Ask RC: Is it a sin to celebrate Christmas?

You have heard it said, and rightly so, that it’s rather important to define our terms. Here is a case in point. There are at least three ways we use the phrase “celebrate Christmas.” The first is as the celebration Mass of the birth of Christ, that is, as Rome has celebrated it for centuries. Our fathers objected to this, and rightly so. If by celebrating Christmas we mean attending Roman Catholic mass, most assuredly we should not. When I was a college student one Sunday I went with some friends to Mass. I knew enough to know that I should not participate, and so went as a student, studying the mass. My sister was concerned (okay, more likely delighted) that my dad would be angry with me. I thought she didn’t quite grasp what a careful scholar I already was. So I told him what I had done, laughing off the notion that he would be upset. He replied, “Why would I be upset? You wanted to go and watch as Jesus was being crucified again? Where’s the harm?” That was the last time I went to Mass, during Advent or any time of year.

A second definition would be more broadly cultural. Here what we mean by celebrating Christmas is decorations, Santa, the Grinch, egg nog, Rudolph, chestnuts roasting on open fires, Frosty, bells on bob tails, Charlie Brown, Texas death matches over the last Tickle-Me-Elmo, second mortgages for the latest game consol, and everything Americans equate with the holiday. And no, this is not such a good idea either. Without much work one could rather quickly connect each of these Christmas traditions with breaking at least one of the Ten Commandments. At best this kind of Christmas is a deeply troubling distraction from where our hearts ought to be, at worst it is an evil, false, civil religion.

What though, if we mean something else by “celebrating Christmas?” What if we ask the question this way- is it wrong to remember the incarnation? Is it a sin to devote some time to rejoicing over the coming of the Messiah? Can we in our celebration feast with our loved ones, even giving them gifts? Can we sing of that little town of Bethlehem? Can we preach on the glorious gospel truth that God took on flesh and dwelt among us?

Some would argue that doing this third thing wraps us up in doing the first or the second. Some suggest that God has already given us one glorious holiday, that comes not once a year, but fifty-two times a year.  Some believe that we are not only entering into the sin of our modern culture, and entering into Romish heresy, but that we are entering into the pagan holy day of Saturnalia. I’m sympathetic to these concerns. But I answer them this way. We do not re-crucify Christ at Christmas, nor do we re-advent Him. But we do remember our fathers’ longing, and we do long for His return. We do not have to buy ourselves into debt, or tell stories to our children about a jolly old elf. But we do feast, and bless our children because we are His blessed children.

That He has given us 52 holidays a year does not mean that we cannot rejoice over His grace on Monday, and Tuesday, or any day- even December 25.  That others before us celebrated the same day as us, for wicked reasons cannot mean that we cannot do what we will do in eternity for godly reasons- rejoice over the coming of the Messiah. That others tell their children stories about Santa is no reason for us to not tell true stories to our children about Jesus, and to laugh with joy as we do so.  May Christians celebrate Christmas?  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. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” Romans 14:5-8).