Santa Claus, reindeer, decorated trees and candy canes. What have these to do with Christ? Is Christmas Christian? And should it be observed?
FOR ME Christmas was one of the most joyous times of the year. Well do I remember, as I grew up in New York and Chicago, the cut pine trees in the public squares, and the colored orbs and bulbs with which they were hung. I remember how the ringing of bells and carols filled the air, and how the streets and boulevards were carpeted with newly fallen layers of clean white snow. Oh, the excitement of anticipating a visit from St. Nick! But strangely enough, not till age eleven or twelve did I begin to grasp that the central figure of Christmas was not supposed to be Santa Claus; instead, this merry holiday was supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The reason for this was simple. My family was not devout. I had received no religious instruction or training of any kind during my formative years. Consequently, when it came to God and religion, I just couldn't have cared less. As Christmas rolled around, Christ and salvation were the last things to enter my mind. I simply thought of Santa Claus, reindeer, colored lights, gifts, and my stocking full of "goodies." What about you? Did you think of Christ in Christmas — or of Santa Claus, candy canes, and getting? Years later as a young man entering my twenties, a marvelous thing happened. The great creator God opened my mind and began to work with me. He caused me to begin to understand some basic truths and principles.. He made me realize I needed a Saviour, who I learned was Jesus Christ — whose birthday we supposedly celebrate at Christmas time. But somehow the whole thing still seemed so vague and nebulous. Since God's Word, the Bible, admonished me to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21), and since I knew very little about God and salvation, I set out to learn more about Jesus Christ — and to cement the connection I supposed existed between Christ and Christmas. Was I ever in for a shock!
Not in the Bible
To begin with, I found that the word "Christmas" is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. Furthermore, there is no biblical evidence that any of the original apostles ever observed what we know as Christmas. In fact, historians and biblical scholars have clearly demonstrated that Christmas was never observed by the early New Testament Church. What's more, we observe the wrong day. Jesus was born nowhere near December 25th. This is best illustrated by a well-known Christmas carol, The First Noel. The words, you probably remember, go like this: "The first Noel, the angel did say, was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay. In fields where they lay keeping their sheep, on a cold winter's night that was so deep." The song is beautiful, but the words do not make sense and are contradictory. What shepherd in his right mind is going to keep his sheep out in the open on a freezing "winter's night"? True enough, the New Testament says there were "... shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). But it is a historical fact that shepherds in Judaea brought in their flocks from the fields when autumn commenced (September-October), and sent them back at the beginning of spring (March-April). There is no way Christ could have been born on December 25th. (Read our free article "When Was Christ Born?" for a more detailed explanation.)
How Many Wise Men?
How many times have you gazed upon "nativity scenes" depicting Jesus as a babe in a manger with Mary and Joseph nearby and the three wise men presenting their gifts? Were you led to think there were three wise men? And were you led to think that they presented their gifts to Jesus while he lay in a manger? I was — but I was wrong. The Bible does not tell us how many wise men came to Jesus. It says only that they presented Christ with three kinds of gifts — gold, frankincense, and myrrh. See Matthew 2:1-11.
"For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers, that it move not" Jeremiah 10:3, 4
Three types of gifts are not proof that there were three wise men. Accounts preserved in the Near East state there were twelve wise men who were accompanied by a retinue of as many as one thousand persons. It does seem likely there were more than three in their party, because I doubt very much that all Jerusalem would be troubled because three strangers came asking questions (Matt. 2:3).
The Wrong Setting
Furthermore, these wise men did not present their gifts to Christ while he lay in a manger. To be sure, Jesus was laid in a manger shortly after being born (Luke 2:7). But by the time the wise men arrived on the scene, he was in a house (Matt. 2:11). By this time Jesus was already several weeks or months old. The event here described is not what you could consider a typical birthday party. So not only do we have no biblical evidence for our Christmas observance, but we've got the wrong day, possibly the wrong number of wise men, and certainly the wrong setting for their visit. Outside of Christ's being laid in a manger, you may begin to wonder if there is anything biblically correct about the Christmas story. In fact, you may well question whether there is any connection at all between Christ and Christmas, and whether observance of Christmas even honors Christ.
