Should We Keep Christmas?
Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK
CHRISTMAS IS A BIG DEAL
Christmas is the biggest event on
the UK calendar. Even in early December, the main themes in conversation are
Christmas shopping, preparations for Christmas meals, and arrangements for
Two weeks before the fateful
day, Christmas decorations start to emerge in the office: bucket-loads of
Christmas cards arrive through the mail or in the in-tray, and inexhaustible
supplies of mince pies and chocolates accumulate in the tea room. Teams of carol
singers, organized by charities and churches, ambush people for donations at
train stations. Whether we like it or not, Christmas has arrived.
For those who don’t celebrate
Christmas, what can be done to ward off these intrusions? If someone were a
Muslim, it is not unreasonable to say, “I am a Muslim, I don’t celebrate
Christmas.” People could even claim, “I am an atheist,” or “I am a Jedi Knight,
I don’t celebrate Christmas.” It is hard to say, “I am a Christian, but I do not
As Christians, we actively engage
and participate in and contribute to society. We spend most of our time with
non–True Jesus Church friends, fellow students, clients, and colleagues (1 Cor 5:8-10).
The dichotomy between what Jesus
described as “out of the world” (Jn 15:19) and yet
“in the world” (Jn 17:15) troubles many believers: How
far do we integrate with society? Should we be involved in local customs and
cultural activities? If we are involved, where should we draw a boundary that
we would never cross? How should we respond to the disagreements among True Jesus
Church members on this subject?
These issues must be resolved as
well for Christmas.
A Mixed Bag of Pagan and Religious Traditions1
Christmas as we know it is an
amalgamation of practices, customs, and stories that have been memorized and
passed down for generations. The diversity of these traditions lack coherence
and connections with Christian belief, to say nothing of the practices originating
from pagan roots.
A typical Christmas-observing
family might have a Christmas tree in the living room. The youngsters in the
family take part in re-creating the Nativity at school. Family and friends
exchange gifts that parents and children attribute to a character called Santa Claus.
Some people trace the origin of
the Christmas tree to before the Christian era; trees and boughs were used in
ancient cultures for ceremonial purposes. The ancient Egyptians, in celebrating
the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year), brought green date palms
into their homes as a symbol of life triumphing over death. When the Romans
observed the feast of Saturn, part of the ceremony was the raising of an
evergreen bough. The early Scandinavians were said to have paid homage to evergreen
Mistletoe has a special place in
British Christmas celebrations. A branch of mistletoe is hung up in the house
and, according to the custom of Christmas cheer, any
two people who meet under it are obliged to kiss. This tradition has roots in
the belief that mistletoe could grant fertility.
Today, schools and churches
arrange visits to nursing homes where they sing familiar Christmas songs. Many
families enjoy Christmas traditions that focus on community events, such as attending
a Christmas parade.
Religious Christmas celebrations marking
the birth of Jesus usually center on Christmas Eve. Roman Catholic churches
celebrate the first Christmas mass at midnight, and Protestant churches hold
Christmas candlelight service late on Christmas Eve.
Tradition Without Faith
Despite the religious
background of Christmas, the holiday has become nearly devoid of religious
content in the UK. To the majority, Christmas has become watered down to a
godless excess of presents, food, and partying. Even atheists enjoy the music
of the season, delight in receiving special gifts from family and friends, and
wish everyone a “Merry Christmas.”
The question is, Is there a problem with taking part in a celebration that is
devoid of religious content? We can hardly be rebuked for remembering,
respecting, and taking part in Remembrance Day.*
Many True Jesus Church members
consider everything that is associated with Christmas as taboo. If we follow
such reasoning, we should not engage in any aspect of Christmas: no Christmas lunch at the canteen, no receiving Christmas
cards, no attending Christmas functions.
Undoubtedly, such a “scorched
earth” policy would insulate members from all harm. However, blind adherence
devoid of true knowledge and understanding is no better than superstition and
ultimately cannot stand the test of time. Only when we are able to rationalize
and internalize our belief through the word of God and the Holy Spirit can we
stand firm and act responsibly and sensibly.
OBSERVING GOD’S COMMANDS
The Bible unequivocally and
unreservedly reminds us to adhere to the commandments of the Lord. The chosen people
must not follow the ways of the other nations in worshipping their gods. As an
illustration of this principle, the Lord did not allow pillars and images near
His altar (Deut 16:20, 21). We cannot supplant God with other gods, nor are we
allowed to set up a way of worship in addition to what He has commanded us
Worshipping idols and burning
their children (Deut 12:31) were religious acts in which the users believed
that they could evoke a response from their gods. The 450 prophets of Baal
cried loudly and cut themselves (1 Kgs 18:28), but
there was no effect. Even though the false prophets truly believed in what they
were doing, their gods did not grant their request. Although Satan may use such
opportunities to carry out his work, false beliefs do not bring any benefit and
have no effect.
The Lord commanded His chosen
people not to cut themselves nor make any baldness between the eyes for the
dead (Deut 14:1). As God’s children, we shall not do to the Lord as the other nations
have done to their gods.
Moses told the Israelites,
“You shall not worship the LORD your God in that
way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their
gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor
take away from it.” (Deut 12:31, 32)
The prohibition can be examined
on three levels.
