For many Christian denominations, Christmas is the highest holiday of the year. What is the biblical basis for commemorating/celebrating the birth of Jesus, regardless of the particular day of the year on which it is celebrated?
John's Gospel Chapter 1 tells us that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (v1) and that this Word became flesh and dwelt among us (v14). So Christians beleve the Birth of Christ entailed the Incarnation (becoming flesh) of God Himself as a human person. This, if true, was one of the most important things ever to happen.
Psalm 145 v4 says "one generation shall praise thy works unto another, and shall declare thy mighty acts".
Many Christians feel that the Birth of Christ, the Incarnation, is a mighty act which should be declared to future generations.
There are many ways this could be done, some Biblically-based, some not. In the Book of Exodus God instituted the Jewish festival of Passover. Chapter 12, verses 26 and 27 may explain why: "It shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you What do you mean by this service? That you shall say it is the sacrifice of the Lord's passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt." God instituted the Passover festival so that future generations should learn what had happened.
In the book of Esther the Jews were delivered from an impending calamity. To commemorate this the annual Jewish festival of Purim was established.Chapter 9 verse 27 tells us the Jews "took it on themselves" to establish that they and their descendants should celebrate this annually for ever. God did not institute Purim, as He instituted Passover, Rather the Jews took it on themselves to do so.
The Bible does not command the celebration of Christmas, any more than Purim, but the Church took it on itself to do so.A Biblical basis is that the event it commemorates is important enough to be passed down to future generations, that God set the example with Passover of using an annual festival to pass things down, and that the Jews had also later taken it on themselves to establish an annual festival without God's direct command, as a way to perpetuate knowledge of something they felt important. This is the Biblical way, so this is what the Church did.
If looking for a Biblical basis for the date of Christmas, it is important to bear in mind there may not be one. Elizabeth, John the Baptists mother, was already 6 months pregnant when Gabriel announced to Mary that she too would bear a Child (Luke 1 v26). This puts the Birth of Christ around 15 months after the conception of John. Gabriel announced that Elizabeth would conceive when he appeared to John's father, Zachariah, when he was burning incense in the temple (Luke 1, vv10 11) . There was a tradition that this happened on the day of Yom Kippur, (late Sptember/early October). We are also told that Zachariah was of the course of Abijah (Luke 1 v5) - this indicates his place on the priestly roster and thus the weeks in the year when he would have been on duty. Attempts have beeen made to determine when this was, but there is no consensus.
Let's start with what Scripture says about days:
Who are you to judge the servant of another? . . . 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, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not east, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's (Romans 14:4a-8 NASB, italics appear in the text).
Paul does not say in the above passage what days he is referring to. I agree, however, with what Constable says in this regard:
In view of what Paul wrote about the weak they appear to have been mainly Jewish Christians who refrained from certain foods and observed certain days because they remained loyal to the Mosaic Law. Peter at one time struggled with the extent of his liberty and moved from being weak to being strong in faith (Acts 10). However in the process of his growth he had a relapse (Gal. 2:11-12). The weak in faith have an overly sensitive conscience about doing things that are permissible for a Christian. A sensitive conscience is a good thing, but it can sometimes lead a person to restrict his or her freedom unnecessarily. Paul urged the stronger Christian, who appreciated the extent of his freedom, to accept his weaker brother as an equal. Nevertheless he was not to accept him and then condemn him mentally, much less publicly, for his scruples.
Allow me to insert a personal anecdote. I have a good friend who for many years refused to celebrate Christmas. He is a great brother in the Lord, but he had this hang-up about Christmas. The very sight of a Christmas tree in church would upset him, and he would refuse to attend church until the Christmas season was over.
When Christmas rolled around each year, he would deliberately occupy himself in something totally unrelated to December 25. Being a handyman he would fix a leaky faucet, install a new wax ring under the commode, or paint a room, but he would not participate in the holiday in any way, shape, or form. When his children were little, he would not allow them to celebrate Christmas either. No toys, no tree, no Christmas carols, no Christmas dinner. Christmas he judged to be a day like any other day (see Romans 14:5).
Many years have passed since then, and while my friend's attitude toward the celebration of Christmas by Christians has softened a bit, he still thinks his perspective on Christmas is sanctioned by his Lord and is commendable. And you know what? He's right! I must quickly add, however, that my perspective on Christmas, which allows me to celebrate the day as a "high holy day" (or holiday) is also sanctioned by my Lord and is commendable.
Why? Because that is my "own conviction before God" (Romans 14:22a), and
Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin (ibid., vv.22b-23 NASB, italics in the text).
I suspect that my friend is not alone in his objection to his fellow Christians' participation in the celebration of Christ's birth. Other Christians will cite Christmas's relationship to the pagan celebrations of bygone eras, and for them, being non-comformists regarding Christmas is their way of taking a stand for the Lord. In fact the Puritans, I am told, banned the celebration of Christmas completely (see the online article here).
In conclusion, whether or not to celebrate a holiday will probably always generate controversy within Christendom. Controversy, however, is not a bad thing, as long as Christian brothers and sisters give each other the "space" to do what they believe their Lord would have them do, refusing to pass judgment on each other.
The biblical basis is that the angel told the shepherds to celebrate the first Christmas, and the angels themselves were celebrating it:
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:10-20. NASB)
Which, importantly, shows the Christian way of celebrating Christmas: seeking Jesus, contemplating Him, acknowledging Him as your Teacher, Savior, Lord and God ("An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand." Isaiah 1:3), opening your mind and heart to Him to let his word enlighten and transform you, receiving Him in Holy Communion (Bethlehem = "House of Bread"), thanking and glorifying God the Father for giving his Son to us, and then telling others "what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life" (1 John 1:1).
No room for "Santa", for gifts, for elaborate meals, for decoration, all of which is a waste of time and energy which distracts us from benefiting from the invaluable Gift that God the Father gave to us: his Consubstantial Son.
Christmas isn't a birthday party. It is a feast day for the incarnation of the logos as mentioned in:
John 1:14 NIV
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
It could be celebrated on any day. The reasons the day in December was chosen is well documented.
Just to reiterate, it is not a celebration of a birth. It is the celebration for the incarnation which happened to be a birth. The celebration of a birth is not biblical. Furthermore, if you're Catholic:
The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, Vol. X, p. 709
“Origen [a writer of the third century C.E.] . . . insists that ‘of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below.’”
I do not think there is a Biblical basis for celebrating Nativity per se, however there is are several Biblical bases for observing the traditions that the Apostles and their successors passed down (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 2:15). The mandate to observe the Feast of the Nativity is found in the Apostolic Constitutions, Book V, Section III.XIII:
Brethren, observe the festival days; and first of all the birthday which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month; after which let the Epiphany be to you the most honoured, in which the Lord made to you a display of His own Godhead, and let it take place on the sixth of the tenth month
(Note that the "first" month in antiquity was what we now call April, not January)