Category Archives: Christmas

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1, we introduced the question of whether Christians should celebrate Christmas, and in part 2 we finish answering the question.

What about Santa Claus?  Are we deceiving our children by letting them believe in Santa Claus?  It turns out that the origin of Santa Claus may actually be historical.  CRI explains: “The name ‘Santa Claus’ is an Anglicized form of the Dutch Sinter Klaas, which in turn meant ‘Saint Nicholas.’  Nicholas was a Christian bishop in the fourth century about whom we know little for sure.  He apparently attended the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, and a very strong tradition suggests that he did show unusual kindness toward children.”  Obviously the traditions about a red-suited man with flying reindeer is not historical, but it seems there was an actual Saint Nicholas.

Fine, you say, but aren’t we lying to our children, and won’t we cause them not to believe us when we tell the truth about Jesus?  The reality of childhood is that children under the age of roughly eight are developing an awareness of the difference between reality and fantasy.  They don’t understand the difference between the two, so, as parents,  we pretend there are invisible friends, a tooth fairy that leaves money, and a Santa Claus who delivers gifts.  Are we deceiving them?  I don’t think so.  Instead, I think we are encouraging their natural sense of wonder and their fertile imaginations.

Every child comes to an age when they are ready to separate fantasy from reality, and this is when we should be clear that Santa Claus is pretend and Jesus is real.  The age depends on each child, so parents have to make a judgment call, but it seems highly dubious to me that a 6-year old child believing in Santa Claus is going to destroy her belief in God.  Virtually everyone I know grew up believing in Santa Claus and doesn’t experience post-traumatic-Santa syndrome.

What about Christmas trees?  Are they pagan symbols?  The CRI article cites the following information from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

The modern Christmas tree originated in western Germany.  The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a fire tree hung with apples (Paradise tree) representing the Garden of Eden.  The Germans set up a “Paradise tree” in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve.  They hung wafers on it (symbolizing the host, the Christian sign of redemption); the hosts eventually became cookies of various shapes.  Candles, too, were often added as a symbol of Christ.  In the same room, during the Christmas season, was the Christmas pyramid, a triangular construction of wood, with shelves to hold Christmas figurines, decorated with evergreens, candles, and a star.  By the 16th century, the Christmas pyramid and Paradise tree had merged, becoming the Christmas tree.

Christmas trees would only be a problem if Christians were worshiping them, but clearly they only serve as decorations; they seem harmless.

So, what is the conclusion?  Should Christians celebrate Christmas?  It seems that we are free to do so, as long as we keep the emphasis and focus on the birth of Christ, advice we’ve all heard before.  There is no need to fear the celebration of Jesus’ birth, or Santa Claus, or Christmas trees.  On the other hand, nobody need feel that they must celebrate Christmas.  If you don’t feel that the holiday, as it is currently practiced, is spiritually nurturing your family, then you are well within your rights to skip it.   Our family enjoys the Christmas season, and we have tried to emphasize the Christ-ness of this celebration, so we will continue to celebrate Christmas.

What about your family?  Do you celebrate Christmas?

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

There are many reasons why a Christian may not want to celebrate Christmas: it’s too commercial, it encourages greediness, it focuses too much on Santa Claus.  I want to consider another reason, which is that Christmas is based on pagan beliefs and influences, and that if we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating a form of paganism.

The Christian Research Institute (CRI) published an article directly dealing with this topic, so I will use some of their thoughts as I proceed.

First, some argue that since the Bible does not command us to celebrate birthdays, then we shouldn’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday on Christmas.  CRI counters this argument with a couple of points.  “First of all, the fact is that the Bible says nothing against the practice of celebrating birthdays.”  Celebrating birthdays is nowhere forbidden, so we are not left with any explicit biblical command in the matter.  “Second, what the Bible does not forbid, either explicitly or by implication from some moral principle, is permissible to the Christian, as long as it is edifying (Rom. 13:10; 14:1-23; 1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23; Col. 2:20-23; etc.).”  In conclusion, there is no good reason, biblically, to not celebrate Jesus’ birthday, as long we do it in an edifying way.

What about the date of Dec. 25?  Isn’t it true that this is not likely Jesus’ actual birthday and that it was, in fact, the date of a Roman pagan festival in the fourth century?  In answer, we should first say that whether Jesus’ actual birthday was on Dec. 25 is not relevant to the celebration of his birth.  We routinely commemorate the birthdays of great individuals of the past on days that do not correspond to their actual birthdays (e.g., George Washington).  It is the intent to celebrate their births that really matters, not that we get the day correct.

Does it matter that Dec. 25 was a pagan festival?  It should be noted that the origin of the Dec. 25 date for Christmas is somewhat disputed and that at least one scholar believes it had little to do with pagan festivals.  However, the most common theory is that the purpose of the church in co-opting this date was to replace a pagan festival with the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  As the CRI article argues, the Christians were saying, “Rather than celebrate in immorality the birth of Mithra, a false god who was never really born and who cannot save you, let us celebrate in joyful righteousness the birth of Jesus, the true God incarnate who is the Savior of the world.”

