Tim Chaffey and Jeremy Ham (AiG–US) examine four misconceptions about Christmas.
So far in this series on misconceptions about Christmas, we have examined some of the most common elements of the Christmas celebration, such as the “inn” and manger, singing angels, and the wise men. We also provided an in-depth timeline of events following the birth of Jesus Christ. In this article, we want to take a cursory look at several more misconceptions.
We’ve all seen the signs wishing people a Merry Xmas. What does the X stand for in Xmas? How can some claim that the X stands for Christ, while others say that this is another attempt at removing Christ from the culture? Which view is correct? In a sense, both are.
Christ is a title given to the Lord Jesus to signify that He is the Messiah. In Greek, this word is Christos (χριστος). Since the first Greek letter of this title (the letter chi) looks like an x in English, some have used it as an abbreviation for Christ.1 Many have claimed that this practice dates back to the first century, and there is solid evidence that shows this was practiced in the sixteenth century, perhaps as a cost-saving measure for those using the printing press. However, those using the abbreviation would still pronounce the X as Christ.
There is no question that many use the X today for the very purpose of eliminating Christ from the holiday that bears His title. Some may even do this in ignorance. Secularists have been working hard to remove any mention of God, Jesus, and Christianity from our culture. Should we expect anything less from those who don’t know the Lord?
So what is a Christian to do? Can we use the abbreviation or must we always write out Christmas? I believe one needs to follow his or her own conscience, guided by the Holy Spirit, on this issue—as with every other. It is not sinful to use abbreviations, but it would definitely be wrong for a Christian to use it because he or she is ashamed of Jesus Christ (Luke 9:26). As such, one must examine his or her reasons for whatever decision they reach.
Some Christians have cited the tenth chapter of Jeremiah as evidence that we should not use trees in our Christmas celebrations. However, one merely needs to take a close look at the text to see that this is not the case:
Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good. (Jeremiah 10:1–5)
Although there seem to be some similarities to a Christmas tree in this passage, the context reveals that there is really nothing here that forbids their usage. The first 16 verses of this chapter are all about how idols are completely worthless compared to God.
These are instructions to the Israelites that they should not adopt the idolatrous ways of the Gentiles who often carved idols out of the trees they had cut down. Now, if a Christmas tree is ever elevated to the point where it becomes an idol or a stumbling block to worshiping the Lord, then it would be wrong. However, many people choose to use an evergreen tree as a reminder of the eternal life offered by Jesus Christ to all who will receive Him as their Lord and Savior.
This is another issue that can sometimes turn into a heated discussion, but such argument is unnecessary. The fact is that we really do not know what time of year He was born. Many believe that this date was chosen to coincide with (or even replace) the pagan holiday known as Saturnalia, but there is no definitive evidence for this. The first reference to December 25 as Christ’s birthday comes from Julius Africanus who wrote in the early part of the third century.2
Some have argued that the traditional date is impossible because shepherds would not have been out in the fields at night in the winter. The average December night time temperatures near Jerusalem are between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If this can be used as a guide here, then this would not have been unbearable for these shepherds. Also, it is possible that the temperatures were above average that night, so this argument is lacking.
A more sophisticated argument has been lodged against the traditional date. Since Zacharias (father of John the Baptist) was of the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5), it is assumed that we can determine when he would have served in the Temple.3 From there, it is assumed that Elizabeth conceived immediately after Zacharias came home from Jerusalem. We know that Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Gabriel informed Mary of her virginal conception (Luke 1:36). However, we do not know if Mary conceived immediately after this meeting, and we do not know if her pregnancy lasted precisely 40 weeks. As such, there is just too much speculation in this argument to rule out or pinpoint any date, including December 25.
Some people have argued that Christians should not celebrate Christmas because it was originally a pagan holiday. Others say that it shouldn’t be celebrated because it is never commanded in Scripture. After all, during the Last Supper, Jesus instructed His followers to commemorate His death, but nowhere does the Bible instruct Christians to commemorate His birth.
Christmas is a time when Christians celebrate and remember Jesus Christ coming into this world to save sinners. December 25 is not necessarily the date that Jesus was born, but this does not detract from the fact that it is very important to remember Jesus and what He did for us. While we are not commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ, we do see precedent in Scripture.4 The angels and shepherds praised God for sending His Son into the world. Christians are definitely permitted to do this, and every day we should thank God for Christ stepping into this world!
Moreover, reminders are stressed in Scripture, such as the account of the 12 stones in Joshua 4:5–7, which were to serve as “a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”
Sadly, Israel eventually forgot, and they embraced worldly ideas. This is one of the main reasons that Christians should celebrate Christmas: that we will never forget what God has done for us.
However, this is what we see in our world today. England has almost completely lost its Christian heritage, and America is heading down the same dangerous path. The majority of people in these nations have very little, if any, understanding of God’s Word. As a result, “the message of the Cross is foolishness to them” (1 Corinthians 1:18). This is why it is so important to explain the foundation of the gospel in Genesis when witnessing to others.
We need to explain to believers how God’s Word is relevant in our times, so that Christians will be emboldened to uncompromisingly share the truth with an unbelieving world. Turning these countries back to the authority of God’s Word must start with believers. We should realize, though, that even if these nations experience revival and do return to the authority of Scripture, this will not be a permanent change if we fail to set up the important reminders for the next generation.
Many Christians use Christmas and its various symbols as reminders. Jesus Christ is the main reason why many believers celebrate Christmas. Some, however, get too caught up on the origin of how we came to use Christmas as the reminder for His birth. Our focus should not be on the origin of Christmas—or even on the symbols themselves. In fact, there are many conflicting reports concerning the source of certain traditions. For example, some claim the Christmas tree has a Christian origin while others believe it has pagan roots.
Many have said that celebrating Christ’s birth on December 25 is pagan in origin, but whether this is the case or not does not really matter. Is it possible that the twelve stones were misused in the past? In our day, dinosaur fossils have been used for evil—by indoctrinating people to believe that God’s Word cannot be trusted—but that doesn’t mean we should avoid them. We must realize that originally everything was perfect. Since then, sin has entered into the world and distorted everything. We should take back what others have used for pagan purposes and use these things for what God originally intended—for good.
Our focus should be on why we celebrate Christ’s birth and how the symbols remind us of the truth. We should use these things to show how we can stand on the truth of God’s Word and live out that truth in our lives.