Featured, John McReynolds - Posted by on Monday, December 26, 2011 8:58 - 0 Comments 1,469 views

The Christmas Controversy




What are we as Christians to make of Santa Claus? Well, clearly the Santa we picture today has nothing in common with Nicholas, Bishop of Myra except for his name. It is evident, examining the history of Santa Claus, that his origins are based in pre-Christian, pagan myths. So those who claim that Santa is a Christian figure or that he is based in Christian beliefs or world view do not know what they are talking about. There is nothing Christian about Santa.

On the other hand, is Santa a pagan bent on replacing the biblical message of Christmas—a satanic figure from the pit of hell? Again, there is no doubt that the Santa figure has its origins in pagan traditions and beliefs.

And I’m sure that Satan in his attacks on Christianity uses Santa just as he uses all of the other pagan trappings that have come down to us from the fertile soil that is our western culture. But to shun the Santa figure or to cross ourselves and hurry past every time we see him in a department store, or never let our children be exposed to the Santa myth seems to me to be extreme in the other direction.








As believer-priests we have the unique privilege of representing ourselves before God.  We do this in a moment of self-examination to determine whether we have unconfessed sin in our lives.  Then if there are sins, we confess those sins directly to God the Father, who is faithful and just to forgive those sins according to 1 John 1:9. 

This restores the Filling of the Holy Spirit, which is absolutely essential if we are to get any spiritual value from our Bible studies.  So let’s take a moment to do that before we begin—let us pray:

Thank You, Heavenly Father, for the Pearl of Great Price—the infinitely valuable gift of Your Son. As we are in this time when we traditionally celebrate the First Advent of our Lord we pray that we might be more keenly aware of Who He is and of His purpose in giving Himself for us that we might have a life forever in Your presence. 

We ask now Father, that You will give us concentration and focus as we study Your Word, that we may grow spiritually into mature believers, able to show the face of Your dear Son to a lost and dying world, for it is in His name we ask it—amen.

Twelve Frequently Asked Questions about Christmas

I ran across this FAQ list while doing research for this post and I found it so interesting that I just have to share it with you. This list was put together by Dr. Richard P. Bucher of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church of Lexington Kentucky:

1. What does the word "Noel" mean?

Most authorities believe that it derives from the French nouvelles (news), and so refers to the good news (the Gospel) of Christ’s birth, which the angels announced on the first Christmas when Christ was born. So the “First Noel” was the first proclamation of the good news.

2. What does the word "Yule" mean?

The word appears to come from Anglo-Saxon word geol (feast). Since in pre-Christian times, one of the great feasts was the celebration of the winter solstice, the whole month of December was called geola (feast month). It was probably later applied to the feast of Christmas.

3. What is the origin of the word "Xmas"?

Unbeknownst to many, the word "Xmas" was not invented by carnal merchants trying to commercialize Christmas. The word is actually an old English one. The "X" in Christmas is the Greek letter chi [Χ], which is the first letter in the Greek word for "Christ", Christos [Χριστός].  Thus, "Xmas" is simply a shortened version of "Christmas."

4. What is the origin of the word "carol"?

The word "carol" comes from the Greek word choraulein [χόραυλειν] which referred to a dance accompanied by a flute. The Romans brought this custom to England. In medieval England, the carol meant a ring dance accompanied by singing. Gradually the meaning of the word changed, so that it referred only to the song itself.

5. Where does the custom of giving gifts at Christmas come from?

Many trace the custom of gift-giving to the old Roman custom called strenae. On New Year’s Day the people of ancient Rome exchanged gifts, as tokens of "good luck" for a happy year … This custom probably influenced the Christmas celebration … Another influence may have been the custom of exchanging gifts at the Feast of St. Nicholas (on Dec. 6) … It is also possible that the gifts the Magi gave to Christ (Matthew 2) inspired the custom of Christmas gift giving.

6. Why are mistletoe, holly, and evergreen branches used at Christmas?

We know that these things were all used by the ancient Romans during their New Year’s celebrations. These plants were used during winter time because of the fact that they remained green or in the case of mistletoe and holly, even bloomed in the winter. This reminded the Romans, as it did other ancient peoples, of returning life in the dead of winter … Mistletoe was considered so sacred [by the ancient Druids] that if even enemies happened to meet beneath a mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down arms and exchange a friendly greeting and keep a truce to the following day. From this … arose the custom of hanging mistletoe over a doorway as a token of peace and good will to all comers [today this custom has developed mildly romantic overtones].

