Should Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter? If so, why?
Are Christmas and Easter really Christian celebrations or are they just modified versions of the holidays of ancient religions, based on legends and folklore? Some would say that Christmas and Easter are secular holidays with a Christian emphasis. Many people understand that these are religious holidays but do not like the religious emphasis. The majority of Christians know that the original purposes of Christmas and Easter celebrations were designed by the Christian church to celebrate Jesus’ birth (Christmas), death, and return to life (Easter).
The Christmas Celebration
Historical records reveal that Christians were celebrating a variety of important events in the life of Christ. The first is His baptism. An important document written by Clement of Alexandria states that the Christians at Basilides held a festival on the day they believed Christ was baptized. They would spend the previous night preparing for the celebration by reading various passages of Scripture.
And the followers of Basilides hold the day of His baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings.
Since Clement of Alexandria lived about A.D. 150 – 215, this means that Christians were celebrating the baptism of Christ at least soon after the death of the last apostle, John. Therefore, we should not be surprised that historical evidence indicates Christians were also celebrating the birth of Christ.
The celebration of Jesus’ birth was not formalized until A.D. 354 in the Roman Philocalian calendar. Some claim that the date for Christmas was chosen to replace a pagan holiday from the worship of Saturnalia. They state that the celebration of the Son was a victory over pagan gods. Jesus was considered the “invincible sun.” Yet, there is evidence that Christmas was celebrated on December 25 before the Roman decree because the early church believed that Christ was born on that day and they desired to celebrate His birth.
The Apostolic Constitutions is a compilation of documents that were written at times time. Schaff writes the following,
The first six books are the oldest; the seventh, in its present form, somewhat later, but, from its connection with the Teaching, proven to contain matter of a very ancient date. The eighth book is of latest date. . . . Dr. Von Drey regards the first six books as of Eastern origin (mainly Syrian), and to be assigned to the second half of the third century.
This means that Books V and VIII were written at least by the end of the third century (A.D. 250-300). In Books V and VIII we discover records that indicate the birth of Christ was celebrated the earliest days of Christianity. The Apostolic Constitutions states that Christmas was celebrated by Christians on the ninth month of the year in the Hebrew calendar which is the month of December in the Gregorian calendar.
Brethren, observe the festival days; and first of all the birthday which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month; after which let the Epiphany be to you the most honoured.
The ninth month as counted from the first month, Nisan, in the Hebrew Calendar takes us to the month of December in the Gregorian calendar. Book VIII, Section IV, Article XXXIII of the Apostolic Constitutions is even more pointed,
Let them rest on the festival of His birth, because on it the unexpected favour was granted to men, that Jesus Christ, the Logos of God, should be born of the Virgin Mary, for the salvation of the world.
Therefore, we discover that Christians were celebrating Christmas by the end of the third century, which is at least one hundred years before it became an official Roman holiday.
Antiquities of the Christian Church
Another reference to the celebration of the birth of Christ is reported to have occurred during the time of Roman Caesar Diocletian, who ruled during the time of A.D. 284-305, found Christians celebrating Christians. Baronius records in the Antiquities of the Christian Church (Book XX, 38),
While the persecution raged under Diocletian, who then kept his court at Nicomedia, the tyrant, finding multitudes of Christians, young and old, met together to celebrate Christ’s nativity . . . 
Again, this reveals Christians were celebrating Christmas by the end of the third century.
Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature
McClintock and Strong cite William Cave who indicates that the festival was celebrated in the second century.
Some writers -( e. g. Cave, Primitive Christianity, pt. i, ch. vii, p. 194) trace the observance to the 2d century, about the time of the emperor Commodus. Cave cites, to prove that it was observed before the time of Constantine, the following sad story from Baronius (An. 301, p. 41): “While the persecution raged under Diocletian, who then kept his court at Nicomedia, the tyrant, finding multitudes of Christians, young and old, met together to celebrate Christ’s nativity, commanded the church door to be shut, and fire put to it, which reduced them and the church to ashes.”
Since Diocletian reigned as Caesar in Rome from A.D. 284 to 305 this means that some Christians were celebrating Christmas before that period of time.
Theological Anticipations Christmas
Other Christian records provide evidence that Christians celebrated the birth of Christ in the century immediately after Christ died. Adam English states,
“We have evidence from the second century, less than fifty years after the close of the New Testament, that Christians were remembering and celebrating the birth of the Lord. It is not true to say that the observance of the nativity was imposed on Christians hundreds of years later by imperial decree or by a magisterial church ruling. The observance sprang up organically from the authentic devotion of ordinary believers. This in itself is important. But, besides the fact that early Christians did celebrate the incarnation of the Lord, we should make note that they did not agree upon a set date for the observance. There was no one day on which all Christians celebrated Christmas in the early church.
