O Worship the King: Evaluating Our Christmas Traditions



Written by Beth Corcoran, Contributing Writer

It is finally Christmas time again!  Oh how I love this time of year!  I love the sights and smells and the time with family.  I love how people seem more neighborly at Christmas, and I love to see how my little ones’ eyes light up when they see Christmas lights.

But one thing my husband and I have grown increasingly aware of over the past few years is that our love for Christmas traditions should pale in comparison to our love for the Reason for Christmas—Jesus Christ.

I have seen many good ways to add meaningful worship into our Christmas traditions.  The Jesse Tree is a great example of this.  However, our family became convicted that we needed to evaluate the worth of traditions we currently had in place before we added new ones. It has, undoubtedly, been a very interesting journey for us.  I’d like to share some of what we have learned.  (Disclaimer: I’d like to note that this is not meant to be prescriptive, but rather just a description of what we have done.  It is meant only as encouragement and edification.)

We want to intentionally point all of our Christmas celebration to Christ, and not to worldy traditions with no value.

Our journey began with a homeschooling assignment.  My children love to make lapbooks, and when I saw an offer for a free Christmas lapbook, I jumped on it.  The purpose of the lapbook was to learn the history behind many different Christmas symbols and traditions and to document them for future reference.

However, in preparing the lessons, I gained a new awareness of just how many of our common Christmas traditions were deeply rooted in paganism. (By paganism, I am referring to pagan cultures—mainly the Druids and Celts.)

After  much thought and prayer, my husband and I decided to move forward with the lapbook assignment, but to tweak it a bit.  As our family discussed each tradition or symbol of Christmas, our kids were to evaluate them and put them into one of three categories.  The traditions could be classified as being rooted in Christianity, as being rooted in paganism but redeemable, or as being rooted in paganism and not redeemable.

You may be wondering at this point what I mean by redeemable.   The word “redeem” stirs my soul like no other word.  It means to buy back or to give value to something previously worthless.

It was God’s plan for redemptive sacrifice that makes Christmas worth celebrating. What a lovely word!!  When I refer to a Christmas symbol as being redeemable, I am meaning that it came out of pagan celebrations, but it can be “bought back” by Christians to make it point to Christ.

Photo credit vl8189

How to Evaluate a Tradition

I was amazed at how our family pursued learning about Christmas traditions with such vigor.  My children, though small, were able to firmly grasp whether something was worthless or could point to the Lord.  Let me give you a few examples.

Many Christmas traditions have a deeply Christian and biblical background.

A great example of a Christmas symbol that has roots in Christianity is the candy cane.  Its colors, shape and flavor are great ways to share Christ at Christmas.  If you are unfamiliar with the story of the candy cane, there are many great resources.  Click here for a cute children’s book about the candy cane.

Many, if not most of the Christmas symbols, for us, have fallen into the “pagan but redeemable” category.

This just means that we have to create a new meaning for them as we explain them to others.  A great example of this is the Christmas tree.  The use of the Christmas tree started in Druid ceremonies. But now we can use this evergreen to point to the everlasting nature of Christ.  The triangular shape of the tree also reminds us of the Trinity.  We think of Jesus at Christmas, but really all three persons of the Trinity were intimately involved.  Other examples of “redeemable” symbols for us have included items such as stockings and ornaments.

The last category included symbols that were rooted in pagan rituals and really had never been adapted to point to Christ.

We were amazed to find how many of these things we had incorporated into our home at Christmas without even thinking about it.  Now that we are thinking intentionally about Christmas, we have eliminated these symbols and traditions from our home.  A great example for us is mistletoe.  Who doesn’t love a good kiss as they enter the house?! But we learned that mistletoe had been a symbol of fertility in pagan worship and kissing under the mistletoe was a Celtic tradition.  Hanging mistletoe in the entryway of the home came from the belief that it warded off evil spirits.  Honestly, our family couldn’t really find a way to make this fit with our worship of Jesus, so we eliminated it.

I won’t lie.  Sometimes purging some of our traditions has been a bit sad because we had fond memories from childhood.  Sometimes, however, we haven’t even noticed something was missing in our home (like the mistletoe!).  But it has been so freeing for us to evaluate our beliefs and traditions at Christmas, rather than blindly conforming to the world.

We were amazed at how many traditions we followed just because that’s what our parents had done.  But when asking our parents why they did them, they didn’t know either.  What freedom comes from being intentional with our worship and celebration!  You may choose to categorize traditions differently than we did.  That’s fine!  Really, in the end, it all comes down to bringing God the most glory possible.

Have you ever intentionally thought through your Christmas celebration?  What have you done to redeem your traditions?

**This was originally posted on Nov.30, 2010. I think it’s such a wonderful post for helping us to be intentional as we examine and plan for our family’s Christmas traditions. The season gets to busy, so this is a perfect time to consider how your family will celebrate Christ’s birth this year!**

Top image by Mukumbura

About Beth Corcoran

I am the mother of four children (wait- make that six as of recently!)—two girls and two boys, ages 7, 6, 5, and 2 ½. While not homeschooling or chauffeuring the kids to their activities, I enjoy all kinds of craft projects and learning how to be a better steward of all that the Lord has given me. My blog is Stewardship Not Convenience.

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  1. Virginia Bennett says:

    I learned this year that I need to eliminate everything pagan from my life, even if I thought I was redeeming it for Christ. The reason is that in the Scriptures God asked His people to completely eliminate idols and pagan symbols. We are not to use pagan symbols to worship Him because it offends Him.