7. When did Christmas cards get started?

It is claimed that the first Christmas card was engraved by a sixteen year old London artist, William Maw Egley in 1842. It wasn’t until 1860 that the cards were being sold on the market; they were quite common by 1868.

8. When did Christmas pageants get started?

Christmas pageants, plays that depict the birth of Christ, probably go back to the mystery plays of the late Middle Ages. The first children’s pageant was held in 1851 in the German Catholic church of the Holy Trinity in Boston. Children dressed as shepherds carried presents to the manger at the front of the church to present them to the Christ Child, singing carols. They then left the church after the pageant marching out in solemn procession.

9. When did the custom of placing lights in the windows of homes begin?

This is an Irish custom that found its way to this country. In the latter half of the nineteenth century carolers promoted this in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. In time the custom spread to other cities and parts of the country. It still appears to be most popular in New England, however.

10. When did the poinsettia plant first become used at Christmas?

This native plant of Central America was named for Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, United States ambassador to Mexico, because he brought the flower back to his home in South Carolina in 1829, where it flourished. According to many, the flaming star reminds them of the star of Bethlehem. The people of Mexico call the poinsettia the "flower of the Holy Night."

11. What is wassail?

It is a drink that originated with the English. The old Saxon word "wassail" was originally a drinker’s greeting: "Was Haile" "Your health." The wassail drink was made from ale, roasted apples, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. It was served hot from a bowl. Later the word "wassailing" was used by the English for any kind of Christmas celebration where drinking occurred.

12. What are the twelve days of Christmas all about?

This refers to the period of twelve days between Christmas (Dec. 25) and the Epiphany (Jan. 6), which forms the Christmas season proper, according to the Church liturgical calendar. The first record we have of this twelve days being recognized as a Christian festival is found in the Church father, Ephraeum Syrus, at the end of the fourth century. It was later officially declared to be a sacred season by the Council of Tours in 567.

So there you have it: twelve things you always wanted to know about Christmas but were afraid to ask.

The Attack on Christmas: A Good Thing?

There is no doubt that the secular holiday we call Christmas has been co-opted by crass commercialism. It used to be you didn’t start seeing Christmas displays in stores until after Thanksgiving. Now we’re seeing them right after Halloween. I guess we’ll start seeing them right after Labor Day next.

In our day what used to be the simple message of Christmas has been drowned out in a deafening cacophony of advertisements. Meaningful Christmas carols imbued with the Good News of the Savior’s birth have been pre-empted by politically correct and “non-offensive” pop songs, and the radiant, simple beauty of the Star of Bethlehem has been lost in a plethora of gaudy decorations.

Yet we should hardly be surprised at this given the increasing worldliness and godlessness of our culture. As Christians we are distressed at these trends and it is natural that we would want to separate ourselves from them. But our struggle is to remain in the world and yet not be a part of the world. It’s certainly harder to do in these last days than it used to be. But there are many aspects of the Christmas season that are worth preserving in my view.

It seems that just in my own lifetime the traditional Christmas holiday has come under increasing attack—and not just from atheists, anti-religionists, and politically-correct nut cases either. It seems that some of the harshest attacks on Christmas are being made by certain segments of fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity who declare Christmas to be at best warmed over pagan celebrations or at worst satanic rituals in disguise.

When I was a boy in a small town in northern Kentucky back in the 1950’s nobody took offense if you wished them a Merry Christmas. There was a really nice nativity scene on the city courthouse lawn, and to my knowledge City Hall was never served a legal notice from any activist atheist organizations demanding that they take it down.

Churches put them up too, and they didn’t have to worry very much about them getting vandalized, or having displays put up next to them declaring the Christmas story to be lies or fairy tales.

Most everybody put up a Christmas tree in their living room, and there were holly wreaths and Yule logs in abundance, mistletoe above doorways—and nobody I knew was taken to task for celebrating a pagan holiday or perpetuating satanic rituals.

