May Christians create holidays such as Christmas?

May Christians create holidays? The Bible gives us precedent to say Yes.

First, God’s people have always celebrated holidays that are not mandated in the Bible. To name three, the feast of Purim was established in the 400s BC, when Esther and Mordecai saved the Jews from slaughter. The name Purim is the Hebrew form of a pagan, Babylonian word for “lots”. The feast began when “the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.” Crucially for us, nowhere does God mandate it as a holy day, as he did Passover or Pentecost – it was a human decision.

Second, the Jews invented the holiday of Chanukah or Hanukkah, to celebrate every December how the Maccabees rededicated the Jerusalem temple in 165 BC, after it had been captured and defiled by the Syrian king. Also known as the Feast of Dedication, it was observed in Jesus’ day every winter, and Christ himself went to the temple in Jerusalem to attend it (John 10:22-23). Again, this was a holiday that the Jews invented to celebrate a remarkable chapter in their history; it is not “biblical.”

Third, Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah as an important holy day, their New Year celebration. In 2015 it began at sundown of September 13. But nowhere in the Bible are Jews called to celebrate it, and its first description comes from after the destruction of the Second Temple, in the Mishnah.

By analogy, Christians may create holidays to commemorate God’s actions in human history. The church has always had Holy Week and Pentecost, which mirror the ancient biblical feast days but which are now invested with deeper meaning. If Christians wish to celebrate Christ’s Second Coming during Advent, his birth on Christmas, and his resurrection on Resurrection Sunday, I say that’s fine – the events they commemorate are of exponentially greater consequence than those of Purim or Chanukah or the New Year’s Day.

Christmas, and ‘tis the season to be jolly. Oh, and ‘tis also the season for people to claim that December 25 is a pagan holiday and should not be a celebration of Christ’s birth, for example: “The date of December 25th comes from Rome and was a celebration of the Italic god, Saturn, and the rebirth of the sun god.” [1]

This is patently untrue, since some Christians believed that Jesus was born on December 25 as early as the year 200, and probably earlier.[2] The calculation had nothing to do with the pagan Saturnalia feast, but rather was based on the idea that the earth was created on a March 25, that Jesus was conceived on that date and born exactly nine months later.

Christmas tree lights, invented by Martin Luther

Christmas tree lights, invented by Martin Luther

“But December 25 was a pagan holiday of gift-giving and decorating trees!” they tell me. Well, no it wasn’t, it was Dec 17-23. Anyway, if you take an ancient Roman calendar, and poke your finger at any date, and you will land on a pagan holiday that has some resemblance to Christmas. [3]

Celebrate Christ’s birth in May or July if you wish. If the date we honor is arbitrary, than changing it would be even more capricious, and odds are you’re going to land on July 4, Arbor Day, Lincoln’s Birthday or some other conflicting “wordly” date.

NOTES:

[1] Here is one example: http://www.lasttrumpetministries.org/tracts/tract3.html

[2] Hippolytus, in his Commentary on Daniel 23.3, said “For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th [literally, “eight days before the kalends of January], Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year…”

[3] http://www.novaroma.org/calendar/index.html

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Gary, the deeper question is: Can we (ethically) celebrate Christ’s birth if we are not celebrating his life, i.e., following his commands to love God and neighbor in a self-sacrificial manner?

  2. Hello Gary,
    I see that you have added a commentary from the late Pastor David Meyer. I used to listen to his sermons on a weekly basis until about three years ago. As I kept digging into the Word, I became unsettled about many of his teachings, especially prophecy: he was A millennial in his beliefs. I used to subscribe to his newsletter. He had a very charismatic personality and was a good preacher, but…..
    Is he right however, when he says ‘Christmas is strictly a Roman Catholic word’? I mean, this is a very confusing topic for many. Christ is the Lord, and adding ‘Mas’ would appear to be celebrating their mass!
    The masses (no pun intended) believe they are celebrating His birth, and according to the NT, we are told to celebrate His death and resurrection!
    I had never before came across your argument in respect of Purim and Hanukkah before, which makes much sense.
    It is so hard to please everyone! It is like the Lord’s Supper, Arthur Pink taught we shouldn’t use bread with leaven in it………….

    • Hi Colin, I quoted David Meyer’s page as an unreliable analysis, and his other tracts that I have looked at strike me as unreliable as well. He tends to give lists of “facts,” but many are not true, others are presented out of context, etc.

      Here are the facts: “Christmas” derives from the Old English and means Christ’s Mass, that is, the Catholic Mass to celebrate Christ’s birthday.

      The word “Mass” does not mean sacrifice, it is taken from the end of the Latin liturgy, and is related to our English word “dismissal”. The priest would say “Go, this is the dismissal.”

      Much of the rest that Meyer says is pure invention. For example, he claims that Jesus was born in September; he has no evidence to back that up.

  3. Gary,
    In my humble opinion, I detect a bee in your bonnet!
    Having said that, you do make some very valid points.
    God bless you…and a very happy Christmas to you and your family!


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