‘Pagan’ Customs and Holidays

Grasping hold of one’s Jewish roots is a wonderful thing. It is a beautiful feeling to learn about the biblical feasts, the Sabbath, and other Jewish practices that our Master embraced and taught. Our love for Yeshua makes these things precious to us. For disciples of Yeshua, finding our Jewish roots is like discovering a beautiful, long-lost treasure.

Among the many things our Master taught us was the command to love each other as he loved us (John 13:34). When we discover something beautiful, it is only natural to want to share it with the people we love. We want them to know what we know. We want them to reconnect with Yeshua in the same powerful way through this knowledge.

This desire is good. It is born from genuine love and concern for others. It is good and right to act on this desire, to lovingly share with others the treasure that we have discovered. In this case, the message is about the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.

When sharing with others, we often have to make difficult decisions. One example that comes to mind this time of year is Christmas. Every year, we get tons of email asking about Christmas. People want to know if it is okay to celebrate this holiday with their families. After all, Christmas isn’t in the Bible.

Even more worrisome, some of the customs associated with Christmas, and even its date on the calendar, appear to have their origin in pagan festivals. The Torah explicitly forbids worshiping God in the same way that other nations worship their (false) gods: “Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way” (Deuteronomy 12:30b-31a).

Knowing this, would it be more honoring to the name of Messiah to abstain from celebrating Christmas, even if it meant isolating oneself from one’s family?

While it is important to remain holy and refrain from desecrating God’s name by imitating the worship of false gods, it is also important to maintain a healthy and positive relationship with one’s family. The Torah states that one should honor (Exodus 20:12) and respect (Leviticus 19:3) his father and mother. Certainly it is disheartening to one’s parents when one abstains from important family gatherings.

James the Just taught that an attitude of peaceful conciliation produces much fruit, as he wrote (James 3:17-18): “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Doesn’t this imply that keeping the peace and being gentle with one’s family is also an important consideration?

If it were really idolatrous to celebrate Christmas, then certainly the prohibition against idolatry would supersede these other concerns. But it’s not. The First Fruits of Zion resource What About Paganism? reveals that, while there are some traditional Christmas customs that find their roots in paganism, these customs are no longer used to worship other gods. The ancient Jewish sages took this fact into consideration when deciding what qualified as idolatry.

Even more important is the issue of intention. Christian families have absolutely no intent to worship idols, nor do most of them have any knowledge of the origins of their holiday traditions. Their desire is to celebrate the life of the Master.

While there are some traditional festive practices that have their origin in pagan customs, meeting together with one’s family isn’t one of them. Celebrating with a meal and exchanging gifts to celebrate the Master’s birth is not engaging in pagan worship. A disciple should feel free to join with his family in a celebration of the Master’s birth without worrying about accidentally participating in a pagan custom or holiday, and without concern about whether or not he was actually born on December 25.

This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion, December 7, and reposted with permission.