The Christian Bible Reference Site

Christmas

What Is Christmas?

Christmas is an annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, Christmas is celebrated on December 25. For Christians, Christmas is considered the second most holy day of the year while Easter is the holiest day.

The great majority of Christians celebrate Christmas, and there are many rich and varied Christmas traditions around the world. Religious Christians may attend special church services during the Christmas season and on Christmas Day that commemorate the birth of Jesus and call us to a life of devotion and following His teachings.

What is Advent?

Advent is a church season leading up to Christmas. It begins four Sundays before Christmas Day. For churches that follow a liturgical calendar, the first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the church year. But many other Christian churches also observe Advent in one way or another.

Advent was traditionally a time of penance and fasting in preparation for Christ's second coming and for the Christmas celebration. Fasting is no longer observed, however, and Advent has become a more joyous season. The Advent/Christmas season is often marked by generosity and charity and an ambiance of peace and goodwill (Luke 2:10-14).

Advent wreaths are popular to mark the weeks of Advent. They are used in homes as well as churches. Many churches host craft lessons where members can come and make Advent wreaths for their families.

Biblical Origin

Sometime around 6 B.C., and angel appeared to a young Jewish woman named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph. The angel said to her:
 "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. (TNIV, Luke 1:30-35)

The Bible tells that Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. He was born in a stable where animals were kept, and Mary used a manger (a feeding trough for animals) as His crib (Luke 2:1-7).

Angels announced Jesus' birth to a group of shepherds (Luke 2:8-14), and a special star appeared in the sky which guided wise men (or magi) to bring expensive gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12).  

Jesus grew up in the Galilean city of Nazareth (Matthew 2:21-23), and at about age 30 He began His public ministry which lasted about three years (Luke 3:23).

As foreshadowed by the humble circumstances of His birth, Jesus always had special concern for the poor and powerless of the world (Luke 6:20-22).

There are no references to Christmas in the Bible because the first Christmas celebration did not occur until about 250 years after the last book of the Bible was written.

Related article: The Birth of Jesus

History of Christmas

Although we celebrate Jesus' birth on Christmas Day, it does not represent the actual day of His birth. No one knows what day Jesus was born, but in 336 A.D., the Western Church chose December 25 to celebrate the coming of Christ into the world. In English, this day was known as "Christ's Mass" which became "Christmas." The Eastern Church chose January 6. The day was named Epiphany, meaning "appearance." Eventually the period from December 25 to January 6 became known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.

In the 500s A.D., a monk named Denys le Petit calculated that Jesus was born in the Roman year 753. Christian nations changed their calendars to make that year one, and we number our years of the Christian era since that date. However, it is now believed that Denys miscalculated and Jesus was actually born between 6 and 4 B.C., but no one is sure of the exact year.

Christmas as a Nonreligious Celebration

The Christmas season has also become a nonreligious festival that is celebrated around the world by Christians and non-Christians alike. The nonreligious aspects of Christmas celebration include gift giving, Christmas trees, lights, decorating, Santa Claus, acts of charity, feasting and partying.

There was an ancient pagan festival of lights at the winter solstice (December 21-22) to celebrate the days beginning to get longer rather than shorter. During the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., many pagans were converted to Christianity, and the pagan and Christian traditions became intermingled because they occurred at the same time of year. The lights and feasting of Christmas may have originated from the pagan traditions.

The Christmas tree tradition began in Germany. German families put up a "Paradise tree" on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it symbolizing the bread distributed in Church for Holy Communion. The Christmas holiday followed immediately, so candles representing Christ as the "light of the world" (John 8:12) were often added to the tree. Thus began our tradition of putting lights on Christmas trees.

The tradition of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas originated with several old European legends. The modern image of Santa as a gift-giving, rotund gentleman in a red suit with a sleigh and reindeer can be traced to Clement Clark Moore's poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, also known as The Night Before Christmas, which was published in 1823.

The "Christmas spirit" of giving can be traced to the book A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Dickens' book, published in 1843, is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a stingy curmudgeon, who has a series of visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future. These ghosts show Scrooge a series of disturbing visions that make him realize the evil and futility of his life, and he becomes a completely new person - generous, loving and likable.

Controversies

Are Nonreligious Christmas Celebrations Wrong?

During the 1600s, some Puritan groups considered Christmas a pagan celebration because it included nonreligious elements such as decorating and feasting. As a result, Christmas celebrations were outlawed, for a time, in England and parts of the English colonies in America. However, the pagan origin of some of the traditions does not make Christmas a pagan holiday. Those of us who celebrate Christmas in the spirit of worshiping Christ are not glorifying paganism nor demeaning Christianity.

Many Christians celebrate Christmas in both religious and nonreligious ways. The Christmas traditions of generosity and charity and the ambiance of peace and goodwill are certainly strong Christian Values, and there is nothing in the Bible against Christmas trees, gift-giving, lights, decorating, parties, etc. But some Christmas traditions, particularly drunkenness and revelry, are not consistent with Bible teachings (Galatians 5:19-21).

Christmas "Culture Wars"

Some Christians are offended when the Christmas season is observed in secular ways. They may pressure government units and merchants to display "Merry Christmas" signs instead of "Happy Holidays," or they may push to have Christmas trees and nativity scenes displayed on public property. However, the Bible says Christians should live lives of humility (Matthew 18:2-4) and avoid passing judgment on the actions of other people (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1, 14:10-12). Christmas is a time of goodwill, and it is our love, not anger, that can demonstrate the virtues of our faith to the world (Matthew 5:9, 5:43-48, Romans 12:14-18, 1 Corinthians 16:14, 1 Peter 3:8-11, James 1:19-20).

Should Christmas Be Celebrated at All?

Like the Puritans of the 1600s, a few Christians of today maintain that it is wrong to celebrate Christmas. The reasons may vary, but the main objection is that the Bible does not authorize any annual celebration of Jesus' birth. However, nothing in the Bible prohibits such a celebration.

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