May Christians Observe Holidays?
Is it wrong for Christians to celebrate some of the holidays popular in our society—like giving gifts at Christmas time, allowing children to go trick-or-treating at Halloween, or hunting eggs at Easter?
In considering this issue, several things should be kept in view.
A practice may have originated under certain circumstances but, eventually, have lost that significance—either in whole or at least significantly. There is Bible precedent for dealing with this principle.
Consider the practice of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols previously—a very lively issue in the first century. Here is the background: A meat sacrifice would be made to an idol. After a certain portion was consumed in sacrificial flames (or by the priests), the balance would be sold as common food in the market. The controversy, therefore, arose: is this meat contaminated simply because it had some connection with an idol?
Paul’s answer is no (see 1 Corinthians 8:1-13). If one has “knowledge”—i.e., that an idol is “nothing”—and his conscience is not offended, he may eat of that meat. It is not contaminated merely by its former association.
Yet, there is this caution: if one is in an environment wherein some “weak” (i.e., without mature knowledge) brother is liable to be damaged, then it would be best to refrain in that instance, lest the weak brother’s conscience be wounded.
It would be wrong to partake religiously of a practice that compromises one’s fidelity to the truth. The apostle deals with such a matter in 1 Corinthians 10. If in a service where sacrifices were being offered to “demons” the Christian were to partake, i.e., have “communion” (koinonia—participation, fellowship), with those involved in the illicit worship, such clearly would be sinful (10:20-21).
To practice Christmas, Halloween, or Easter religiously would be unwarranted. To do so merely as a cultural custom would be a matter of personal judgment.
In Romans 14, Paul argues the general proposition that there will be different levels of knowledge among brethren and that, to a certain extent, these must be accommodated for the sake of Christian unity. For example, some, out of conviction, choose not to eat meats; others see nothing wrong with such a practice.
The apostle instructs that neither individual is to “set at naught” the other. No man is to create a law in areas of expediency and then demand that all others submit. If an overt act of transgression is not the issue, peace must prevail.
Most folks who are rather sensitive about these cultural practices are not consistent entirely in their own conduct. Consider, for example, the celebration of birthdays. In ancient Egypt, the birthdays of the Pharaohs were considered as “holy” days, with no work being done (McClintock and Strong 1969, 817). Moreover, as John Lightfoot noted: “The Jewish schools esteem the keeping of birthdays a part of idolatrous worship” (1979, 217).
Does this mean that if a man in this era gives his wife a birthday present or if we have a birthday party for a child we have compromised our faith? Surely no one will so allege.
What about the man who takes his wife out for dinner and gives her flowers on Valentine’s Day? Has he yielded to the Romish dogma regarding “Saint Valentine”? When we place flowers on the graves of our loved ones, is this the same as the Hindu practice of putting food on the graves of one’s ancestors? Does having a wedding ceremony in a church building imply that we endorse the Catholic notion that marriage is a “church sacrament”? Surely these queries must be answered negatively.
Practices can change with time and mean different things to different people. We must not compromise the truth, but neither are we permitted to make spiritual laws for others.
Scripture references: 1 Corinthians 8; 1 Corinthians 10; Romans 14
- Lightfoot, John. 1979. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
- McClintock, John and James Strong. 1969. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.