just think that it is overemphasized.
Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish better in high school, lo those many decades ago. He runs a website about the Arab community in South America.