Should Christians Celebrate Religious Holidays?
The question of Christians and holiday observances has been greatly discussed down through the years. Some religious groups like The Watch Tower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) discourage its members from celebrating birthdays because two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible were in connection with executions (Gen 40:20; Mk 6:21,27). Should all Christians cease the celebration of personal birthdays? To deal with this dilemma, we must explore the root issue of association.
Does the history of a holiday affect how we celebrate now?
When you trace back certain holidays, you may find that they have connections to apostate religion or pagan rituals. For example, Easter is often connected to the Babylonian observance of Ishtar. Christmas seems tainted by the association with the Roman Catholic mass (Christ-mass). Does the past association make the present celebration invalid? Would you attend church in a building that had previously been used for wicked purposes (gambling, brothel, etc.)? The key is not what the association was but now is.
Are all holidays the same?
Some holidays have a stigma based only on their past. Other holidays continue to carry a negative connotation. Halloween would be a good example. While Halloween has a scary past, it continues to carry associations with the occult and spiritism. I am not referring to the celebration of a harvest festival where harmless carnival games are enjoyed. It is entirely different to focus on ghouls, goblins, ghosts, witches, and such. We are exhorted in (Ephesians 5:11) “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
The key element is that a believer’s actions are guided by faith, because “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom 14:23b). When it comes to handling special days. “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). If you cannot celebrate Pentecost, Easter, Christmas, etc. with a spirit of confidence that God has give you such liberty then you should abandon such celebrations. However, the Word of God does not give its blessing one person condemning another person for their different approach.
If you are turning to the observance of religious holidays as a means of gaining God’s favor, you are returning to a bondage of human merit and religious works which is against the Gospel. (Galatians 4:9-11) “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? (10) Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. (11) I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.”
However, if you can enjoy these celebrations as simply a “type” or fore shadowing of a greater doctrinal truth, then do not let anyone’s condemnation forbid you. (Colossians 2:16-17) “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: (17) Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
Many Christians give special attention to the Lord’s Resurrection on a specific Sunday in the Spring. If this does not cause the participant to think they have gained greater favor with God because of their involvement and that they are drawn into deeper reverence and adoration of the Lord Jesus, then this could be a good observance. It is not crucial that the observance be on the actual anniversary date of the original occurrence. God never stipulates that a celebration must occur exactly one year apart to be valid. After the passing of so many centuries, original events (even if their date is known) drift on our calendar. Every four years we add a leap day because it takes more than 365 days for our planet to orbit the Sun. However, an exact orbit takes 365 days, 5 hours, 59 minutes and 16 seconds. We are still missing 44 seconds each year. Aft 2000 years, the loss of those seconds adds up to a little more than a 24-hour day. How crucial is the actual date for a commemoration? If we might be off by a day, why not be off by a week or even several months? Is it the date that is important or is it the significance of that date?
Are holiday decorations a problem?
Some people will point to a Christmas tree and suggest that it has pagan associations. If that is what a person is trying to communicate by the use of such an object, then it would certainly be displeasing to God. Martin Luther used an ever-green tree to be a reminder of the tree on which the Lord Jesus died. His death on the tree gives eternal life to those who put their trust in Him. Adorning it with candles was a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the World and that His disciples are also to let their light so shine before men. The rightness or the wrongness of something is often not rooted in the item itself but its use. On Mt. Carmel two almost identical altars were erected but Elijah’s brought glory to God while the prophets of Baal was accursed.
Sadly, some holidays that purport to uplift Our Lord have been hijacked by the world. Christmas and Easter have been overrun by materialism and commercialism. This does not mean that it is unwise to observe these days in a Christlike fashion. Why should we be bullied by the world? I had an acquaintance who was born on April 1. His parents determined to make the day more about their special family member than pranks. The world did not take notice of their efforts, but he did. Let us put more focus on Jesus Christ the King of Glory than we Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Decisions in participating in such events can seem complicated, but in the end we are to remember the command in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” May the Lord give you wisdom in these matters (Prov 2:6-7).