Every year around Christmas time, serious concerns are voiced regarding the validity of celebrating Christmas. Some note that the origins of Christmas are pagan, others point out that the Bible overtly denounces Christmas trees as idolatrous, and still others suggest that Santa Claus is a dangerous fairy tale.
In response let me first acknowledge that when Christmas was originally instituted, December 25 was indeed a pagan festival commemorating the birthday of a false god. While this is historical fact, what is frequently overlooked is that the church’s choice of December 25 was intentional. Instead of Christianizing a pagan festival, the church established a rival celebration. While the world has all but forgotten the Greco-Roman gods of antiquity, they are annually reminded that two thousand years ago Christ invaded time and space.
Furthermore, the Bible nowhere condemns Christmas trees as idolatrous. The oft-cited passage
in Jeremiah 10:2–4 might at first blush appear compelling, but context precludes the pretext. Jeremiah’s description of a tree cut out of the forest adorned with silver and gold and fastened with a hammer and nails so that it would not totter is a reference to wooden idols, not Christmas trees. In fact, Christmas trees originated in Christian Germany two thousand years after Jeremiah’s condemnation of manmade idols. They evolved over time from two Christian traditions. One was a “paradise tree” hung with apples as a reminder of the tree of life in the garden of Eden. The other was a triangular shelf holding Christmas figurines decorated by a star. In the sixteenth century, these two symbols merged into the present Christmas tree tradition. Next Christmas you might well consider using the Christmas tree in the home of an unbeliever as a springboard or opportunity to explain the reason for the season from the fall in Paradise to redemption in Christ.
Finally, believe it or not, even Santa can be saved! Far from merely being a dangerous fairy tale, “Santa Claus” in reality is an Anglicized form of the Dutch name Sinter Klaas, which in turn is a reference to Saint Nicholas. According to tradition, Saint Nick not only lavished gifts on needy children but also valiantly supported the doctrine of the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Thus, Christians may legitimately look to Saint Nick as a genuine hero of the faith.
This December 25 as you celebrate the coming of Christ with a Christmas tree surrounded by presents, may the selflessness of Saint Nick be a reminder of the Savior who gave the greatest gift of all: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
For further study, see Paul Maier, The First Christmas (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001).
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”