Men are likened to sheep. And sheep have a tendency to follow the crowd without questioning. Jesus however came and taught us to examine everything by God's word. The Pharisees exalted human traditions. Jesus exalted God's word. Man was to live by every word that proceeded from God's mouth (Matt. 4:4).
The battle that Jesus was constantly engaged in with the Pharisees was the age-long battle of God's Word versus the traditions of men. In the church, we are engaged in the same battle today. God's word is the only light that we have on earth. And when God created light initially, He immediately separated it from the darkness. The darkness is both sin as well as human traditions. We also are called to separate both these from the pure word of God so that there is no mixture in the church.
Consider Christmas, which is celebrated by many as the birthday of Jesus Christ. Shopkeepers of all religions look forward to Christmas, for it is a time when they can make much profit. It is a commercial festival, not a spiritual one. Millions of rupees are spent on Christmas cards and gifts. Sales of alcoholic drinks also go up at this time.
Is this really then the birthday of the Son of God, or of another 'Jesus'?
Let us look at God's Word first of all. The Bible tells us that there were shepherds with their sheep out in the fields of Judea, on the night that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:7-14). The shepherds in Palestine did not keep their flocks out in the open fields at night after October and until February - the weather being both rainy and cold during those months. So the real Jesus must have been born sometime between March and September. December 25 then must be the birthday of another 'Jesus' that has been foisted on an unsuspecting Christendom by unconverted men!
Further, even if we did know the exact date of Jesus' birth, the question would still be whether God intended His church to celebrate it. Mary, the mother of Jesus, would certainly have known the exact date of birth of Jesus. And she was with the apostles for many years after the day of Pentecost. Yet there is no mention anywhere of Jesus' date of birth. What does this show? Just this - that God deliberately hid the date of Jesus' birth, because He did not want the church to celebrate it. Jesus was not an ordinary mortal whose birthday was to be celebrated once a year. He was the Son of God "Who had no beginning of days", unlike us (Heb.7:3). God wants us to recognize Jesus' birth, death, resurrection and ascension every day, and not just once a year.
An understanding of the difference between the old and the new covenants will also enable us to understand why God does not want His children to celebrate any special holy days now. Under the old covenant, Israel had been commanded to celebrate certain days as specially holy days. But that was only a shadow. Now that we have Christ, the will of God is that every day of our lives be equally holy. Even the weekly sabbath has been done away with under the new covenant. This is why no holy days are mentioned anywhere in the New Testament (Col.2:16,17).
How then did Christmas and Easter make their entry into Christendom? The answer is: In the same way that infant baptism, tithing, priestcraft and many other human traditions and old covenant practices, have made their entry - by the subtle working of Satan.
When the emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion of Rome in the 4th century, multitudes became Christian 'in name', without any change of heart. But they did not want to give up their two great annual festivals - both connected with their worship of the sun. One was the birthday of the sun-god on December 25, when the sun which had gone down to the southern hemisphere began its return journey (the winter solstice). The other was the spring festival in March/April, when they celebrated the death of the winter and the birth of the warm summer that their sun-god had brought. They renamed their sun-god 'Jesus' and continued to celebrate their two great festivals, now as Christian festivals and called them Christmas and Easter.
The Encyclopaedia Brittanica (an authority in secular history) has the following to state about the origin of Christmas:
"December 25 was the Mithraic feast of the unconquered sun of Philocalus. Christmas customs are an evolution from times that long antedated the Christian period - a descent from seasonal, pagan, religious and national practices, hedged about with legend and tradition. The exact date and year of Christ's birth have never been satisfactorily settled, but when the fathers of the church in A.D . 440 decided upon a date to celebrate the event, they wisely (?) chose the day of the winter solstice which was firmly fixed in the minds of the people and which was their most important festival. As Christianity spread among the people of pagan lands, many of the practices of the winter solstice were blended with those of Christianity" (1953 edition, Vol. 5, Pages 642A, 643).
These pagan customs originated with the Babylonian religion begun by Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10). Tradition tells us that after he died, his wife Semiramis had an illegitimate child, which she claimed was Nimrod come back to life again. Thus began the worship of the mother and child, which centuries later was transferred by nominal Christians to ' Mary and Jesus'.
The birthday of this child-god was celebrated by the ancient Babylonians on December 25. Semiramis was the queen of heaven (Jer. 44:19), worshipped centuries later in Ephesus as Diana or Artemis (Acts 19:28).
Semiramis claimed that a full grown evergreen tree grew overnight from a dead tree stump. This symbolised Nimrod's coming back to life, and bringing heaven's gifts to mankind. Thus began the practice of cutting down a fir tree and hanging gifts on it. That is the origin of today's Christmas tree! (A Google search will show all the documents proving all these facts).
Thus says the Lord, "Do not learn the way of the heathen. The customs of the people are futile. One cuts a tree from the forest with the axe. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails so that it will not topple!" (Jer. 10:2-4).
