Editorial: How much do you know about Christmas? Freelance writer and Yen.com.gh contributor, Daniel Dela Dunoo explores the history of the 'festival' to see worthy Christmas is worth celebrating.
Christmas is derived from the old English words Cristes maesse, “Christ`s Mass.” Christmas is a Christian festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Present spelling of Christmas probably came into use around the 16th century.
Christmas was celebrated on the 25th of December each year by a vast majority of Christians around the 3rd century. It was only the Armenian Church that did not observe Christmas on the 25th of December but instead on the 6th of January, the day of epiphany. It is however not known exactly when the celebration of Christmas began. Reasons for establishing December 25th as Christmas is somewhat obscure (not well known) but it is held by some scholars that the birth of Christ as “Light of the world” was made analogous to the rebirth of the sun in order to make Christianity more meaningful to pagan converts (Sources: Encyclopaedia Americana & Britanica Macropaedia).
From Rome, Christmas spread to other churches of the West and East, the last to adopt it being the church of Jerusalem in the time of Bishop Juvenal (reigned 424-458AD). Through the centuries, customs of all lands have been added to the celebration of Christmas, making it today the greatest folk festival in the world (Sources: Encyclopaedia Americana & Britanica Macropaedia).
Notwithstanding the above historical facts established, there are some in Christendom (a minority) and others outside the Christian fold who are vociferous critics of the celebration of Christmas. They argue from a variety of angles and insist unapologetically that Christmas has nothing to do with the Christian faith. I will explore briefly some of these anti-Christmas arguments and will attempt to provide coherent and Biblically sounds answers to these.
The Voices of Critics
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society make the assertions below concerning the celebration of Christmas. “Since the date of Christmas is of pagan origin, it should not seem strange that the customs of Christmas are also of pagan origin: There is no escaping it: Christmas is of pagan origin: how much more important it is for true Christians today to shun a celebration that was never authorized by God, that stems from pagan Babylon, and that falsely bears the name of Christ” (“Truth that leads to eternal life”, p. 149).
At face value, the above argumentation sounds logical. No wonder it is paraded on the airwaves, via the print media and on street corners as the gospel truth. The question I pose is, are these assertions by critics consistent with the facts of history, with sound logic and Biblically accurate? Let`s take a look.
“Christmas celebration was not authorized by Christ and thus must not be celebrated by Christians” according to some critics. This assertion to say the least is weak in logic. A brief analysis will prove this. Nowhere in Scripture does Christ instruct his followers to publish magazines, act plays, organize conventions, use hymn books, appoint regular pioneers, auxiliary pioneers and many other activities some critics such as Jehovah`s Witnesses are involved in. Yet they are done with gusto. These activities are never considered to be wrong or of pagan origin even though Christ never expressly authorized their practice.
My contention is that, an act is not wrong merely because Christ never expressly authorized it. It is wrong when it contradicts the clear instruction of Scripture and when it militates against the spiritual wellness of the practitioner. The many benefits of Christmas celebration cannot be quantified. Many who have celebrated Christmas in the right way over the centuries have reaped benefits of significant proportions. No wonder many well meaning believers still celebrate Christmas.
“Christmas is of pagan origin. The date of Christmas is of pagan origin. It should therefore not seem strange that customs of Christmas are also of pagan origin” critics have said. Well, if the celebration of Christmas on the 25th of December annually implies its pagan origin, what will be said of the celebration of Christmas on the 6th of January annually by the Armenian Church? The wise apply their hearts to wisdom.
Consider this analogy: Five years ago, whiles residing in a village whose inhabitants were largely traditionalists, a few Christian friends of mine and I were expected to join in the celebration of their annual festival in honor of their gods for rains and a good harvest season. My friends and I decided that rather than participate in a supposedly pagan festival, we will spend the day in honor of our God for his provisions. We followed through with our decision and found it to be exceptionally rewarding. We therefore resolved to stick to this practice every year.