It was just a fun holiday, and even if the Gospel message was diluted by cultural tradition and commercialism, everyone I knew still understood that the birth of the baby Jesus was at the center of Christmas.

Now I was not a believer in those days, not even after I reached the age of accountability. I wasn’t saved until my mid-twenties, but I heard a lot about who Jesus was in my youth, and I had a good frame of reference for Him by the time God deemed me ready to respond to the Gospel message. Much of that frame of reference came from the stories I heard during the Christmas seasons of my childhood and youth.

If the anti-Christmas crowd had their way I would have never been exposed to any of that, and it might have been many more years before I would have responded to the Gospel—and perhaps never.

Is Christmas Authorized by the Bible?

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the traditional observance of Christmas is an essential part of evangelism, but neither am I saying that the traditions of Christmas are an impediment to the spread of the Gospel either. So I’d like us to take a look at some of the traditions surrounding Christmas, and also at some of the attacks leveled at the holiday.

One of the arguments levied by those Christian brothers who would do away with the celebration of Christmas centers around the legality issue. The word “Christmas” is not in the Bible, nor is any celebration of the birth of Jesus authorized in Scripture. Therefore, the argument goes, to celebrate the birth of our Lord is to add to God’s word and wrongly add to the list of ordinances authorized by the Bible.

This type of argument is known in logic as an argumentum e silentio—that’s Latin for an argument from silence. When applied to Biblical proofs the argument from silence says that if the Bible doesn’t explicitly state something as a fact, or in this case explicitly authorize something, then that thing is therefore explicitly not authorized.

By the rules of logic this use of the argument from silence is a logical fallacy. In other words, the argument just doesn’t hold water. For someone to contend that just because the Bible has not specifically established Christmas as a biblical celebration, that it is wrong or even sinful to participate in it, is patently absurd. Where is the Biblical precedent for forbidding Christians from celebrating any gift of God’s grace just because it is not specifically authorized in scripture?

In fact the principle of Christian freedom from the Law—and freedom from legalism in general—argues that it is perfectly fine to celebrate the birth of the Savior. If it had been God’s plan that we not celebrate Christ’s birth, why would He have recorded the rejoicing of the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke chapter 2, or the worship of the wise men in Matt. 2?

Celebration is a natural response to the good news of the birth of our Savior—the fulfillment of a promise that goes back thousands of years all the way to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

Having said that, it is true that the celebration of Christmas is not biblically authorized. But then neither are church buildings, ushers, pews, hymnals, Sunday schools, Vacation Bible School, stained glass windows, church organs, choirs, communion wafers and grape juice, etc. Of course there are some that argue against all these trappings of modern-day churches, desiring that we go back to “practicing church” the way it was done in the 1st century AD house churches.

It ought to be self-evident that none of these traditions in and of themselves harm the cause of Christ—unless they rise in importance to the level of Bible Doctrine. Then they can become a problem. But that only happens when the focus of the church is taken off the Person of Jesus Christ and His Word. Then churches can and do slide off into error. But when the focus of the local church is where it should be—on receiving, believing, and applying the Word of God, and growing in the Word into spiritual adults, then there really is very little danger of drifting into apostasy.

Does the Date December 25th Prove Christmas is Pagan?

Another of the biggest criticisms concerns the dating of the Christmas holiday. Now there is absolutely no evidence that our Lord was born on December 25th. Biblical scholars have argued for years that the most likely times for the birth of Jesus was either early fall or late spring. They base this on the fact that the shepherds were grazing their flocks in the hills of Judea—something they would not be doing in the dead of winter.

The plain fact is that the Bible gives us no evidence to base a birth date for the Lord Jesus. Now the Christmas critics say that December 25th was chosen as the date for Christmas because that date is close to the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year—and a day that was considered sacred by the ancient pagan religions. They contend that even though the church fathers may have chosen that day to co-opt the pagan celebrations, that it has had the opposite effect—that of adulterating the purity of the Gospel with pagan traditions.

Others go so far as to say that the Christmas celebration was adapted from Roman celebration of Saturnalia—a fertility festival honoring Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture—which was characterized by gift-giving, merriment, immorality, and interestingly, temporary freedom for slaves during the duration of the celebration. The Saturnalia was also timed to coincide with the winter solstice.

