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 (Manna 56: Holidays)
Should We Keep Christmas?
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Should We Keep Christmas?

Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK


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 family gatherings.

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 celebrate Christmas.”

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 trees.

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.


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 (Deut 12:2-4).

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.

False Beliefs

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 (Col 2:16-23). 

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 (Rom 14:2).

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 subscribing to.

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.


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 of society.

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.

1.        http://www.history.com/minisite.do?content_type=Minisite_Generic&content_type_id=1284&display_order=5&mini_id=1290

*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.


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Author: Vincent Yeung