Christ taught his disciples to share the Lord’s Supper on the first day of each week to remember his death for our sins (Matthew 26:26-29; Acts 20:7). He did not authorize a religious festival, ritual, or ceremony to commemorate his birth. “Christmas” as a religious holy day is the result of the doctrines and “commandments of men,” which Christ forbade (Matthew 15:8-9). Paul warned that those who “observe days, and months, and times, and years” are “in bondage” to human tradition and do not please the Lord (Galatians 4:8-11). True churches of Christ follow the Bible pattern of worship at all times of the year. They have no special service to celebrate the birthday of Jesus because no such ceremony is given in the Bible.
Not everything done during December and early January is religious. This season has evolved into a mixture of some religious practices and some secular practices. This season is centered upon a religious holy day for some people, but is only a secular holiday for true Christians. We can enjoy many activities which are social, civil, business, and family oriented without being involved in the false religious activities of the season. Jesus does not teach us to withdraw like a hermit from all cultural and social contact with our fellowman, but he does expect us to avoid participating in sin and false religion of every kind (John 17:15; Ephesians 5:11).
We can distinguish the secular holiday practices of this season from the religious holy day practices. There are so many harmless secular activities associated with this season today that even religious leaders talk about trying to “put Christ back into Christmas” and to “recover a Christ-centered Christmas” (Houston Chronicle, 10 Dec. 1988, p.2E). These leaders promote displaying religious symbols and scenes, conducting religious “masses” and special services, burning religious candles, presenting religious plays, sending religious cards, singing religious songs, and performing other religious observances – all centered on celebrating the birthday of Jesus. Jesus said such human traditions are vain substitutes for obeying the true commandments of God (Mark 7:6-9).
The secular holiday practices of this season are many and harmless: (1) special offers and sales at stores; (2) family gatherings; (3) the smells of special baking, desserts, spices, candles, etc.; (4) other diet delights such as fruits and nuts; (5) seasonal songs such as “Jingle Bells,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman”, etc: (6) giving gifts for family fun; (7) special vacations, trips, time off work; (8) greeting cards and expressions of goodwill (“Happy holidays,” “Happy New Year,” etc.) (9) curtailment or closing of business activities; (10) household, business, and school decorations – snowflakes, peppermint, greenery, craft objects, bells, etc. (Not manger scenes); (11) time for parties, visits, and get-togethers; (12) playing Santa Claus with children, without introducing the ancient tradition of so-called Saint Nicolas; (13) vacations from school, and from government and civic agencies; (14) holiday bonuses from employers; (15) taking pictures of children or family to give to relatives and friends; and other customs and practices.
Some things done at this time of the year, whether on a secular or a religious basis, ought never to be done. Celebrations and parties will include revelry with dancing, gambling, lascivious songs, and the drinking of wine, beer, and liquor – the ungodly works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). People often make debts they cannot pay in order to provide lavish parties or for extravagant trips, gifts, clothes, and decorations. “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17).
The Jehovah’s Witnesses sect objects, “If we reject seasonal religious practices, we must reject all social activities too.” No, to sing “Jingle Bells” does not honor a Roman Catholic holy day. If it does, then we should send our children to school though no one else will be there, reject all time off from work or special bonuses, eat no nuts or fruit, and have no family gatherings lest someone might think we are recognizing the Pope’s holy days.
The truth is that we must simply discern between good and evil – between false, unauthorized sinful religious observances, on the one hand, and activities on the other hand which are social and seasonal, customary and traditional, harmless and innocent.
– By Ron Halbrook