It is true that many of these festivals have pagan roots, and that the timing of the winter solstice was chosen because it represented the time when the days began to grow longer, marking the beginning of the end of the dark chill of winter and the return of green life to the land. This was especially true in the lands in the northern latitudes where many of the strongest Christmas traditions are rooted.

Now Christians had been trying to determine the date of the Savior’s birth almost since the Church’s beginnings. Many dates were proposed: May 20th, April 19th or 20th, March 28th, and January 10th among others. So how was it that the majority of Christendom ended up celebrating Christmas on December 25th?

The earliest recorded celebration of Christmas on December 25th was in 336 AD. And by 400 AD it was being observed everywhere in Christendom on that date, except for the Armenian Church, which celebrated it on January 6th.

One theory holds that Julius, the Bishop of Rome around 350 AD had the official records of the Roman census at the time of Caesar Augustus examined and determined that December 25th was the correct date—but there was never any evidence of this beyond a reference in one of the writings of John Chrysostom, the Bishop of Constantinople around 400 AD.

Another theory—the most prevalent and probably correct one—holds that the Church of Rome deliberately chose December 25th to coincide with the pagan feast of Sol Invictus – the Unconquered Sun God, which was a celebration held throughout the Roman Empire of one of its chief deities. The idea according to this theory was to turn people away from the sun god to the Son of God—the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jolly Old Saint Nick – Santa or Satan?

Another target of the anti-Christmas crowd is that jolly, fat old elf, Santa Claus. Some have claimed that the name “Santa” is a thinly disguised form of “Satan”— an anagram rearrangement of the letters. Others point to the other name of Santa Claus—Saint Nicholas, “Saint Nick” – his “nick” name, as having satanic overtones. After all, they claim, “Old Nick” is a term that refers to the devil.

One of the sadder rites of passage for children in our culture is the epiphany that happens when the child first realizes that Santa Claus is a myth—he isn’t real. It is the entrance into the cynicism that marks the beginnings of their journey into adulthood. But we all love to regale small children with the myth of Santa circumnavigating the globe in a sled full of toys pulled by a team of flying reindeer, and so we perpetuate this pleasant little fraud from generation to generation.

But does this myth have any basis in fact, as so many myths do? It turns out that there was a historical Saint Nicholas. During the early to mid-fourth century AD Nicholas was the bishop of a local church in Myra, a town in what is today central Turkey. He was said to have been born to a wealthy family, but gave up his wealthy position when he accepted the Gospel call. He dedicated his life to the spread of the Gospel and he was an outspoken defender of the Christian faith against the Arian heresy.

Nicholas was well known among the churches for his charity and sacrifice for others, especially the needy and destitute. After he was martyred for his faith around 350 AD the stories about Nicholas and his good works multiplied in Christendom and eventually the Church of Rome canonized him as a saint. Today Nicholas is considered the patron saint of many cities and towns in Europe and even entire countries, including Greece and Russia.

In many of the cultures of the ancient world there is a myth about a magical character who went around once a year spreading gifts to children and the needy. As Christianity spread into what had been pagan cultures this mythical character began to be associated with Saint Nicholas. The churches at that time had developed the custom of celebrating different saints, and Nicholas’s day fell on December 6th. So he began to be associated with the Christmas celebration. And since the winter solstice celebrations had historically also been characterized by gift giving, the whole thing about Santa Claus and presents on Christmas morning got started.

So where did the name “Santa Claus” come from? Well, Saint Nicholas was known to the Dutch people as “Sinter Klaas”, which came down to us as “Santa Claus”. This is not quite the anagram for “Satan” that some would have us to believe, is it?  The first depictions of him as a jolly fat man in a red suit came from 19th century Britain. The popular image that we have in America today of Santa became cemented into our collective consciousness by various Coca Cola advertisements and commercials since 1931.

Much of the depictions of Santa appear to have come from pre-Christian legends. The Germanic gods Odin and Thor figure prominently in these legends. Odin was said to have been white-bearded and heavy. Thor would travel in a chariot through the air drawn by two white goats. He dressed in red and his palace was in the far north. He was a cheerful gift-giver, and since he was also the god of fire his preferred entry into homes was down the chimney into the fireplace.

