(Post 4 of a series of 4)
This will be the last post in our series on the origins of our Christmastime traditions. With this one, however, I don’t want to deal with any more origins of any more traditions. Instead, I want to focus upon rightly applying what we’ve learned.
There are some who staunchly believe that Christians should have nothing to do with the Christmas holiday. They say, “The holiday has its roots in paganism, and Christians should avoid it altogether.” This was the mindset of the early Puritans, Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians, and Calvinists who played such major roles in the settling of America.
If you ever meet someone who does oppose the holiday, that person will probably refer you to Jeremiah 10:2-5, which says:
Thus says the Lord: Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.
Some people read that passage and say, “You see? Right there the Bible tells us that we shouldn’t have Christmas trees.” But are these people right? That’s what we need to figure out.
Several years ago, I came face to face with this issue in my life. I had learned the information that I’ve passed along in this series, and I had to figure out how to apply it to my family’s life. Since the whole subject was pretty overwhelming to me, all I knew to do was pray about it. I poured out my heart to God and said, “Lord, You show me what You want me to do about the Christmas holiday, and I’ll do it.”
I prayed that and I meant it! I was open to never again having a Christmas tree. I was open to never again having Santa Claus mentioned around my house. I was open to ending the practice of buying presents and getting presents.
You say, “Oh, Russell, that kind of thinking is just going to a wrong extreme.” Well, maybe it is, but tell me, have you ever seriously prayed about the issue of the pagan taint that Christmas has upon it? I dare say that most people go their entire lives and never commit the matter to prayer. Say what you will, but I did that.
And what answer did God bring me back to time and time again? Well, if you go into my house at Christmastime, you will find a Christmas tree sitting in my living room. It is beautifully decorated and, depending on what day you go, it might even have a few presents under it. You’ll also find stockings for Ryan and Royce hung on our windowsill. You get the idea. God gave me a peace about our Christmas traditions, and He taught me that it all comes under the heading of Christian liberty.
Not surprisingly, I’ve since learned that I’m not the only Christian whom God has led to this conclusion. Years ago, in Jerry Falwell’s publication The National Liberty Journal, he had a word to say about Christians and Christmas. It was so in line with how God had answered my prayers that I cut it out and kept it. Falwell wrote:
I usually get some critical mail from friends who object to trees, Santa Claus, gifts, and the entire celebration. They remind me that we do not know the exact date of the birth of Christ; that the Christmas tree and Santa have pagan origins; that commercialism dominates the scene; and that Christians should ignore the whole season. Of course, I respectfully disagree. I have never met a person who was damaged emotionally for life because of believing in Santa as a child, or believing in the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, or Mother Goose rhymes. Rather, I have met many who were sadly robbed of their childhood by strict legalistic parents who thought they were doing God a service by denying their children all harmless fun and innocent fantasy.
(By the way, Jerry Falwell was hardly classified as a liberal!)
Let me give you another quote that I like. This one comes from James Dobson’s Focus On The Family magazine. In answering a question about Santa, Dobson wrote, “…if I had to do it over, I would still let my children thrill to the excitement of Santa’s arrival down the chimney on Christmas Eve.”
So, does Christmas really have its roots in paganism? Yes. There’s no denying that. In this series, I didn’t even take the time to explain the pagan origins of mistletoe, the Yule log, decking the halls with boughs of holly, the Christmas goose, and many, many other Christmas traditions. I assure you that these customs didn’t come from the Bible. But does that mean that God would have us to boycott Christmas? No, it doesn’t.
Let me tell you something: Unless you move to a cave on top of a mountain, you can’t really boycott it anyway. A man says, “My family isn’t going to celebrate Christmas in any way.” Then he sends his five-year-old off to kindergarten and the boy comes home and says, “We are having a Christmas party at school on Friday and I’m supposed to bring the cupcakes.” A woman says, “I’m not even going to acknowledge that there is a Christmas. I just won’t let it into my house.” Then she goes to her mailbox and finds that her neighbor has sent her a Christmas card. Do you see what I mean?
Someone says, “But what about that passage from Jeremiah chapter 10?” I’ll tell you about it. It has absolutely nothing to do with a Christmas tree! What the passage condemns is cutting down a tree and fashioning a wooden idol out of it. If you don’t believe me, sit down and read it for yourself. The key to rightly understanding the passage is to read the entire chapter. Don’t just stop at verse 5. Keep going on through the chapter. When you do that, you will see that the reference is to the making of a wooden idol. It doesn’t have one thing to do with Christmas trees or Christmas.
Listen, Jesus knows that He wasn’t born on December 25th, and He knows about Saturnalia and all the other winter-solstice festivals that other cultures used to celebrate. But He also knows what it is to live in a fallen world. And, knowing that, what He asks from us each Christmas (as well as every other time of the year) is that we live all out for Him.
Parent, I firmly believe that Jesus wants you to let your kids have their fun at Christmas, but He also wants you to teach them the difference between myth and reality. What He especially wants is for you to teach them how to live for Him out there in the real world, a real world that makes a big deal out of Christmas. That’s why I would encourage you to pour out your heart to the Lord about all the issues of Christmas and let Him show you the guidelines and boundaries. He did that for me, and He will do it for you if you are sincere in wanting to know His will. To you, Christmas can simply be a wonderful time of family, tradition, and, of course, the heartfelt celebration of the birth of Jesus.