Christmas is an amazing and beautiful holiday. It is also Pagan and unbiblical.
I grew up celebrating Christmas in Sweden. As Christians my parents tried to keep anything Pagan or Catholic at an arm’s length. We never believed in Santa. A bunch of traditional Swedish Christmas traditions, such as the Yule Goat or St. Lucia on December 13th were more or less banned. We had a tree, and we watched the American Donald Duck Christmas special on TV like all good Swedes have done since ancient times (the 1960s). We ate most of the traditional Christmas food, except those that my parents didn’t like.
I knew, of course, that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. In Sweden it’s even more obvious than in the US. The Pagan origins are clearer, and the emphasis of the new religion of Christmas – Consumerism – is strong.
Because that’s the thing with Christmas. It has stayed with the same people for thousands of years, no matter the religion. It has gone from Paganism to Christianity to Consumerism.
But I am Jewish and I live in Israel. I have no reason to celebrate a foreign holiday. Sure, at some point in history, it was incorrectly associated with the birth of Israel’s Messiah, but that has nothing to do with my life now.
When I got married, my wife and I agreed to skip Christmas. We treated Christmas as a stolen car. We broke it up into pieces and used the spare parts. Anything Pagan went into the trash. We moved customs that had to do with the winter to Hanukkah. We moved anything that had to do with the birth of Jesus to Sukkot (I wrote about that in my article on Sukkot).
For several years I was very anti-Christmas. I refused to greet anyone with “Merry Christmas” and I would quote Jeremiah 10 on the Christmas tree to anyone who listened. I would brand it as Paganism and stay as far away as possible.
Looking back at it, I realize that I was a Christmas junkie. I had loved the Christmas feel and the atmosphere it brings so much, so once I gave it up for theological reasons, I had to stand as far away as possible. Just as an alcoholic can’t touch a bottle, I stayed far from all that had to do with Christmas.
Years later I have reached a point where I can now admire it from a distance. My kids have no emotional bonds as I do, and they haven’t grown up in a society that celebrates Christmas. I can admire the festive feel of it, and if I ever visit a foreign country at Christmas time, I would not mind celebrating it, if the focus is on Jesus’ birth. I can wish my friends who celebrate it a “Merry Christmas” and I can explain why I don’t celebrate it myself.
Christmas started as a bunch of different Pagan holidays (Yule, Saturnalia, Sol Invictus, etc). It continued as a Christian holiday, and is now morphing into a Consumerist holiday. It is focusing more on this fictional Santa Claus character who is a Pagan-Christian combination of Odin, house-elves and St. Nicholas. Not even the reformation and the Baptists’ and Puritans’ attempts to abolish the holiday worked. The Pagan folklore and holidays was too deep within the people. The survival of Christmas is a sign of how secularism and Pagan folklore has defeated the Baptist and Puritan Christianity.
And that’s fine. You can’t suppress holidays that people like. I admire the gentiles for insisting to keep this holiday, no matter the religion. It just goes from religion to religion. It changes and morphs, but stays around no matter what.
As Jews, we should be even more diligent in keeping our holidays. If the gentiles can keep their unbiblical holiday, skipping from religion to religion, how much more shouldn’t we keep our biblical holidays? Most of our holidays were given to us by God himself. Others, such as Purim, Hanukkah, and Israel’s Independence Day celebrate miracles God has done for our people.
I admire Christmas from a distance, but I’m not celebrating it. I will enjoy an occasional Christmas-atmosphere song about Jesus birth around this time of the year, and I will wish Merry Christmas to my friends who observe it. Since we have moved the wintery customs to Hanukkah, I might enjoy some Swedish hot mulled wine with raisins and almonds, and eat gingerbread cookies. I will not feel guilty for enjoying that.
If you have friends who believe that Christmas-celebrators go to hell, try not to judge them. They might be on the same journey I was. Maybe they just need to take a few years space from it to enjoy it later from a distance. If they live in a country where Christmas is “pushed down your throat” during all of December they might never reach a point of being able to appreciate it from afar, as I do. Smile and wish them a Happy Hanukkah and let it go. Celebrating Hanukkah and ignoring Christmas is, after all, what Jesus did every December throughout his life.
Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate. Focus on Jesus this holiday and try to pretend that he is the reason for the season.
This blog originally appeared on Tuvia Pollack’s blog and reposted with permission.