Maybe you’ve heard that Christmas isn’t all that Christian. Maybe you’re wondering if you should celebrate it at all this year. If you’re not sure, read “Would Jesus Celebrate Christmas?”. And then prove to yourself whether or not you should keep Christmas.
Go on—kick the tires, tug on the seams, look behind the curtain, pull out the microscope. The truth can withstand scrutiny. You won’t hurt its feelings.
There is so much more to family than any one holiday, and you have many opportunities to show your family that you love them.
If you’ve considered the evidence and have decided to kick the Christmas habit, your next question is likely to be, “Well, now what?” That’s what mine was. How do you not celebrate Christmas when everyone around you has put on a Santa hat and put up a tree? How do you keep your relationships with family and friends when you don’t celebrate Christmas anymore? Will they understand?
It can feel like a lonely road with only the strength of your convictions for company, but you are not alone. I too walk this path, as do many others. And most importantly, God the Father and Jesus Christ will be with you. If God is leading you to step out on faith and leave Christmas behind, I’d like to share with you three principles to practice as you take this step: Prepare yourself, honor God and love your family.
You’re about to raise some eyebrows, my friend. Breaking with tradition, especially one infused with family and loved by millions, is going to lead to questions and probably disapproval. How are you going to handle this?
First, know why you’re doing this. You’re choosing the road less traveled, and you’ll turn around and go home if you’re motivated by anything other than love of the truth. Carefully examine your reasons and the evidence you use to support your conclusions so you can have confidence in the truth (consider 2 Timothy 2:15).
When Christmas comes around, don’t delay following your newfound conviction to not participate. Don’t tell yourself, “Not right now—just one more year . . .” In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus told people to follow Him. Their excuses were basically: “Not right now. I just need to do this or that first.” His response? “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” If you know what is good to do and choose not to do it, it’s sin (James 4:17).
In breaking from celebrating Christmas, especially for the first few years, you’ll find it easier if you don’t just sit at home alone on Christmas Day. Make intentional plans involving activities you enjoy. You may need to be creative, as most businesses will be closed, but planning ahead can help you to see and take advantage of your many choices. If you’re social, be sure your plans include other like-minded people.
If Christmas is very important to your family, expect some resistance to your decision. After all, your family members love you and want you to be with them. Anticipate questions—they’ll probably be many of the same ones you initially had—and think through your answers ahead of time. Be sure your answers are genuinely “you.” Canned responses aren’t going to cut it when your heart’s not in it.
Your choice to not celebrate Christmas may be tested soon after deciding, so begin preparing right away. The questions may not come for a while, but then again, they may come tomorrow.
Several years ago I decided not to celebrate Christmas that year. That was on a Thursday. On Friday, the very next day, my mother called to ask what I would like for Christmas. Knowing your reasons and having an answer will help the conversation to proceed more gently and with less defensiveness (especially on your part), whenever it occurs. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, New International Version).
Just as the apostles declared, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), we must obey God over the desires of our family and friends. What will you do when you’re stuck between the Rock and a hard place?
Pray and, if you can, fast before talking with your family. Prayer and fasting helps us to seek God’s way instead of our own. Our way may seem right to us, but only God sees the whole picture (Proverbs 21:2). When we submit our plans to God and trust in Him, He establishes the best paths and helps us to follow them (consider Proverbs 3:5-6 and Proverbs 16:3).
God has good plans for us, and He will come through for us. He reminds us in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” God promises to give us the words to say when we need them, just as Jesus Christ told His disciples in Matthew 10:19-20. When we sincerely submit our will to God, we are less likely to speak rashly (consider Proverbs 16:1).
Ask God for wisdom in your interactions with family and friends. When we ask for wisdom, He promises to give it generously (James 1:5) He expects you to do good to all (Galatians 6:10) and to love them as you love yourself (Mark 12:31). God knows how to help you in your relationships with others. Ask Him. Your Father is waiting to help you.
Be “all in”
Don’t be wishy-washy. You might think you’re being nice to your family and friends by “kind of” participating a little to spare their feelings. However, you may just be prolonging their hope that you’ll “come to your senses” and change your mind.
Jesus told His disciples that “he who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). Yes, we are to love our family, but we are to love God and His way more. When the two conflict, God must come first, even when it’s difficult.
God wants us to love Him with our whole heart, not just part of it. Immediately before Jesus reminded the scribes that they must love their neighbor as themselves, He explained how they are to love God first: “‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30).
You cannot keep both Christmas and God’s law (consider James 4:4 and Luke 16:13), as the former breaks the latter. Breaking God’s law is sin (1 John 3:4)—even just “kind of” breaking it a little (James 2:10) to spare someone’s feelings.
Observe God’s Holy Days
Did you know that God has set aside special festivals and Holy Days of His own, to teach us about His plan for you and me and all people?
When you keep God’s festivals instead of man’s holidays like Christmas and Easter, you can make these days special times for you and those of your family who share your beliefs. God wants you to understand His plan for you and all humanity, why you exist, and what the purpose of life is, and He teaches us about these things every year through His annual festivals and every week through His Sabbath.
One of the strongest appeals of Christmas is found in your senses—glowing decorations, special foods, smells of pine and cinnamon, sounds and music. Incorporate all of your senses into how you keep the Sabbath and God’s festivals to help make them a delight to you and your like-minded family. God’s weekly and annual Sabbaths are special times set aside by God for you. Consider preparing for them as you might an honored guest, and enjoy them as the blessing God intends.
Love your family
Christmas is all about family, right? But family is not all about Christmas. There is so much more to family than any one holiday, and you have many opportunities to show those of your family that you love them.
