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Feasts and Holy Days

Question: What is your opinion of celebrating Christmas? Some research shows that it originally was a pagan holiday. Surely all the Christians who have been celebrating the birth of Christ can't be wrong! I believe in their hearts they are truly honouring that day for Jesus. Your thoughts?

Answer: In the early church the disciples met on the first day of the week, Sunday, the day of the resurrection of our Lord (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Following the apostolic example, Christians continue to meet on the Lord's Day to worship together.

There is no example or precept in the New Testament for the church to celebrate Christmas or any other special feast. It seems to me that if the Lord required His people to celebrate certain feasts, He would have given instructions to that effect, just as He did in the Old Testament (the Jews celebrated seven main feasts). But He didn't. The absence of such instructions is a strong argument against those who would introduce obligatory “Christian” feasts upon the whole church. At best, whoever wants to celebrate Christmas or Easter can do so according to His own conscience, but no one has the right to impose these feasts and create unnecessary tension in the church by insisting that everyone should do the same.

Those of us who see the importance of the example of the early Christian churches should also note that this feast was not celebrated until after the fourth century; the 25th of December was probably chosen to replace a pagan feast in honour of the sun. You consider it unlikely that all the Christians who have been celebrating Christmas throughout the centuries could be wrong. By the same token, I ask you, what about the early Christians who for centuries did not celebrate this feast? Were they wrong for not celebrating a feast that the New Testament, and even early tradition, know nothing about? The validity of a belief or practice should not be based on its popularity; we should look for guidance in God’s Word.

If you want to remember Christ's birth on that particular date, feel free to do so. "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" (Romans 14:5,6). I am sure that as a Christian you would refrain from the pagan and sinful practices that often characterize these days, like drunkenness, gluttony, spending more than you can afford, and lying to kids about Santa Claus.

On the other hand, I would ask you to consider the following Scriptures, which speak against the celebration of feasts in the New Testament Church:

  1. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain (Galatians 4:10,11).

  2. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16,17).

Of course the apostle Paul was not speaking about Christmas or Easter – these feasts were not even known in the apostolic churches. He is correcting the early disciples for inventing a religious calendar; adding feasts and festivals not instituted by the Lord, or Jewish feasts which have been abolished because they had been fulfilled in Christ. The principle certainly applies to all feasts invented and introduced after the apostolic era. Christians did not need feasts – merely “a shadow” and “weak and beggarly elements” – since we have a living and personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus.

Despite these scriptures, the Roman Catholic authorities include Christmas, Easter and other feasts as a "holy days of obligation" and insist that all should keep these days holy, along with the Lord’s Day. They condemn anyone who does not celebrate Christmas as breaking the commandment of God. The Baltimore Catechism warns: "Holy days of obligation are special feasts of the Church on which we are bound, under pain of mortal sin, to hear Mass and to keep from servile or bodily labours when it can be done without great loss or inconvenience." The Catholic Church is dead wrong here.

To this threat, we respond as instructed by the apostle Paul: we will let any man or Pope judge us in respect of an holy day, whether it's Christmas or any other feast invented by man. We know Christ in truth, and we rejoice in Him all year round.

In conclusion, no church should force all members to celebrate Christmas or any other feast. Yet, individual Christians have the liberty to esteem one day above the other.

© Dr Joseph Mizzi