The word 'Easter' comes from one of the titles of the queen of heaven, 'Ishtar' or `Astarte' (see 1 Kin. 11:5) - one of the idols that Solomon worshipped. There were slightly different forms of that name in different countries.
The Encyclopaedia Brittanica states,
"The English word 'Easter' corresponding to the German 'Oster' reveals Christianity's indebtedness (!) to the Teutonic tribes of central Europe. Christianity, when it reached the Teutons, incorporated in its celebration of this great Christian feast day, many of the heathen rites and customs that accompanied their observance of the 'Spring' festival. That the 'festival' of the resurrection occurred in the spring that it celebrated the triumph of life over death, made it easy for the church to identify with this occasion, the most joyous festival of the Teutons, held in honour of the death of winter, the birth of a new year and the return of the sun. Eostre (or Ostera), the goddess of the spring, gave its name to the Christian holy day. The conception of the egg as a symbol of fertility and of renewed life goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians who had also the custom of colouring and eating eggs during the spring festival. This ancient idea, of the significance of egg as the symbol of life, readily became the idea of the egg as a symbol of resurrection. According to old superstition, the sun rising on Easter morning dances in the heavens; this belief has been traced to the old heathen festival of spring, when the spectators danced in honour of the sun ... The Protestant churches also followed the custom of holding sunrise services on Easter morning" (1959 edition, Vol. 7, pages 859, 860).
The death and resurrection of Christ are the central message of the gospel. The only way that Jesus intended us to commemorate this was through the 'breaking of bread', which we are to take part in together as a church.
When we break bread, we testify not only of Christ's death, but also our death with Him. The emotionalism of Good Friday and sentimentality of Easter turns the attention of men away from the necessity of following Jesus, to empty ritualism.
God's Word Or Man's Tradition?
Behind the celebration of Christmas and Easter lies the far more deadly principle of following the traditions of men even when they have no foundation in God's Word. So strong is this power of tradition that many believers who follow the Scriptures in other areas still find it difficult to give up celebrating Christmas and Easter.
It is amazing that many believers are not willing to accept what even secular writers (like the authors of Encyclopaedia Brittanica, quoted above) have understood clearly - that Christmas and Easter are basically pagan festivals. Changing the names do not make these festivals Christian!
As we said at the beginning, Jesus was engaged in a constant battle with the Pharisees over this very issue - man's traditions versus God's Word. He faced more opposition for opposing the empty traditions of 'the fathers' than for preaching against sin. We shall find our experience to be the same, if we are just as faithful as He was.
God's Word alone is our guide and not the example of even godly men in those areas where they do not follow the Word of God. "Let God be found true even though every man be found a liar" (Rom. 3:4). The Bereans searched the Scriptures to check up even on Paul's teaching, and the Holy Spirit commends them for it (Acts 17:11). That is a good example for all of us to follow.
David was a man after God's own heart. Yet, for forty years, he permitted the Israelites to worship Moses' bronze serpent without realizing that it was an abomination to God. He did not have light even on such obvious idolatry. It was a much lesser king, Hezekiah, who was given light to expose and destroy this idolatrous practice (2 Kin. 18:1-4). We can follow godly men in the saintliness of their lives, but not in their lack of light on human traditions. Our safety lies in simply following the teaching of God's Word and not in adding to or subtracting from it.
Do Not Judge Others
Finally : What should our attitude be towards sincere believers who celebrate Christmas and Easter?
It is important to remember that we do not become spiritual merely by not celebrating Christmas and Easter. And those who celebrate these festivals are not therefore carnal believers.
Spiritual people are those who follow Jesus along the way of daily self-denial and the daily infilling of the Holy Spirit - whether they celebrate Christmas and Easter or not.
So when we meet believers who celebrate these festivals, we must be gracious enough to consider that they may be ignorant of the pagan origin of these festivals. So they are not sinning in any way when they celebrate them. On the other hand, we will be sinning, if we judge them.
Since December 25th is usually a holiday for everyone and the days around it are also holidays for schools, many use this period for end-of-the-year family reunions - which is a very good thing.
And since some people attend church-services only twice a year (on December 25th and the Easter weekend) it is good for churches to have services on those dates, so that they can preach the gospel to such people and explain to them that Jesus came to earthto save us from our sins and that He conquered death and Satan for us.
True believers are thankful every day of their lives that Jesus was born and that He died for their sins and rose again - and not just at two times of the year.
In the early days of Christianity, some Christians celebrated the Sabbath - which was a non-Christian religious festival, just like Christmas and Easter. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul therefore to write Romans 14 to warn other Christians not to sin by judging them. The same warning holds good for those who judge others who celebrate Christmas and Easter.
"Accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. Who are you to judge the servant of another? One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who does not, for the Lord he does not, and gives thanks to God. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God and each one of us will give an account of himself (alone) to God" (Rom.14:12)).
And that is the best word with which to conclude this study on Christmas and Easter.