Some years ago, when I was younger and a zealot, I did not celebrate Christmas as I do today. I would sing the carols and exchange greetings and gifts, but there was no tree and no decorations. As Christians we have no commanded holy days and in writing to the Colossians Paul says “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day,...” 3:16. The context suggests that the Colossian Christians were free to abstain from holy days and that freedom would also apply to us. On the other hand writing to the Romans Paul says “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” 14:5-6, so which way do you honour God?
I have since chosen to honour God by celebrating Christmas. I have heard the arguments about it being a pagan holiday but that is not the way Christmas has come down to us. The origins of the holiday may have been unveiled by historians but the practise of Christmas was maintained by Christians celebrating the birth of Christ. Whether or not the proper day is celebrated is immaterial, we are celebrating the event. That the celebration takes place at the same time as an old pagan event represents redemption to me, the holiday has been redeemed to honour Christian values.
To begin with, we celebrate the birth of Christ for “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” 1 Tim. 1:15. And so say the Christmas carols, unlike the seasonal songs although I like most of those too. For those of us who are Christians it is important to highlight this event, it provides an opportunity to make known the gospel. The symbols of Christmas also carry a message. The Christmas tree began as a representation of the tree of life, now I realize evergreen trees are not fruit trees but that was a later adaptation. The Germans, Martin Luther among them, believed that the evergreen was representative of eternal life, and the Christmas decorations, that is, the balls, were symbols of the fruit on the tree of life. Candles were added to the tree to simulate sparkling starlight for “the heavens declare the glory of God” Psalm 19:1.
The time is meant to be a gathering of family and friends and that is a good thing. The giving of gifts is not simply a remembrance of the gifts given by the Magi but a remembrance of the gifts given to us by God. It is not only a show of affection to our families and friends, but also to those less fortunate than us. And perhaps in the giving we can also redeem Santa Claus.
My wife and I pondered what we would tell our children about Santa Claus, she liked the fun of the jolly old elf while I preferred the truth. Truth about Santa Claus you ask? Yes, truth. St. Nicholas was a real person; even more he appears to have been a real Christian, so much so that the world remembers him as being magical. The stories I remember are that he provided dowries for young women who otherwise would have practised prostitution to raise the necessary funds. He provided for the poor in a way that would not embarrass them, by dropping gifts down chimneys or placed inside windows when the chimneys were too hot. He cared for strangers and children and his deeds became legendary and then mythical. So it was that Nicholas, an early Christian went from being a Christian, to a saint and finally a jolly old elf almost entirely at the hands of Christians. Most people are familiar with Clement Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas” (or more properly “A Visit from St. Nicholas” ) the poem most responsible for the current image of Santa Claus, few people are aware that Clement Moore was a professor of Biblical Learning and some say the preeminent American Hebrew scholar of his day.
Frequently it seems that the small and what we think inconsequential deeds that we do seem to loom the largest. Clement Moore may have wished to be remembered more for his Hebrew and English Lexicon than by a fun poem for his children, but that is not the way this world works. Perhaps by redeeming Santa Claus we can also provide a measure of redemption for Clement Moore.
Is Christmas a pagan holiday? Not if we celebrate it regarding the Lord, redeeming the symbols and the time to the honour and glory of God. I say we need to redeem the season, we need to redeem Santa Claus and we can do that best by celebrating Christmas.