The date and most of the customs associated with Christmas originated with the Roman Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival celebrating the rebirth of the Sun. Schools were closed, great feasts were prepared, gifts were exchanged, all in honour of a heathen god. Early Christians considered this an abomination, but somehow it has crept into the churches.
The fir tree, the holly and the ivy, all evergreens showing evidence of life in the depth of winter, were considered symbols of this reborn god.
Jolly old Santa Claus is a fraud, a false god who promises happiness that he cannot deliver. Toys and other gifts may bring momentary delight, but no lasting happiness. We are deceiving our children if we teach them to expect to find happiness in material things.
The star was a sign to the magi, to bring them to Jerusalem to announce the birth of the Messiah. The star did not lead the magi to Jerusalem, they knew where to find it, there is no mention of th star guiding them until they left Jerusalem. It was most definitely not God’s purpose to provide another god for us to worship, as some Christmas songs appear to do. The Bible does not say there were three wise men, the idea that each brought his own gift is not found in the Bible account. And they most certainly were not kings.
And so it goes for the rest of the Christmas mythology, all the heart-warming tales told to give us a warm fuzzy feeling about mingling heathen practices with a remembrance of the birth of Messiah.
Where I live there are seven and a half hours from sunrise to sunset on December 25. I see no harm in a winter solstice festival to lighten this period a little, as long as we do not associate it with its pagan ancestry. It is not wrong to exchange gifts, send letters and cards to family and friends, to hold family gatherings.
My Puritan ancestors shunned Christmas altogether, considering it purely pagan. I think we can enjoy this season as long as we take care not to claim that we do this because God gave us Jesus. There is not a shred of encouragement in the Bible for that notion.
At the same time, there is a stir in the air at this time of the year. Our society still has a remembrance of the angels’ message of “peace on earth, good will to men.” All hearts long to experience this, and they find precious little of it in the Christmas celebrations.
This provides a window of opportunity for us as Christians to testify in word and song that “peace on earth, good will to men” is something more than a story told to entertain children. May we examine ourselves to see if we are truly living in the reality of this promise before we proclaim it to others.