Interestingly, through our missionary efforts in the village, a significantly large segment of the inhabitants were converted to Christianity including their chief and his elders. Two years down the line a large segment of the community discarded the celebration of their annual pagan festival and adopted the practice my friend and I commenced some years back. Our practice became the norm and the officially acceptable festival of the community; a festival in honor of our God and not the gods of the land. What is ethically wrong with the festival my friends and I successfully introduced to the village folks? Does the fact that our festival dislodged the pagan festival of the community make our festival less Christian and of pagan origin? Does this suggest that our festival falsely bears the name of God? Absolutely not! In a similar vein, the fact that pagans of Rome already observed 25th of December annually as the feast of Saturn celebrating the birth of the sun does not make Christmas pagan and of pagan origin.
Also worth-noting is that, contrary to the claims of critics, the fact that customs of pagan origin are prevalent in Christmas celebration does not necessarily mean Christmas is of pagan origin. According to Encyclopaedia Americana, customs of all lands have been added through the centuries. Various customs were later additions, some of which were intended to make the celebration more acceptable and meaningful to people of divergent ethnic groups. No wonder some scholars believe that the birth of Christ as light of the world was made analogous to the rebirth of the sun in order to make Christianity more meaningful to pagan converts.
The abuse of a thing does not make the thing wrong. When the purpose of a thing is either unknown or neglected, abuse is inevitable. The fact that there have been some excesses in some quarters in the celebration of Christmas does not in any way indicate the pagan origins of Christmas nor does it suggest that the “baby be thrown away with the dirty bath water”.
“Christ was not born on the 25th of December. Why celebrate his birth on that day every year?” Well, Christendom does not claim that Jesus Christ was born on the 25th of December. The Church knows well that it is not probable and feasible that Christ was born on this date bearing in mind the weather patterns in Israel around this season. The Church has no documentation of the exact date of Christ`s birth. However, the 25th of December was merely set aside over 1500 years ago by some Christians to remember and honor the birth of Christ.
The essence of Christmas
Jesus Christ is the reason for the season of Christmas. This is primarily because it is a celebration to remember and honor his legendary birth. Consequently, Christ must remain central in our celebrations. Interestingly, we are also the reason for the season. This is because Christ was born for our sake. We are the reason he came. In the celebration of Christmas, amidst the joy and happiness the Christian may also consider some beautiful Christian concepts that ought to shine through the celebrations; they are concepts that emanate from the nativity story (stories surrounding Jesus` birth). These will prove to be a blessing indeed - Expressing heartfelt gratitude to God through our singing and through our prayers (Luke 1:2, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Nehemiah 8:10; Acts 8:31-32); re-examination of our lives and rededication of our lives to God (Psalm 13:3; Philippians 4:13); seeking and promoting peace and reconciliation (Luke 1;14; Romans 5:1; Isaiah 9:6); sharing God`s word and our goodies (material possessions) with others (Romans 12:28; John 3 :16; Mathew 2:11), taking time to reflect and meditate on God`s word (Joshua 1:8; Philippians 4:8) amongst many other healthy practices.
It is my conviction that critics have the right to choose not to participate in the celebration of Christmas since it is a matter of choice but they err at the side of caution and sound argumentation when they shout their condemnation of the celebration of Christmas “from the roof tops”.
The extraordinary birth of the saviour of the world (Jesus Christ) is worth celebrating (worth remembering and honoring). When celebrated appropriately, it brings untold blessings. I can attest to that and literally millions of Christians all over the world can attest to this fact. The wise apply their hearts to wisdom. Merry Christmas!!!
Written by Daniel Dela Dunoo
I am a freelance writer, theologian, professional marketer, published author and the founder of Top-notch Writing Solutions, Ghana. I have written for magazines such as HR Focus Magazine, MM Focus Magazine, Optimum Magazine and Step Magazine. My articles, short stories and poems have also been featured in several newspapers in my home country - Ghana and on over twenty websites and blogs. I am always available for hire. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: http://danieldeladunoo.blogspot.com / http://theroyalwordsmithgh.wordpress.com