Hello friends. The purpose of this article is to explain why I, and my family, have chosen not to continue to celebrate Christmas any longer. But before getting into all that, I want to openly state that this article is not about pointing fingers, making accusations, or doing anything to give the reader the impression that “you’re doing something wrong in celebrating Christmas.” Rather, I am simply providing a brief study, some research, and some evidence to support why I personally, as one who believes in Yeshua and keeps God’s commandments, have chosen not to continue observing Christmas.
The Origins of Christmas
In the course of my studies, I have come to realize that Christmas, as it exists today, is not a Biblically-based celebration, but is actually a conglomeration of observances that have been pieced together from various pagan religions. For example, the timing of December 25, just days after the Winter solstice, is to coincide with the symbolic “rebirth” of the Roman sun god. The tradition of the yule log is related to the worship of the Scandinavian god Thor, and was said to be a magical portend of sorts that would bring protection and fortune for the year to come. The traditional Santa Claus is based upon the Scandinavian god Odin. The Christmas Tree has its direct roots in the Asherah poles of the ancient Canaanite religions. Unfortunately, the list goes on. In short, the point I am getting at is that once we peel away the nostalgic, largely secularized cultural celebrations, it can be safely stated that virtually everything surrounding Christmas is derived from pagan sources.
Beyond the merriment and gift giving, perhaps the most universally recognized symbol of Christmas is the Christmas tree. Now as I have noted before, there is no mention of Christmas itself in the Scriptures. However, the Christmas tree itself is mentioned numerous times, though under a different name. Here are a handful of references discussing the Asherah pole, which is the origin of our modern Christmas tree.
First, in Judges 6:25-26, God commands Gideon to “throw down the altar of Baal… and cut down the Asherah that is by it; and build an altar to YHWH your God… and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.” Many scholars theorize that the wood of the Asherah (a female deity) referred to here is a tree, or a pole of some sort, which would have become idolized in worship of the goddess herself. While I am not suggesting that families today “worship” the Christmas tree, no one can deny the seemingly “magical” pull that Christmas trees have over us. We give them a place of prominence in the best room of the house, and we literally bow before them to place gifts underneath their branches, and to receive those gifts.
Second, God commands His people in Jeremiah 10:1-4, “Hear the word which YHWH speaks to you, house of Israel! Thus says YHWH, ‘Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be dismayed at the signs of the sky; for the nations are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are vanity; for one cuts a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, so that it does not move.” This passage seems to describe exactly, even in modern times, the practice of the Christmas tree; it is cut down from the forest or farm, it is fastened in place so that it does not topple over, and it is decorated with silver and gold in the form of balls and tinsel.
Is the Christmas tree a type of idol? I believe it is. I realize this is a bold claim, and if you disagree with me, that’s fine– that’s your prerogative. But here’s my challenge to those who claim the Christmas tree is not an idol: try, just for one year, not bringing one into your home in the month of December. Try celebrating Christmas without a tree, and not going through major nostalgic withdrawals. I might be going out on a limb here, but I believe that if you honestly play through this scenario in your mind, you will come to the same conclusion: if an idol is something we put before God and His commandments– something that we give our love and devotion to, and can’t live without– then yes, the Christmas tree is an idol. The beauty of this is that God says in Hosea 14:8 that a time will come when God’s people will say, “What have I to do any more with idols?’ As for Me, I respond, and look on him, ‘I am like a leafy cypress tree; from Me is your fruit found.’” In other words, His people will say, “We don’t need idols.” and God responds, “You don’t need a Christmas tree. You need Me. I am better to you than any tree; in Me can your fruit be found.”
About the Birth of the Messiah
“But what the birth of the Messiah?” I asked. In my growing up years, I had always assumed that Christmas celebrations were a Biblical observance, to celebrate the birth of the Messiah; so certainly mention of the holiday must be in the Bible, somewhere. While it is true that the birth of the Messiah is recorded in Luke 1-3, a careful study of these chapters will reveal that Yeshua was actually born during the fall feast of Sukkot, or Tabernacles, some two-to-three months prior to December. It takes a few calculations to figure out, so I will provide a very simple explanation as follows.
(I am indebted to the work of my friend James Trimm for the following teaching, who has done a very thorough study on this topic, which is available at his social networking site, Nazarene Space.)
Yeshua’s cousin, John the Baptist, was born to a father (Zechariah) who was “of the priestly division of Abijah.” (Luke 1:5) It is significant that Luke points this out, because under the leadership of King David, the priesthood was separated into twenty-four divisions, (1 Chronicles 24:1-19) which would serve in the temple in a rotating cycle. The priestly division of Abijah was “the eighth” division, (1 Chronicles 24:10) which, knowing by the divisions of the priestly calendar, would have been about ten weeks into the religious year. We know this is when the angel of God appeared to Zechariah, because the Scriptures note that he was, at that time, “standing on the right side of the altar of incense” (Luke 1:11) when this visitation transpired. The passage goes on to state that “after these days Elizabeth, his wife, conceived.” (Luke 1:24) Giving a reasonable span of time for this conception to have taken place, this would put the timing of the conception of John the Baptist either late into the third month, or early into the fourth month, of the Hebrew calendar. John the Baptist would have been born forty weeks later, coinciding with the timing of the Biblical feast of Passover. (This is, according to many Jewish traditions, when Elijah is said to return to the world, to herald the coming of the Messiah.)
Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, was then visited by the same angel Gabriel who had already visited Zechariah in the temple. When the angel visited Mary, Elizabeth had already been pregnant for six months, as is evident by the proclamation of the angel to Mary, that “Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” (Luke 1:36) If, as has been established, the birth of John the Baptist coincided with the Biblical feast of Passover, then the birth of Yeshua, coming six months later, would have coincided with the Biblical feast of Tabernacles.
This brings the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore YHWH Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name ‘Immanuel.’” This name, “Immanuel,” translated literally, means “God with us,” and figuratively, “God (lived) with us,” or even prophetically, “God (tabernacled) with us.” As it is written in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh, and lived among us.” In other words, He pitched His tent right next to ours, and lived among us as one of us.
Tabernacles is an eight-day festival, places Yeshua’s circumcision, eight days after His birth, on the last day of Sukkot. This very special day, called in Hebrew “Simchat Torah,” or “Rejoicing with the Torah,” is a day on which Torah scrolls in synagogues all throughout the land were being publicly displayed, carried around, and danced with, for all to see, in a big public display of love for God’s Word. During the exact timing of the people rejoicing over the written Torah, Yeshua- the Living Torah- was being publicly displayed, and rejoiced over, in preparation of entering the Abrahamic covenant.
(To make matters even more fascinating, counting back the clock, this would place the conception of Yeshua, the “light of the world,” (John 8:12) to coincide with Hanukkah, the festival of lights.)
Can a Pagan Day be Sanctified?
Beyond its pagan origins, and beyond its lack of Scriptural basis, I continued to celebrate Christmas for years, even after I had the conviction not to do so. Even when I did not make a big deal about Christmas celebration within my own home, I still made a point to see friends and family over the holidays, even though we were all aware this was being done “in the spirit of Christmas.” I assumed that because people were worshiping God with the “right intent,” even if they were aware of the pagan origins of Christmas, that any pagan holiday could be “Christianized,” and made pleasing to God.
However, an important lesson can be learned from an account in the Scriptures of two men who tried to please God by worshiping Him in ways He did not say to worship Him. Leviticus 10:1-2 records, “Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, and put fire in it, and laid incense on it, and offered ‘strange fire’ before YHWH, which He had not commanded them. And fire came forth from before YHWH, and devoured them, and they died before YHWH.”
God, in giving us the Scriptures, has given a precise definition of exactly who He is, and an extensive manual of what He likes and how He desires to be worshiped, and Christmas simply does not fall within the parameters of how He desires to be worshiped. His desire is not for us to observe customs that pagans have done for years, add a Christian (or even a Messianic) perspective to them, and declare them as sanctified. We cannot simply place a “Jesus sticker” on a custom that God said not to do, and assume that now God is somehow pleased with its observance.
God’s call to believers is to be found in Revelation 18:4-5, “Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” Part of our call to “come out of her” is to cease our celebration of pagan times, seasons, and festivals; and yet this can be very difficult to do. Our desire to continue keeping Christmas is comparable to the desire of the Jewish people to return to Babylon after God had decreed their departure; however, God addresses this in Jeremiah 51:8-9, “Babylon has suddenly fallen and been destroyed. Wail for her! Take balm for her pain; perhaps she may be healed. We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed. Forsake her, and let us go everyone to his own country; for her judgment reaches to heaven and is lifted up to the skies.”
Rather than continuing to keep pagan celebrations, we must remain doing exactly what Yeshua instructed us to do: we must be a light to the nations, to draw them out of the pagan nations, and into the Commonwealth of Israel. We must be bearers of the Torah. We must make disciples of all nations. Ultimately, to do this, we must be set apart– and we can’t be a “light to the nations” by continuing to keep pagan celebrations.
In my effort to strip away my preconceived notions and emotional attachments, and examine the celebration of Christmas more objectively, I simply found that the Christmas is something that could no longer play part in my life as a believer. My goal in life is to walk a path in pursuit of God’s holiness, and I simply cannot continue to do that when I am also walking a path that is laced with so many of the ways of the pagans.
In the words of the Apostle Paul, “…for what fellowship does righteousness have with iniquity? What fellowship does light have with darkness? What agreement does the Messiah have with Belial? What portion does a believer have with an unbeliever? What agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For (we) are a temple of the living God. Even as God said, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ (Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 32:38, and Ezekiel 37:27) ‘Come out from among them, and be separate.’ says YHWH. ‘Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’ (Isaiah 52:11) ‘I will be to you a Father, and you will be to Me sons and daughters.’ says the YHWH Almighty.’ (Isaiah 43:6, Hosea 1:10, and 2:23) Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)
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