Is it wrong to replace a pagan holiday with a Christian holiday?  According to CRI, this is exactly what God did in ancient Israel.  “Historical evidence shows conclusively that some of the feasts given to Israel by God through Moses were originally pagan agricultural festivals, which were filled with idolatrous imagery and practices.  What God did, in effect, was to establish feasts which would replace the pagan festivals without adopting any of the idolatry or immorality associated with them.”

Please read part 2 of this post where we discuss the jolly North Pole dweller himself, Santa Claus.

Jesus at Radio City Music Hall?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Several years ago my family attended the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan.  It was one of the most phenomenal shows I have ever seen, and for one surprising reason.  It was full of worship.  Yes, that’s right.  In the middle of New York City at Radio City Music Hall, my family experienced a wonderful time worshiping God.  If you don’t believe me, and many don’t when I tell them, read this short essay below that was scrolled across a giant screen at the close of the show, right after the live nativity scene.

One Solitary Life


Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

This essay was adapted from a sermon by Dr James Allan Francis in “The Real Jesus and Other Sermons” © 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia (pp 123-124 titled “Arise Sir Knight!”).

What Was Jesus’ Birth Really Like?

Post Author: Bill Pratt (re-posted from last year)

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III has written a brief  article that discusses the birth narrative as conveyed in Luke 2.  Witherington reminds us that the modern version of Jesus’ birth is not exactly faithful to the biblical account.  “Like works of art that have been lacquered with coat after coat of varnish, the original stories are hardly visible any more.”

Some the key differences are the following:

  1. “Today, it is difficult to conceive the Nativity without an ox and ass, for example, although neither Matthew nor Luke mentions animals. (Rather, St. Francis, the great medieval lover of animals, is credited with building the first manger scene complete with live animals.)”
  2. “The three wise men are also permanent fixtures in our image of the Nativity, although they don’t arrive, according to Matthew 2, until several days after the birth of Jesus (the epiphany to the shepherds does, however, take place the same day).”
  3. “It is not the case that Mary and Joseph were forced to stop somewhere beside the road because Mary suddenly went into labor. Rather, Luke 2:6 tells us that ‘while they were there,’ that is, in Bethlehem, ‘the time came for her to deliver her child.'”
  4. “Luke never suggests that this birth was in any way miraculous or unusual. (The miracle is said to have happened, rather, at Jesus’ conception.)”

One of the greatest differences has to do with the actual birthplace of Jesus.  Here an extended quote from Witherington is warranted:

Where did they stay in Bethlehem? Luke tells us that after the birth, Mary put the baby in a “manger,” or corncrib, because there was “no room for them at the kataluma” (Luke 2:7)—a Greek term he uses elsewhere to mean “guest room” (see Luke 22:11). When Luke wants to speak about an inn, he calls it pandocheion (see Luke 10:34). Thus, Luke says nothing about the Holy couple being cast out of an inn and Mary having to bear the child in a barn. Historically, it is far more likely that Mary and Joseph had their child in the humble back portion of the ancestral home where the most valued animals were fed and, in the winter, housed, because the guest room in the family home was already occupied. In any case, Bethlehem was such a small village, on a minor road, that it is not even clear it would have had a wayside inn. Admittedly, Jesus’ beginnings were humble—but we don’t need to mythologize them into some story about a baby being cast out by the world.

There are lots of other interesting historical tidbits in the article, so make sure you read the whole thing.

Why Is Jesus’ Birthday Celebrated on Dec. 25?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The usual story about why Jesus’ birthday is celebrated on Dec. 25 is that Christians were trying to convert a Roman pagan festival into a Christian festival.  But it seems this theory may not be true.

Andrew McGowan, professor of early Christian history, has written a fascinating article which links the death and conception of Jesus to his birthday.  It seems that ancient Christians tended to believe that the death of Jesus occurred on the same day as his conception in Mary’s womb, March 25.  So, to arrive at his birthdate, they added nine months to March 25, which yields Dec. 25.

If you are interested in early Christian history and the roots of Jesus’ birthdate on Dec. 25, you won’t want to miss reading this article.

Merry Christmas and Thank You!

Tomorrow marks the 1-month milestone for our new blog site.  In a period of four weeks, we’ve had about 850 hits on our blog, which is not bad at all.  There are clearly readers out there, like you, who are interested in the topics Darrell and I are passionate about, and we want to thank you for joining us at this blog site.  We really appreciate your support and we look forward to many more months and years ahead of growing this community.

On a far more important note, we want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and we fervently pray that you will renew your love for Christ these next couple days in a more powerful way than ever before.  After all, He is the reason for everything we do.  Our families wish your families a deepening knowledge and love of God through the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

God Bless All of You!