by Luke Wayne
Yes, it is permissible to celebrate Christian holidays that are not commanded in the Bible. The Bible itself affirms the establishment of at least two holidays that God never commanded, but whose celebration He seems to have accepted as memorials of God's work on behalf of His people. Take, for example, the Jewish feast of Purim. At the end of the book of Esther, after God had providentially delivered the Jews from their enemies through Esther and Mordecai, the Jews in Persia established the feast of Purim to commemorate God's deliverance.
"The Jews established and made a custom for themselves and for their descendants and for all those who allied themselves with them, so that they would not fail to celebrate these two days according to their regulation and according to their appointed time annually. So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants."
Notice that God did not command or establish this feast Himself: "The Jews established and made a custom for themselves." The mandate to keep Purim was on the political authority of Mordecai rather than the authority of divine revelation. In time, not all Jews continued the practice. For example, the ancient Jewish community at Qumran (who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls) did not include Purim on any of its festival calendars, and so presumably did not celebrate it.1 While most Jews celebrate it today, there is no mention of the festival in the New Testament, nor any historical evidence that early Christians practiced it. In short, there is no apparent obligation for everyone to celebrate Purim and no divine mandate backing it. But the Bible seems to view these Jews' decision to commemorate God's deliverance by establishing Purim as a positive thing. It certainly does not condemn it. There does not appear to be anything wrong with establishing traditional celebrations of great things God has done, even if the Bible does not command those specific celebrations.
An even stronger example might be Hanukkah. Hanukkah is a memorial feast that the Jews established during the time in between the Old and New Testaments. It is a celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews had overthrown their Greek oppressors who had defiled it. Hanukkah, like Purim, was a tradition that the Jews established to celebrate God's deliverance. The Old Testament never describes the establishment of Hanukkah at all because it happened after that time period. The Bible certainly never commands the holiday. Yet, John 10:22 describes Jesus in attendance at the "Feast of Dedication," which is Hanukkah. Jesus did not consider it wrong to celebrate a festival that was established without even being mentioned in scripture. Clearly, there is nothing innately wrong with setting aside a day to celebrate and remember a great work of God. Christians through the centuries have done so.
Most Christians celebrate an annual memorial of Jesus resurrection, and it has been common among many (though not nearly as universal) to celebrate His birth as well. Many Protestants celebrate the Reformation every year on October 31, the day that Martin Luther famously nailed his "95 Theses" to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. They see in the Reformation a gracious work of God to return people to His word and to the gospel of grace alone through faith alone, and so they celebrate God's grace by memorializing it. God did not command or establish these holidays. They are not found in scripture. No one is sinning if they choose not to celebrate them. But the Bible does seem to affirm the idea that God's people can set aside annual days to honor special things God has done.
Ultimately, this should be a matter of conscience. If you are concerned that there is something wrong with a particular holiday, don't celebrate it. If your brother is celebrating it as a sincere act of worship, don't hinder him. He is not forbidden to do so. If your sister is concerned about a holiday that you love, don't pressure her to participate. She is permitted to abstain. Indeed, she ought to abstain and maintain a clean conscience before God. Paul wrote:
"One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord" (Romans 14:5-6).
He went on to explain:
"Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Romans 14:13-14).
In matters of food, clothing, holidays, and other such things that the Bible does not forbid nor command, there is liberty. We must hold to our conscience on these matters, and commend our brothers to theirs. It's okay if some Christians celebrate Christmas and others do not. It is fine that some Christians celebrate Easter, while others use the name Resurrection Sunday, and still others have no such holiday at all. A Christian who honors the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ every day need not be ashamed that they do not also set a special day aside for it. A Christian whose honoring of the birth and death of Christ compels them to set aside a special day to commemorate it each year is no worse (nor better) than one who does not. Only let each believer honor the coming of Christ as best as he or she can, and honor one another as members of His body.
- 1. Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (HarperCollins Publishers, 1999) 630