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Christmas

Database

Christmas

James Dodson

[from the THE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN MAGAZINE, January, 1851.]


This is the name of the day on which is wont to be celebrated the idolatrous Romish sacrifice of the mass, in honor of the birth of Christ. As nearly as can be now ascertained, the day was first set apart for this purpose by the authority of the bishop at Rome, toward the close of the fourth century, or early in the fifth.

The following reasons may be assigned for its not being religiously observed by Protestants:

1. We do not acknowledge the authority of its appointment. If the religious observance of Christmas was divinely enjoined upon us, or if we had evidence in the writings of the apostles, that they observed it, or that they taught the churches which they established to do so, then we should feel ourselves obliged to observe the day. But as Protestants, we long ago abjured the authority of the Pope of Rome, and we still utterly repudiate his right to legislate for us, either over our consciences or our conduct.

It was an essential principle of the Reformation, which we hold to have been sound, and the only principle which could have been safe, to reject every thing which appeared manifestly to be of human contrivance, and thus to carry the church back, both in its doctrines and its practices, to the incorrupt simplicity of the apostolic times. But it is sometimes asked, What possible objection can there be to the religious observance of Christmas? That most salutary principle of the Reformation, which has been named, is a sufficient objection. If we once begin to burden the church with observances not divinely appointed, we open a door to universal license, and no man can tell what the end will be. But it is still urged, with a show of more than ordinary piety, "It seems so very proper to celebrate the birth of our bless Saviour." Yes, indeed—but it will not do for us to multiply observances merely because they seem proper. In a less degree, it would seem proper to celebrate the births of Moses, and Peter, and Paul, and many other worthies. If our judgment of propriety is to be the rule, rather than the Scriptures, there is no safety. We must adhere to the principle of the Reformation, and stand by the word of God, or we get at once in the old highway of Romish corruption. That is a dangerous path to travel in, and the true wisdom is to keep out of it altogether.

2. A second reason is, it is not known that Christ was born on the 25th of December. We have seen a very labored and arrogantly learned effort to prove that Christmas is the veritable day of his birth. But the truth is, that no one knows, and no honest man pretends to know on what day that event transpired. In the Greek church it is celebrated on the 6th day of January, and we see no reason for supposing that this is no as near the mark as the 25th of December. Although, therefore, if the precise day was known, we might assent perhaps to the propriety of bestowing some special notice upon it, we cannot now see the propriety even of celebrating our Lord’s birth on one day more than on another. And this, we suspect, leads to the true doctrine on this subject—that Christians ought to celebrate the unspeakable gift of God every day in the year.

If it had been God's design that the especial event of the birth of his Son should be memorialized in the church by an annual holyday, he would have taken care by his providence that the day should not be lost. It was his design that the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, should be observed as the Christian Sabbath, and we are therefore particularly informed that that event transpired on the first day of the week. But the inspired historian, in introducing the account of our Lord’s birth, approaches no nearer to a designation of the time than this—"And it came to pass in those days," &c. Luke 2:1.

3. We object to the observance of Christmas by the church, because we believe that its original appointment as a Christian festival was not only unauthorized but wicked.

It was foisted in among the observances of religion, along with many other things, for which there can be imagined no reason but a willingness to make a compromise with heathenism. The facts were simply these. The sagacity of the Romish church was not long in making the discovery that the chief obstacle in the way of an easy and universal embrace of Christianity, was the world’s natural dislike of the simplicity and purity of its doctrines and practices. The old heathens of the Empire were very loath to abandon their voluptuous and flesh-pleasing system for one which offered so little in return to gratify their appetite for display and self-indulgence. To the ecclesiastical Solomons of that time the idea occurred, that the work of conversion might be facilitated by rendering Christianity more attractive in its form, and more agreeable to the popular tastes. In a word, by compromising the matter, and carrying the gospel at least half-way in the work of conformation, to meet the reluctant idolaters. They had been accustomed to gorgeous temples, pompous ceremonials, a splendidly attired priesthood, and numerous holiday and festival occasions. Reasoning, therefore, as many reason now, for Christmas, that it is proper, and not in the least objectionable, the authorities of the Romish church thought that it was highly proper, and not in the least objectionable, to alter and amend the Christian system so as to render it more palatable to the people. We do not charge them with intentional wickedness, but with a gross error of judgment, into which they could not have fallen if they had had a proper reverence for the word of God, and just ideas of the spirituality of true religion. Unhappily, the doctrine had already obtained among them that the Scriptures were not the only rule of faith and practice, and the spirituality of religion was already entirely lost by the great body of its professors. Under such auspices the work of emendation advanced rapidly. Christian churches swelled into vast and magnificent temples. In the place of the few and simple rites of the apostolic times, august and imposing ceremonies were multiplied. The unpretending garb of the first preachers was laid aside for splendid priestly robes, and every imaginable occasion was seized upon for pomps, processions and festivals. To make the transition yet easier for the people, many of the principal festivals were appointed for the very days on which they had been accustomed to celebrate the festivals of the old religion, and were directed to be kept with the same observances. So it was with Christmas. The old Romans, at the end of their Saturnalia, which began on the 19th of December, had been in the habit of celebrating on the 25th of that month, their feast in honor of the birth of Sol. On that occasion they brought garlands and branches of evergreen from the woods, to deck the temple and altars of their god, and came together tumultuously to conclude the Saturnalian orgies with greater excess of riot. This was the day fixed upon for the Christian feast in honor of the birth of Christ; and that the change might not appear material, the practice was retained of adorning the churches with boughs of evergreen, and of making Christmas, in connection with religious worship, a day of special hilarity; and so it has come down to the present time—fun, folic, evergreens and all!—Evangelist.