But you may not find acceptance with some family and friends on this issue no matter what you do. Realize that Jesus said that His truth would often lead not to peace but to division even in families—and that He must come first in our lives no matter what (Matthew 10:34-39).
So accept that some people will be offended or disapproving. You should honor the role they have in your life by being sensitive to them and doing what you can to minimize their perceived offense (Romans 12:18), but there may come a point where you can genuinely do no more. You are not responsible for how they choose to feel and respond after that. Keep in mind that they won’t understand until God helps them to understand in the time that is best for them (consider 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 and Luke 24:45).
Until then, you will have to be patient and gentle, and sometimes even a little thick-skinned. You should try to not take it personally and be forgiving, as they are misguided for now (consider Jesus’ example in Luke 23:34), but expect that it’s still going to sting.
A friend shared some treasured advice that helps when my feelings are hurt by my family’s disapproval. She encouraged me to remember that, when they do eventually understand, my parents will be proud of me for standing strong and true, even in the face of their own disapproval. In the meantime, my job is to continue standing strong and true and to honor them, so that I can keep a clear conscience before my God and my family (consider 1 Peter 3:16).
People may still feel offended, but it can be eased somewhat by agreeing on expectations outside of the heat of the moment. Do what you can to help avoid situations that could cause bitterness (see Hebrews 12:14-15). For example, don’t surprise them with your news in the middle of the family Christmas dinner!
As early as possible and at a reasonable opportunity, have a respectful conversation with the people who share Christmas traditions with you. Very simply—this is not the time for all your reasons and details—share with them that you are choosing not to celebrate Christmas but that spending time with them is important to you, and work out how to accomplish both goals.
If you can have these conversations before you receive invitations to holiday parties and before the family gatherings are planned, it can help to separate your decision not to keep Christmas and your response to their event.
It’s your job to love them, not convince them
It is not your job to convince them to give up Christmas. (Don’t try it. It doesn’t end well.) You are not likely to change their minds with an abundance of passionate words. But you do have a very serious responsibility to be able to give an answer, which is why you need to know why you’re doing this and have proven it to yourself ahead of time.
You may be the only one another person meets who doesn’t observe Christmas. That person may well ask you why, and yours might be the only explanation he or she ever hears about why someone wouldn’t celebrate it.
Understand and respect that others feel as strongly about observing Christmas as you now do about not observing it. Don’t look down on them for not understanding what you previously didn’t understand either. Instead, be intentional about maintaining connections with family and friends for whom Christmas is important.
They may feel personally rejected, and explaining to them that you’re rejecting Christmas, not them, probably isn’t going to convince them—especially as your choice to not celebrate Christmas will likely be taken as judgment on their observance. When it comes to continuing love and respect, your actions will speak louder than your words. In John 13:35, Jesus reminds us that the mark of being His disciple is that we love each other. Love is shown by your actions.
Consider taking 1 Peter 3:8-9 as a personal mission statement when interacting with your family and friends: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”
Find common ground
How can you and your family and friends make this work, especially if you share a home with people who want to celebrate Christmas?
Start out by acknowledging that you don’t have the same beliefs about Christmas but that you all have the same desire for every person to feel comfortable in their own home. Communicate about expectations and set mutually agreed-on boundaries well ahead of time so that everyone feels heard and considered.
Accept that you are likely to misstep at some point—this is new for you as much as it is for them. Ask for forgiveness when you have caused undue offense. And finally, be patient (James 1:19-20) and forgiving (Matthew 6:14-15)—this is new for them as much as it is for you. As Paul encouraged in Ephesians 4:2, “[bear] with one another in love . . .”
Seek counsel from others who have gone through situations similar to yours (consider Proverbs 19:20). They will likely be willing to share what did and didn’t work well for them.
Your relationships with family members and friends involve far more than Christmas celebrations. Instead of focusing on the few events related to Christmas, actively focus on all the other days of the year. Go overboard for other events that you can share—Thanksgiving, Independence Day, anniversaries, reunions and other special occasions—or create new traditions with your family and friends.
Support activities that are important to your friends and family, such as encouraging them in their work or attending their children’s sporting events. Be intentional about contacting and visiting with your family and friends more often, investing in your relationships throughout the year.
I’d like to share one final piece of advice from another traveler on this path: Stay convicted, and be kind. You have the awesome responsibility and privilege of representing God’s way of life to your friends and family, and you will be known by what your life produces (Matthew 7:20). As you prepare yourself, honor God, and love your family, don’t lose heart. “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).
God’s plans for family—your family—far exceed what Christmas could ever hope to represent. I encourage you to study God’s festivals, to know the awe-inspiring good that God wants for you and your family. By kicking the Christmas habit, you are taking a step of faith toward trusting God and His plan for your life.
Advice From Those Who Have Kicked the Habit
Here are suggestions from others who have walked this path before you. They offer them with love and understanding and the hope that you and your family may benefit from their experiences.
• If you live with people who celebrate Christmas—a spouse, parents, children, roommates—you may be able to negotiate that some areas be free of decorations and that Christmas movies and music be limited to certain times.
• If you share a bank account with a spouse who celebrates Christmas, agree on an amount he or she can spend on presents for family and friends.
• If someone gives you or your children a gift, do not hand or send it back. Just say thank you, simply and with gratitude instead of grimaces, and explain your preferences at a later time.
• Focus on the beliefs that you have in common, such as Jesus’ example and the need for a Savior.
• If someone pits part of the family against the other part (for example, saying, “We have to do this because of so-and-so,”) deal with it quickly, privately and respectfully (consider Proverbs 15:18).
• Accept that the Christmas season will be tense, at least for a while. As much as you can, keep the peace (Romans 12:18).
• Remember that God has a plan for your family and friends, too, in the time that is best for them (consider 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4).