Why Gifts for Christ?
Most people seem to like the custom of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas time. Gift giving is supposedly based on what the wise men did. True enough, the wise men brought gifts; but they gave their gifts to Christ — not to each other. And understand, they did not present their gifts to Jesus because it was His birthday. The wise men brought gifts to Christ because He was a king. Remember what they asked upon arriving in Jerusalem? "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star [angel — Rev. 1:20] in the east, and are come to worship him" (Matt. 2:2). It was the universal custom to present a gift to a king when being ushered into his presence for the first time. The same holds true for today. If for some reason you are granted an audience with a king, president or prime minister — the head of a "sovereign" state — it is still customary to present a gift of some sort in honor of that leader's office. That's exactly what the wise men did. They gave Jesus gifts because He was born to be a king — destined to rule over all twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 2:6). Other prophecies reveal He is destined to rule over far more than Israel. He is described as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). All power in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18). No wonder these dignitaries from the East came bearing such costly gifts as gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Christmas Doesn't Honor Christ
Jesus said absolutely nothing about celebrating His birthday. So why do it? Especially on a day which is nowhere near His birthdate — with decorations and customs totally foreign to Him, and giving gifts to each other rather than to Christ. Look at it this way. Suppose a group of your close friends decide to celebrate your birthday without saying a word to you or taking into consideration any of your thoughts or desires. They go about it by choosing a date which is not your birthday and a location where you won't be. They arrive at the appointed time and place and proceed to enjoy themselves thoroughly — singing, feasting and presenting each other with gifts in your name. And all the while they are in reality totally ignoring you — not giving you so much as a single gift. Yet these "friends" of yours claim they are celebrating your birthday — that they are doing all this in your honor. But are they? How would you feel about it? Well, I wonder what Christ thinks about Christmas. After all, it's supposed to be His birthday. We say we are doing it in His honor. Yet we observe it on a day which is not His birthday, and we give Him very few gifts — if any. Are we really doing all this in Christ's honor? Have we ever taken the time to ask whether we should observe Christmas? If not, it's time we did!
It is time we faced the simple fact that there is no link between Christ and our Christmas with its Santa Claus, reindeer, decorated pine trees, candy canes, wreaths, etc. that it just doesn't honor Christ. If you can find any such link or valid connection, it's more than I can do. You may try — and if you find it, I would appreciate hearing from you — I really would. But I can tell you right now that it's a lost cause. I know, because I tried — and I failed. And it's no use trying to "put Christ back in Christmas" — because He was never in it in the first place. Certainly our Christmas symbols do honor someone, but that someone is not Jesus of Nazareth. You'd be amazed to find out who it is. If you would like to understand the historical origins of Christmas and whose birthday it honors, then write for our free booklet The Plain Truth About Christmas. As its title indicates, it will make the matter plain to you, and you will be as shocked and astonished as I was.
God's Holy Days
One final thought about Christmas. It overshadows and obscures what the Bible calls the "feasts of the Eternal." Yes, God does have festivals which He calls His feasts — days which are holy to Him. But Christmas isn't one of them. Do you know what these Holy Days are? Can you name them? Probably not. You may never even have heard of them. Yet you can find them listed in your Bible in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. Jesus kept these days. So did Peter, James, John, Paul, and all the original apostles. In fact, the entire early New Testament Church observed these "feasts of the Eternal." Shouldn't you? If you would like to honor Jesus Christ by observing the feast days He observed, then read our free booklet Pagan Holidays - or God's Holy Days - Which? It will make plain to you the meaning of these festivals, and why God places such importance upon them. These feasts of God actually picture God's plan for all mankind. This booklet explains that plan step by step. Don't hesitate — read it today.