    He has given us traditions that do please Him and most of them are found in the Old Testament. He has given us a day of rest. He has given us Passover, representing Christ’s death on the cross, the feast of Unleavened bread, representing Christ’s sinless life, His burial, and His desire for us to have a sinless life. In the New Testament, He re-purposed these holidays by offering us the bread and wine for communion to remember His death until He comes. He gave us the first of the first fruits, representing His Resurrection and presenting Himself to the Father as the Firstfruits of many brethren. He gave us the counting of 7 Sabbaths plus 1 day, or 50 days to Pentecost. He fulfilled this in Acts when he poured out His Holy Spirit on the believers and formed His church. He also gave us Trumpets to get our attention for the last days, Yom Kippur as a day of repentance and to represent the restoration of Israel, and Tabernacles to represent His dwelling among us during the life of Jesus on earth and His coming Millennial kingdom when He will dwell among us physically again. It is also believed that the first day of Tabernacles was Jesus’ real birthday and that the 8th day was the day of His circumcision. There are several reasons this is believed, including the calculation of when John the Baptist was born from when Zacharias’ turn to serve in the temple was and the fact that the angel to Mary said Elizabeth was 6 months’ pregnant. Also, I am told that the week of Tabernacles was the only week the sheep were out in the fields all night and the song the angels sang was a song the Jews had been singing on the first day of Tabernacles for many years.

    The feast of Purim was established during Queen Esther’s time to commemorate God’s saving His people and Hanukkah is celebrated by many and was apparently celebrated by Jesus as a reminder of being saved in another incident in which they rededicated the temple and God is said to have performed the 8-day miracle of the oil.

    I do, however, believe from someone’s calculations that looked into the Star of Bethlehem and made a DVD about it that the wise men came to visit Jesus on or around December 25th.

    For the first time this year my husband and I are not going to put up a Christmas tree, but we do have a manger scene up in our home that we put up during Tabernacles and will keep up through December.

  2. Just wanted to add one note as it relates to Kathleen’s comments. I appreciate your humility in all your posts, first of all. Your question about “christianizing” (sometimes referred to as redeeming) pagan holidays did bring a particular scripture to mind. It is not a specific example as you may have been looking for but I do believe it effectively addresses the issue.

    Romans 14:5-7 “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it as to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

    Paul was instructing believers from very different holiday and feast “traditions” (Jew/Greek). The origin of the particular day being esteemed seems to be overlooked in light of each persons choice to give honor to the Lord in that day. So, those who choose to celebrate out of love and devotion to Christ in the midst of the holiday are right. And those who choose not to celebrate out of love and devotion to Christ are also right. God’s very gracious with us that way. And the non-judgemental tone of these conversations is a reflection of His grace and that’s awesome! =)

  3. Beautiful post… thank you for sharing. Your adaptation to the lapbook lesson is EXACTLY why I love homeschooling!

  4. This is interesting. Something that we’ve been trying to figure out, but not in the same way. I actually really don’t even like Christmas in the first place- I know, strong statement- but it seems no matter how I try to do it, its focused on commercialism too much. I also have very negative, bad memories of Christmas from my childhood. As for the commercialism, its not for us, but its all around us. We’re considering not doing it at all, but I also don’t want my kids to be alienated. They already are in some ways eg. we homeschool, we don’t do Halloween, we eat a bit “different”, etc….I don’t want the stress the holiday brings in any form and I don’t think that stress helps us focus on Christ if that is what we are supposed to do with this holiday.

    Anyways I keep thinking about it and trying to figure it all out. I just wish there was a seperate time to have a holiday to focus on Christ and that it wasn’t during the same time as the commericial holiday.

  5. I would also like to add I am a peacemaker too. that is why I am still celebrating with family because they all condemn me for everything. But giving is great. I am instructing my children in what the word says and showing them how the world does things and they actually prefer to just do what the bible says and honor the lord. They love all the biblical feast. So hoping this year with Hanakkah and celebrating the fact of Jesus being concieved goes well and We honor Christ the right way.

  6. I have enjoyed reading all this. erika you summed up alot for us. My husband is always undecided but I have felt torn as we have been celbrating biblical feasts the past 2 years. My husband use to love Christmas as I too, but now i have learned that Christ would not want all this stress in Heaven so why should we want it here. We are celebratimg Hanakkah this year for the first time because it is the festival of light we will have lots of candle lights. I have read about a bush so uncertain there but because all our families still do Christmas we are still participating to honor them with family meal and giving gifts more so not to disappoint them. we are doing gifts for our children but only 2 each and that is to honor my husband but we are trying to walk the way Christ would want us to. this it what hits me that I feel.. Leagalism is only bonding if we make our selves feel bound. it is joyful to celebrate the biblical feasts and to honor the lord in them. We have fun with it just like people do with Christmas but we do it all year at all the feast, but we do not feel leagal about it or judge we just find it fun to seek Christ this way and to know all the true meaning of them all. As for christmas , Christ would have been concieved in December and born in the fall so while doing hanakkah this year and celebrating christmas with other we are celebrating chrits being concieved because that is a great thing. We then celebrate his birth during Sukkot whhile my children build a silly hut and have fun in it.. I hope you all have a great Holiday season how ever you celebrate just keep your eyes to the Lord and do as He instructs you read your bible and make sure you listen to him through the scriptures. I believe he wants us ALL to celebrate the same things at the same time We just need to listen fully to him to find out instead of making it our own..

  7. Angie Alford says:

    Any suggestions for a wife on how to approach the santa clause, easter bunny, pagan subjects with a husband that is not very mature in his Christian walk and wants to be a peacemaker and just go with the flow (meaning the wordly flow)?


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