Though Christmas and Easter are commonly regarded as the two most important holidays of Christianity, they have been a source of controversy among members of the Lord’s church. Since these holidays originated with men and are not commanded in Scripture, we have had sharp disagreements on how they should be viewed. Some members ignore the two holidays altogether, others treat them as strictly secular holidays, and still others use them to celebrate the birth and resurrection of our Savior. For a long time, I found the first two options acceptable but strongly opposed the last one. I just did not believe we could observe religious holidays that were not specifically commanded by God. However, I have since changed my position.
As with every position I take, this has nothing to do with personal preference or popular opinion. I am not seeking to please myself or others; I am simply trying to be consistent with the Scriptures. Wherever they lead me is exactly where I want to stand regardless of the consequences.
Dedication & Purim
One reason I changed my position on celebrating (manmade) religious holidays is because Jesus did so. He took part in such observances and never expressed concerns about their right to exist.
The “Feast of Dedication” was a Jewish holiday that came about during the intertestamental period. It commemorated the cleansing and rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus after it had been defiled by Greek oppressors. (The desecration included sacrificing pigs on the altar to pagan gods). This feast was also called the “Feast of Lights” because the Jews would light lamps to honor the occasion. Today, it is called “Hanukkah.”
The “Feast of Dedication” was a religious holiday that did not originate with God. When He revealed the various feasts that Jews were to observe, this was not one of them. It came about of the people’s own volition during the four hundred years of divine silence between Malachi and Matthew. Yet Jesus participated in this holiday without reservation (John 10:22-23).
The Lord’s presence at the “Feast of “Dedication,” along with the fact that neither He nor the writer John raised any objections to it, is strong evidence that it is okay to keep such holidays. Moreover, it is likely that the feast Jesus observed in John 5:1 was the “Feast of Purim,” which was another religious holiday that did not originate with God. It was instituted by Mordecai to commemorate Jewish deliverance from attempted genocide by the Persians (Esther 9:26-28). Hence, we have examples of Jesus doing the very thing some brethren take issue with today. The feasts of Dedication and Purim were no different than Christmas and Easter in terms of their origin; they both came about by mere men. Yet our Lord had no problem observing them.
The Jews knew that the feasts of Dedication and Purim were not divinely mandated, but that did not stop them from creating and observing those holidays to honor God. Nor did it keep Jesus from participating in them during His time on earth. Why then would we oppose parallel holidays today?
I find it interesting that when the establishment of Purim was recorded in Esther, the inspired writer did not offer any words of condemnation. He never added “and this was a sin” or “in violation of the law.” It seems apparent that he saw the creation of a new holiday to honor God as a good thing and had no reservations about it at all.
Another reason I changed my position comes from Paul. In his letter to the Romans, he gave approval for brethren to observe “special days” that they regarded as being religiously significant. He said they could keep those days according to their own convictions and should not be condemned by others for doing so (Romans 14:5-10). Whether it be Passover in the first century or Christmas and Easter in the twenty-first century, the application is the same — individuals who choose to observe these days are to be accepted. The only qualifier given is that the observance be done “in honor of the Lord.”
While it is true that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every week, that does not preclude a special celebration annually. If they want to do that in honor of the Lord, Paul clearly says we are not to pass judgment on them. The only way this could become wrong is if they bind such observances on others or teach that they are somehow required to be right with God (Galatians 4:10-11).
Since Jesus observed the (manmade) religious holidays of His day and Paul permitted Christians to keep whatever days they want in honor of the Lord, how can we possibly say it is wrong for individuals to celebrate Christmas and Easter? They have every right to do that. In fact, the only one in sin is the brother who refuses to accept them.