When I was a kid, there were folks talking about how secular society was minimizing Christian influence during the Christmas season. In the name of being tolerant, there were those who said that you couldn’t say “Merry Christmas.” You had to say “Happy Holidays,” or better yet “Season’s Greetings. ” School children were encouraged to call the Christmas tree a Holiday tree instead. You couldn’t have a Nativity display on public property without also acknowledging every other holiday during December with a similar display. In Saint Albans, WV, there was even a year where the Christ Child was removed from the Manger to keep folks from being offended. Of course, the Child was returned after Christians made it loudly known that they were offended by its absence. Christian culture warriors dubbed this nonsense the “War on Christmas. ”
Christmas also took friendly fire from Modern-day Pharisees. Do you remember Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady? Part of the Church Lady’s Christmas skit was to rearrange the letters of Santa’s name to form the word Satan. These Grinchy holiday saboteurs are doing much the same these days.
Christians are told that Christmas trees and all of the other trappings of Christmas were borrowed from the worship of pagan gods, so we shouldn’t use them. To give you an example, here’s one from Daniel Johnson:
Note that he implies that the Bible forbids us from putting up Christmas trees. Certainly the picture he used is suggestive of worship rather than simply placing gifts for other people (not the tree itself) under its boughs. And does that hymn worship the Christmas tree? That verse does sound an awful lot like a Christmas tree, right?
His argument falls apart under closer inspection. The passage he references is taken wildly out of context. It refers to taking a tree from the forest, carving it into an idol, adorning it, and propping it up so it won’t fall over. Saying that this passage referred to Christmas trees is taking the Bible out of context.
The song, O Christmas Tree, is likewise taken out of context. It is a song that appreciates the tree’s beauty and the delight it gives, but it is a big stretch to say such appreciation is an act of worship.
Daniel Johnson also argues that our use of Christmas traditions which have their origins in paganism constitute a violation of God’s commandments. For example, he cites Deuteronomy 12:30:
Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
Johnson’s take on this verse is orthodox enough:
God does not want us serving Him in the same way the pagans serve their gods.
It’s in the way he applies it that he makes his mistake.
You see, the argument that typically follows is that, since modern Christmas traditions find their origins in pagan religious traditions, God would not approve of our Christmas celebrations because He doesn’t want us to worship Him the same way the pagans worshipped their false gods.
There are two major and very related problems with this argument.
The first is that worship, true worship as defined by John 4:24, requires intent. If we were worshipping pagan gods simply by doing things once associated with them, even if we did so without the intent to worship, it would mean that worship is merely going through the motions. It would mean we’re actually worshipping Norse gods by using a standard calendar. Or did you not know that Thursday actually started out as Thor’s Day?
I’m sure this notion of worship as form and ritual would square well with the legalistic Taste Not, Touch Not, Handle Not religiosity of Modern-day Pharisees and other legalists, but that is another matter entirely. You must remember that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were very committed to the Word of God, so much so that they came up with extra rules and prohibitions designed to safeguard the individual from even the chance of sinning against God. Yet they are recorded as some of the strongest opponents to Jesus ministry and the early Church. In Matthew’s Gospel we find Jesus commenting on the extra Do’s and Don’t’s of the Pharisees:
Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. [Matthew 15:6b-9]
Kind of sounds like He didn’t approve.
Worship requires intent. I’d be hard pressed to find a Christian who claims their Christmas trees and wreaths and what-have-you are acts of worship. Rather these traditions are decorations and songs we use to celebrate the season associated with the Birth of Christ, much as we decorate and sing songs in regards to a birthday. There is a difference between celebration and worship.
And if you really want to know where these guys are coming from, wait until they make an argument that we should be content with the feasts and holy days God has laid out on his prophetic calendar. This is exactly what Daniel Johnson did.
“The birth of Christ is already covered by the celebration of God’s holy days, as laid out in scripture. My best understanding right now is that takes place during the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah). Others argue that it’s during the time of Tabernacles (Sukkot) but there’s a few things that just don’t seem to line up for that date in my mind.
So, basically, the birth of Christ is never pinpointed by God as a time that we need to honor with a special holy day. But it’s an interesting study to consider that it’s already covered by God’s prophetic calendar. He’s pretty cool like that. :)”
That is nothing more than the position of a Modern-day Judaizer. These were exactly the people that the Apostle Paul was speaking of when he wrote:
8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ
16 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 day
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ
20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
[Colossians 2:8, 16-17, 20-23]
A milder version of this argument comes in the form of, “Well, a Christmas celebration isn’t in the Bible” ( which silently implies we should only celebrate the holy days that are found in Scripture. This argument is based on a logical fallacy called an argument from silence. Lots of things aren’t recorded in the Bible and no one’s saying we should abstain from those things.
Most of us have no idea where our Christmas traditions come from, except that they are traditions of our families and culture. When someone like Daniel Johnson comes along and tells us that this tradition or that was originally connected with paganism, we’re genuinely surprised. Why is that? We’re surprised because the modern traditions has changed so much that the origin of the thing has been forgotten.
Which leads us to the second major problem with what I call the Grinchmas argument. When someone says that the original meaning or intent of a word is the only true meaning or intent of that word or practice, and the meaning or intent has inarguably changed over time, they are invoking a logical fallacy called a genetic fallacy. This is exactly what folks who use the Grinchmas argument do. They claim that by celebrating Christmas with these traditions we are either worshipping pagan gods or worshipping God with pagan traditions which God has forbidden.
A genetic fallacy, also called a fallacy of origins, is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context. In other words, it is a fallacy to presumes that the modern traditions are equivalent to pagan religious practices because over time those pagan connections have been lost, changed, and have become irrelevant to modern Christmas celebrations
The rub of it is that God is aware of the rules of logic, having self-identified as Truth itself, and would not contradict Himself by a prohibition based on a logical fallacy; therefore, this Grinchmas argument against Christmas traditions must be wrong for it is premised upon the genetic fallacy.
Modern-day Pharisees and Judaizers may tell you that you shouldn’t celebrate Christmas with a tree or any of those other traditions, but they’re wrong. They’re wrong both Scripturally and rationally.
UPDATE: Daniel Johnson has decided that I’m teaching lies and license. Apparently logic escapes him.