While this does not mean that Christmas was being celebrated by the Christians throughout the Roman Empire as an official celebration, it does show that Christians were independently celebrating an event that occurred in the life of Christ.
Therefore, the formal establishment of Christmas in A.D. 354 was an event that occurred after Christians had already been celebrating the birth of Christ.
The first celebrations of Easter, the remembrance of the resurrection of Christ, occurred during the first century at the time of Passover. That is the historical record according to Philip Schaff.
It is certainly the oldest and most important annual festival of the church, and can be traced back to he first century, or at all events to the middle of the second, when it was universally observed . . .
The celebration of Easter, which is derived from the Greek word pascha, started on Saturday night and continued until Sunday morning in honor of Christ’s return to life. Sometime after A.D. 200, historical records show that Christians finished the worship celebration with the baptism of new Christians. This pictured the death of new Christians to their old life and their commitment to a new life in Jesus.
Change Has Occurred
Today, Christmas and Easter are celebrated very differently in the homes and churches around the world. In the United States, the spiritual emphasis of Christmas has almost been completely replaced with gifts, feasts, decorated trees, Santa Claus, and Christmas music. Easter now includes rabbits that carry chicken eggs in baskets, new clothes, yellow and pink colored paper, and a feast. The celebrations started well, but today the world has almost lost the original meaning and message. So what should a Christian do – participate or not?
Celebrate Or Not?
The apostle Paul provides us with a biblical principle that will help us. In 1 Corinthians 10, he gave advice to some Christians who were struggling with eating meat originally offered to idols. The idea of eating meat offered to idols was offending other believers. Here is his advice. It will surprise many.
Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake; FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORD’S, AND ALL IT CONTAINS. If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience’ sake. 1 Corinthians 10:25-27 (NASB)
His point was simple. Do not ask; just eat. To participate in Christmas or Easter is not a sin. Christians are not worshiping idols or other gods. The issue is: why do you celebrate Christmas and Easter? Christians who celebrate Christmas and Easter should celebrate as times to remember Jesus’ birth, death, and return to life. If we did a survey of the practices of the false religions, we would discover that they read from their sacred books, donate money, make speeches and sing music. Just because their practices are similar to ours, does not make our Christian worship services wrong. What is important is why do you worship Christ? Listen to Paul’s words at this point.
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. Romans 14:23 (NASB)
The same principle applies to participating in holidays. Just because unbelievers are celebrating on the same day as believers does not make it wrong for Christians to remember with joy and to celebrate the birth and resurrection of our Lord. What is important is that we celebrate with a clear conscience and with the clear purpose of honoring Jesus Christ.
Christmas and Easter are wonderful opportunities to remember Jesus’ birth, death, and return to life. They are opportunities to teach our children the true meaning of these historical events. But I would encourage every Christian not to teach your children that Santa Claus or Father Christmas or the Easter rabbit are real for three major reasons. First, it is a lie. Christians are to tell the truth.
Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices . . . Colossians 3:9 (NASB)
Second, if a Christian parent tells his or her child that someone whom they have never seen (Santa Claus and the Easter rabbit) are real and alive today, how can they expect their children to believe them when they say that God is real? I would encourage every Christian parent to explain the real meaning of Christmas and Easter, to tell our children the truth that Santa Claus and the Easter rabbit are not real, and to minimize the worldly emphasis. Third, to teach our children that Santa Claus and the Easter rabbit mysteriously give gifts is to ascribe to them god-like powers. God has asked us not to give honor to any other “god.” Christmas and Easter are times to worship Jesus – not things that have no eternal value!
1. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 1.21. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Hendrickson. 1995. vol. 2, p. 276.
2. Stromata 1.21. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Hendrickson. 1995. vol. 7, p. 387.
4. Apostolic Constitutions. Book V, Section 3.13.
5. Apostolic Constitutions. Book VIII, Section 4.33.
6. McClintock and Strong. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. 1881. vol. II. p. 276.
8. Adam C English. Christmas: Theological Anticipations. Cascade Books. 2016. pp. 70-71.
9. Philip Schaff. History of the Christian Church. Eerdmans Publishing. 1910. p. 207.
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