by William J. Stewart
Everyone likes holidays; whether it be for the good food, the company of friends and family, the time off work, or all three. There are several holidays which find their origin with some sort of religious significance, but are no longer celebrated by most with any religious import (ie. New Year’s day, Valentine’s day, St. Patrick’s day), while others are of civic origin (ie. Independence day, Canada day, Labour day, Veteran’s/Remembrance day, etc.). However, there are some holidays which occur each year that are ascribed religious significance by many. We look at three of these today.
The celebration of Easter does not find it’s origin in the early church, but in paganism. The word itself comes from Eostre, the mother goddess of the Saxon people of Northern Europe. Other cultures celebrated a goddess of fertility in the springtime as well, variably named Ostare, Eostra, Eastra, Eastur, Ishtar, etc.. The only appearance of the word Easter in the Bible is a mistranslation in the KJV. Though translators used “Easter” in Acts 12:4, the Greek word used is pascha (Passover).
The absence of the celebration or even the mention of Easter in the Scriptures should likewise mean the absence of Easter in the religious practice of Christians. Those who observe Easter as a religious holiday to celebrate the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection do so without Biblical sanction. Rather, the Scripture instructs us to remember the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection weekly through the Lord’s supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Many are concerned about the secularization of Easter. Since it’s origin is pagan, the secular aspect of Easter is the only facet of the festivity which it is appropriate for the Christian to engage in. Certainly, there are some who suppose that since the holiday is pagan in it’s origin, one should not participate in anything associated with it. But is it wrong to paint eggs or eat chocolate bunnies? Is it wrong to get together with family members to share a turkey dinner? If a Christian can participate in such things on any other day of the year, what would make doing so wrong on the day which is commonly called Easter?
It is commonly thought by folks that Halloween has something to do with Satanic worship. In fact, the word “Halloween” is a combination of two words: “Hallow” (holy or sanctify) and “E’en” (evening or eve). It used to be (and still is for some) a day to honour those who are considered to be deceased saints. Though originally having pagan roots, it was afterward adapted by the Catholics.
There is no mention in Scripture of a day when the saints who have passed on from here are to be commemorated by those who are still present. The day of glory for the saints who have passed on is the same as the day of glory for those who are present. But the cause for glory and celebration is not the saints, but the Lord. Paul writes of the day when Christ will come “…to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe…” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). The glory of the saints belongs to the Lord, not to us (Romans 8:17, 30).
Ought a Christian participate in Halloween activities? Is there anything inherently wrong with dressing up children in costumes and going from door to door “trick or treating”? Is it not a harmless cultural tradition? Granted, there are some costumes which I am opposed to, for they do tend to give honour to wickedness and darkness (ie. devil, demons, ghouls, witches, etc.), but there is no evil in dressing children in innocent costumes and collecting treats. Some may engage in activities on Halloween which they ought not (ie. vandalism, false worship, etc.), but such dissipation should not be used to put down innocent fun.
Christmas, like Easter and Halloween, does not trace it’s origin back to the early church, but to a practice of the pagans. December 25, is not, as some suppose, the birth date of Christ. We do not know the date of Jesus’ birth, but since it was during a season when the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks at night (Luke 2:8), we can be assured that it was not during the winter.
The ancient Babylonians and Egyptians celebrated fertility at this time of year. The sun-god of Phrygia was celebrated on December 25, as was the sun-god of the Persians. At this same time, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia. Several other cultures also had a religious winter festival on or around the time of December 25. But search as you will, there is no celebration of the birth of Christ spoken of in Scripture. Had God desired that we celebrate the birth of Christ, would He not have commanded us to do so? If there were to be a festival to commemorate our Lord’s birth, we should expect to find a command, example or inference in the Scripture that the Lord desires such. In the absence of instruction, there should be an absence of action on our part.
So, should the Christian participate in any of the usual activities which are associated with Christmas? Indeed, some conclude that if Christians should not celebrate Christmas religiously, then they shouldn’t participate in any manner of festivity at all. Many of the elements which are associated with Christmas (yule logs, the exchange of gifts, parade floats, carollers, savoury feasts, garland decoration, trees, mistletoe, etc.), find their roots in paganism. This being the case, how can we engage in any such things? If we are using them in pagan worship, then God forbid that we do so. If to us they are mere cultural traditions, associated with non-religious observance of a winter holiday season, there is no harm in keeping them.
We might liken it to the eating of meats as discussed by the apostle Paul in the 1 Corinthian letter. Though some of the meat sold in their marketplaces had been offered to idols, he directed them to “…eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake…” (1 Corinthians 10:25; cf. 27). One could eat meat that had been offered to an idol without giving glory to the idol. The mature Christian understood that the idol was nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4), but, if the conscience was weakened through knowledge of the idol, the meat should be abstained from (1 Corinthians 8:7-13; 10:28-33). If one cannot disassociate the exchanging of gifts from the Roman celebration of Saturn, then such a person ought not exchange gifts with others. The same holds true for each of the Christmas customs. However, being 2,000 years removed from the pagan application of these practices, it seems unlikely that this would be a concern.
Often the truth lies between two extremes, and this is the case with regard to Easter, Halloween and Christmas. None of these should be celebrated religiously (whether as a “Christian” holiday or otherwise), but all of these can be celebrated innocently as cultural festivals without concern of transgressing the will of God.