This is a good question. Let’s start with recognizing the fact that the New Testament does not teach the observance of any special religious holy days. What the world calls “Christmas” or “Easter” were not established in the New Testament, and are the creation of man. In the case of things like “Christmas” and “Halloween,” there is clear evidence that these things have their origins in pagan holy days that were modified by religious groups to try and offer pagans a substitute for their former practices. It is absolutely unscriptural for the church to observe such things, in any way other than to offer the Biblical truth regarding the birth of Christ, or what the Bible teaches about evil spirits and life after death. The same is true of Easter. The New Testament clearly teaches the resurrection of Jesus but does not establish a yearly observation of this in the form of a holy day (or “holy week”). While Christians in the New Testament did remember the Lord’s death (burial and resurrection) every first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-26), this is the only special observance the New Testament authorizes. Just as it was apostasy for the northern kingdom of Israel to establish its own “holy days” (1 Kings 12:32-33), it would be apostasy for the church to observe man-made holy days under Christ.
With that said, the more difficult question comes as it relates to personal and individual choices. As individuals we can choose to study with our family things like the birth of Christ or Jesus’ resurrection at any time during the year. A godly family might choose on the day the world calls “Christmas” to teach their children the truth about Jesus’ birth. Can they teach this the other 364 days of the year but not that day? We could scarcely make such an argument. Is there danger that doing this could lead our children to accept the world’s false view of “Christmas” as a religious “holy day?” Absolutely! On the other hand, as is true of many days that have their origin in pagan, or denominational practices, secular culture has adopted many customs associated with these days that have no religious significance at all. The most godless of homes might decorate a tree, exchange gifts, or paint eggs, in no way intending for this to be considered a religious observance. Again, can Christians decorate trees, exchange gifts, or paint eggs the other 363 days but not on what the world calls “Christmas” and “Easter?” That is probably a stretch. Under these terms I would have to answer—no, it is not sinful for a Christian to observe these days in a secular way, individually, as their conscience dictates.
Let me add to this one comment, and a word of caution. Not all Christians would agree with this conclusion, and I respect that. If you as a believer in Jesus Christ have concerns that it would be wrong for you to participate in these things to any degree, then you absolutely must avoid them! Paul taught regarding issues of conscience as it related to eating meats, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23, NKJV). The issue in some people’s minds is the connection these things have to paganism. As Christians is anything associated with paganism sinful? Not necessarily. Consider a couple of examples. We all are familiar with the pagan false god worshipped in the Old Testament named “Baal.” There is no question that Israel was forbidden to practice Baal-worship, however, what we might not realize is that there was probably not a single day that went by in Israel when a married woman did not use (or consider using) the word “baal.” Ba-al meant “husband” or “master.” And in spite of its pagan use, it also had a secular meaning (cf. Deut. 21:22; Deut. 21:13; 22:22; 24:4; 2 Sam. 11:26; Est. 1:17; Prov. 12:4; 31:11). It was not sinful for an Israelite to use something in a secular way that pagans used of a false god. The same is true in the New Testament. Acts 28:11 records that Paul was on a ship “whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers.” These “twin brothers,” whom the Greeks called the Dioscuri were “Castor and Pollux” (KJV). According to pagan myth, they were sons of Zeus born from an egg after he had laid with their mother Leda, after he had taken the form of a swan. Because of their many adventures they were believed to have become divine themselves. Now, as a prisoner, Paul may not have had a choice what ship he was on, but the Holy Spirit certainly had a choice of whether or not to record this detail or not. If as Christians we should shun any secular or casual association with paganism, why would the Holy Spirit record this detail? Paul was on a ship with the image of pagan gods on its masthead! In our own day, we use language that has its roots in pagan thought, but all religious intent is now lost. I can make it through an entire “Thursday” and never view it as it once was viewed – “Thor’s Day” (in honor of the pagan god Thor). I can relax on “Saturday” without any concept in my mind that the seventh day of the week is “Saturn’s Day”—the Roman name for Cronos, the mythic father of Zeus. The point is that simply because days, or words, or customs have some historic connection to pagan practice doesn’t mean that we are engaged in such practice in our connection to them.
Even so, I must add this caution—while I do believe there can be a way in which these things are done without sin, there could absolutely we a way that it would be sinful to be associated with them. Let’s go back to the example of eating meats. Paul told the Corinthians that they could “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience' sake” (1 Cor. 10:25). Since an idol is not real, there was no sin in eating meat that may have been sacrificed to it as a matter of course. However, he goes on to say, “But if anyone says to you, ‘This was offered to idols,’ do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience' sake” (1 Cor. 10:28). Although there was no sin in taking the actual food into the mouth, if that action made another person think you were worshiping an idol, Paul commands, “do not eat it!” The United States has secularized most celebrations that have roots in pagan or denominational practices. However, not all countries (or even all cultures) have done this. Many Hispanic brethren come out of such a cultural background in which things like “Christmas” or “Halloween” have such a deep-rooted connection to Catholicism in the minds of their friends, families, and neighbors, than any participation in these things would say to those around them that they are participating in Catholic error. The same might be said of certain eastern European cultures and connections to Eastern Orthodoxy. In these cases, Paul’s teaching on meats would tell us, “do not practice these things!”
Kyle Pope, March 2011