Any system, belief, or practice
that establishes its own righteousness in place of God’s righteousness is false
and not acceptable to God. Any system of belief that operates in parallel with
or supplements the traditional doctrines and common faith should be abandoned
Neither Christmas nor the observance
of the birth of Jesus has biblical justification. If we believe that attending
Christmas service or celebrating Christmas is a must, then it is a false
belief. We should not take part in such activities because our faith will be compromised.
The lack of clarity in our faith
and lack of trust in the Lord often lead to the adulteration of our belief and
practices. This could be as subtle as carrying a lucky charm that gives us
peace of mind. It could be in the form of active participation in religious
rites and acts (Gal 4:9-10; Col 2:16-23) or active avoidance of certain food
If anyone doubts his own
belief, it is not of faith, and that is sin (Rom 14:23). Similarly, believing that
eating mince pies or hanging mistletoe in our homes brings luck is in
opposition to the Bible’s teachings. Such beliefs are false and can bring no
benefit, only harm.
Symbolism, whether religious or
secular, plays a significant part in our lives. Prestigious brands are symbols
of wealth, status, and exclusivity. Wearing a poppy or a wrist band of a
certain color signifies solidarity and support to a common cause or value.
Symbolism also plays a very
important part in the Bible. Circumcision is a token of the covenant between
God and Abraham (Gen 17:11); the rainbow is a token of the covenant between God
and the earth (Gen 9:12, 13). Binding the word of God on their hand, between
the eyes, writing it on the post of a house and at the gate signify an absolute
adherence to God’s word (Deut 6:8, 9).
Symbols by themselves bring no
value if the holders do not actualize such values in their life; rather, it
inculcates a sense of false security. The Pharisees made their phylacteries
broad and enlarged the borders of their garments (Mt 23:5) as a symbol of their
piety; this brought them no praise from Jesus because they were more interested
in man’s praise than in putting the commands of God into practice.
Joel reminded the people to
tear their hearts and not their robes (Joel 2:13). We must be sensitive to what
we wear, carry, and do.
Putting a Christmas tree in the
living room may symbolize that we are sharing the values of the holiday, which
may mean drinking excessively, attending wild parties, going to festive family
and social gatherings, or celebrating Jesus’ birth.
As a True Jesus Church member, we
need to ask, “Do I share these values?” and “Why am I involved in things that I
do not agree with or subscribe to?” If we do not share these values, what is
the point in celebrating Christmas?
Physical and Spiritual Harm
For you were bought at a price; therefore
glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor 6:20)
God has chosen us out of the world,
and the world hates us (Jn 15:19), yet Jesus did not pray to take us out of the
world (Jn 17:15). It is human nature to want to be liked by people around us:
our family, friends, and colleagues. But our “otherness” as the children of God
sets us apart from the world and is the reason why the world hates us (Jn
15:19). The more we assimilate ourselves with this world, the more we are liked
by it. We must be aware of the spiritual harm and danger we expose ourselves
and our brethren to by participating in Christmas activities.
The act of exchanging Christmas
gifts or installing a Christmas tree in our living room is not a sin. However,
it is part of the process of assimilation that we are subconsciously
God warned His people vociferously
over the ages not to follow the practices of the nations (Deut 8:19). The pattern of sound words has once and for all been entrusted to
the saints and passed from one generation to the other (Jude 3; 2 Tim 1:13,
2:2). We cannot ignore or change God’s words.
Satan is used to changing God’s
commandments subtly and successfully causing people to sin (Gen 3:4; Jude 4).
We must be alert to avoid giving ground to the devil by understanding that
apostasy is a process—like Lot gradually moving his tents towards Sodom (Gen
13:12), we slowly drift away from the truth while picking up the traditions and
practices of the world.
ENGAGE POSITIVELY IN THE WORLD
In Deuteronomy 22:9-11, the
Lord warns us not to mix different types of seeds, animals, and fabrics. Why
would the Lord worry about these material things? Is He not referring to
something more profound?
Jesus has set a good example
for us to follow—He was in the world yet did not belong to this world. He was
accused of wining and dining, indicating that He engaged occasionally in
worldly activities, such as attending a wedding feast. Yet at other times, He
led an ascetic life, fasting and praying.
He was sensitive to the
physical and emotional needs of others and did not mind breaking the rules
(human traditions) and raising a few eyebrows. Such pragmatism is what we
should emulate. We do not actively embrace Christmas traditions by sending out
Christmas cards, by putting up a Christmas tree or decorations in our lounge,
or by organizing Christmas parties at work or university; neither should we
shrink from an engagement during the Christmas period.
If we are participating in Christmas-time
activities, such as attending a Christmas meal or allowing young children to be
part of their school Christmas program, we need to ask these questions: Does
the activity have any religious meaning both to us and to those who invite us
to take part? If the answer is no, then it is no different from any other
secular event. Then we should ask, Are we exposing
ourselves to any physical or spiritual harm? Are we sending the wrong signal to
those who are weak or confused in their faith? If so, it is better not to take
part in such activities.
With the correct mindset, it is
not a sin to participate passively in certain Christmas-time events, knowing
that it is not true. For example, it is not a sin to receive a Christmas card
as long as we know that it is just a gesture of goodwill from a fellow member
Nevertheless, we do not want to
be perceived to hold false values. So, if a friend invites us to a get-together
during Christmas, we need not be afraid to accept. But we must remember that we
should put on the image of Jesus wherever we go.
*Remembrance Day is an annual
holiday observed in the UK on the second Sunday in November in memory of those who have died in war.