Pre-Christian children would leave a little straw or grain for Odin’s horses, and no doubt this came down to us as the present day tradition of leaving some cookies and milk for Santa. Many a child has come downstairs with breathless anticipation to see if the cookies and milk were gone, and then rushed to the tree to see what presents Santa left for them.

Because of these pagan connections the Protestants of the Reformation abolished the Feast of St. Nicholas in many countries in northern Europe. Instead of venerating St. Nicholas they encouraged veneration of the Christ Child. Still, the customs associated with the feast of St. Nicholas carried over into the Christmas celebration and came to America in the 17th century with the Dutch when they established their colony of New Amsterdam in what is today New York.

So what are we as Christians to make of Santa Claus? Well, clearly the Santa we picture today has nothing in common with Nicholas, Bishop of Myra except for his name. It is evident, examining the history of Santa Claus, that his origins are based in pre-Christian, pagan myths. So those who claim that Santa is a Christian figure or that he is based in Christian beliefs or world view do not know what they are talking about. There is nothing Christian about Santa.

On the other hand, is Santa a pagan bent on replacing the biblical message of Christmas—a satanic figure from the pit of hell? Again, there is no doubt that the Santa figure has its origins in pagan traditions and beliefs.

And I’m sure that Satan in his attacks on Christianity uses Santa just as he uses all of the other pagan trappings that have come down to us from the fertile soil that is our western culture. But to shun the Santa figure or to cross ourselves and hurry past every time we see him in a department store, or never let our children be exposed to the Santa myth seems to me to be extreme in the other direction.

The Solution to the Christmas Controversy

It’s my view that if we as Christians put our priorities where they should be, in Jesus Christ and His word, those Christmas controversies which some see as a problem will not really be a problem at all. If an enemy shoots a wooden arrow at us are we to consider wood evil from then on? If someone flings rocks at us are we then to avoid all contact with stone? 

As long as we model God’s Righteousness as revealed in the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ and avoid what the Bible clearly teaches as sin, we should not have any problems discerning those things that are Biblical about Christmas and aligning our Christian walk with them instead of falling into the sin traps Satan sets for us and baits with enticements camouflaged by the trappings of Christmas.

Instead of putting our energy into avoiding all the pagan aspects of our culture we should instead put our energy into following God’s plan for our lives and let Him guide us through the traps Satan sets for us. So with that admonition in mind I’d like you to look at these verses in the sixth chapter of the book of Ephesians beginning with verse 12:

v-12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

v-13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.



v-16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

v-17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Eph 6:12-17 NASB

Here then, in the famous “Full Armor of God” passage of Ephesians 6 is the solution to the Christmas Controversy.

As believers who are growing in the Word, in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, we don’t have to shun all things Christmas just because of its pagan roots if we are fully equipped with the Truth of God’s word.

We won’t become spiritual casualties during the hectic holiday season if our lives are characterized by righteousness in our thoughts and actions.

We can find many opportunities to witness for the Lord as we go to and fro in our activities shod with the Gospel of peace with God. And as Satan fires his arrows at us we can be shielded by our well-exercised faith.

As believers eternally secure in the Helmet of salvation, and wielding the Sword of the Spirit we have nothing to fear even in this most stressful of times, the Christmas season.

This then is my wish and prayer for every person reading this little article that you will all have a wonderful, Christ-filled, and therefore very Merry Christmas.

Thank You, Heavenly Father, for the wonderful season of Christmas and for all that it means as we celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Help us to focus in application of all the wonderful spiritual truths we have learned during the past weeks, months, and years as we witness to a harried, frenzied, self-absorbed world, about the One who is rest for our souls and balm for our healing—the One who is the true source of all the true blessings of Christmas, for it is in His name we ask it, amen.


To the reader: If you have read this lesson, I would greatly appreciate any feedback, questions, or comments you have. Getting feedback from my readers is very helpful and encouraging to me. I promise to respond to all legitimate questions or comments as appropriate. But please, do keep your questions and comments appropriate and constructive.

Thank you very much.

In His Service,

John McReynolds


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