Throughout most of my conservative upbringing I have been told why Christians should not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. On the other hand, I also hear people decrying the “rank commercialism” of the season and saying “Put Christ back into Christmas.” Sometimes I have been prompted to wonder if we are right to de-Christianize Christmas.
Yes, I can quote all the arguments why Jesus was not born in December. I understand that shepherds would not be out in the fields that late in the year. Galen Peterson (The Everlasting Tradition, 1995, Kregel Publications) presents a pretty compelling argument for a late September/early October birth based on Luke 1:5,9. He states that the priestly course of Abijah, of which Zechariah was, did their temple service in mid June and early December. Assuming a December date for Luke 1:9, he shows that Jesus was likely born during the feast of Succot, the Feast of Booths after Yom Kippur. (His argument could come up with an April date as well.) Either way, Jesus was certainly not born in December. I have even quoted the argument that we shouldn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth because it is his death that is what is really important.
That being said, I will also present two arguments on the other side of the coin. This is because I know Christians who argue, “If we don’t teach about Christ when others are listening, we may not get another chance with them.”
First, the arguments that Jesus was not born on December 25 don’t really amount to the proverbial hill of beans as far as choosing a date to celebrate a birth. I work with a man who was born on December 25. He celebrates his birthday in June. I also grew up with a person who was born on February 29. She celebrated her birthday March 1 three out of every four years. If someone wants to celebrate my birthday once a month, I won’t object (if they give me presents). So just because Jesus was not born in December does not mean his birth can not be celebrated then.
A second argument has to do with whether we can choose to celebrate a “religious holiday” that the Bible does not specify. The Torah mandated holidays for the Jews were the New Moon (the first day of each month), Sabbath, Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The book of Esther tells of the beginnings of another holiday, Purim, which was not mandated by the law. John 10:22 mentions another added feast, Hanukkah (see A Feast of Dedication). Because the Lord’s Day is the only holiday that comes close to being mandated by the New Testament for Christians, many choose not to celebrate Christmas and Easter as religious holidays. But can those who choose not to celebrate them as such bind that non-observance on others? Because I am a gentile, am I obligated not to observe Passover? Can I not even hold a Passover seder to teach the Lord’s Supper more fully? Can I, a gentile, forbid a Jew who becomes a Christian to celebrate Passover, or even observe Sabbath? Paul apparently thought the answer to all these questions was “no.” “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Col 2:16-17) Just as no one can condemn me for not observing the Sabbath, I can not condemn them if they choose to observe it. I can not, and would not, bind it on anyone that they must celebrate Christmas or Easter (as some have tried). Nor can anyone bind it on another that they must not celebrate these days. Scripturally, it appears to be a matter of choice.