Our Christmas Journey

I wrote this post last year, before setting up my blog, but a friend who originally read it on facebook recently requested I dig it up and repost. As it is appropriate for this time of year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share it here, as well. I enjoyed reviewing it myself, and hope you find it thought-provoking!

Once upon a time, our family went “all-out” for Christmas. We shopped for presents for months; we baked goodies and passed them out to friends and neighbors; we all donned our Santa hats (even the baby) to shop for our Christmas tree, and decked it with colorful lights and festive ornaments. We wrote letters to Santa, and left them on the table with cookies and eggnog. We even thoughtfully left a carrot outside for Rudolph. My husband and I stayed up long into the night on Christmas Eve, wrapping presents and drinking eggnog while we watched the “Scrooge” movie. He had the job of assembling the big Santa presents for the kids, and I made big bows for all the packages. Christmas morning, we were awakened by excited children and would all trot downstairs together to open stockings and to see what else Santa had left. After our traditional breakfast of Baked French Toast, we would gather around the tree to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 in the Bible and would reflect momentarily on how Jesus was the “reason for the season,” and tell our children that it was His birthday we were celebrating. Then we would pass out the presents. Each child had a heap near their spot – carefully counted so that we would each have the same number of things to open, which is important when you open the gifts one at a time, and take turns around the room, as we always did. Later in the day, we would go to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for a glorious feast and more presents would be exchanged. I’m sure you know. You’ve probably done similar things yourself all your life.

But in our house one year, things started to change. It started when we watched our children opening the gifts we had so thoughtfully chosen to delight them. Instead of the typical movie-child reactions of surprise and gratitude we were expecting, we saw the ugliness of greed on their faces as each of them would finish opening one gift, immediately set it aside, and turn to the remainder of their mountainous pile, asking “What’s next for ME?” Amid the wrapping-paper carnage, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Something’s wrong, here.” We started to wonder what kinds of seeds we were planting.

And then there were the questions. Questions about Santa – “How can he fit down the chimney?” “How can the reindeer fly?” “How can he get to every house around the world in one night?” You know the questions. You asked them yourself, as a child. We dutifully passed on the same answer our parents had given us: “It’s Christmas magic!”

But there, we had a problem. You see, our family believes in the Bible. We believe every word is literally true. Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt. 5:18) And we read aloud from the Bible with some regularity. When we came to Deuteronomy 18, we found our problem:

“When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.

Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.” (Deut. 18:9-14)

So, since we’re trying to do things as scripturally as possible, and are teaching our children the way to live to please the Lord, we asked ourselves, “Why are we lying to them about a non-existent ‘magic man’?” Oh, and why are we telling them Santa “sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”? Hmm. Doesn’t that make Santa omnipotent? Like God? And the children are supposed to behave in a way that pleases Santa, so he will give them good things – after we let him enter our house un-resisted in the middle of the night. And if we set out our little “sacrifice” of cookies and eggnog he’ll be pleased, and give them what they want (not to mention that he gets the credit for the thoughtful gifts that WE paid for!). Is it just us, or does that sound a bit like idolatry? I hope you see our problem – lying, magic, AND a false god. It really bugged us.

So, Santa got the ax. We managed to disabuse our children of the Santa notion in the car one night, as we drove across a bridge – literally and symbolically. We confessed and apologized to our children for lying. They were rather stunned, of course – more because their parents had lied than anything else. Mostly, though, our parents, who think of Santa as a harmless game, were upset that the kids weren’t “believers” any more. Later, we realized we had just made ourselves the “bad guys” in every Christmas movie on the planet. But if we want them to believe us when we tell them about God and what He has done for us, what else could we do?

So we asked ourselves, “what about the other Christmas traditions?” and looked into them, too. Sure enough, all pagan. I won’t go into them here. If you’re interested, there’s an abundance of information at your fingertips. Just google “origin” and any Christmas tradition you’d care to name – they’re all on the list – yule log, mistletoe, evergreen boughs, and tree included.

And then we noticed a passage in Jeremiah:

Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:

Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth 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, that it move not. (Jeremiah 10: 1-4)

No Christmas Trees!

And my husband pointed out that every time we went to retrieve a gift from under that tree, we had to bow or kneel before it. What happened to “learn not the way of the heathen”?

Apparently, what happened was that back in history, the Catholic church, in their zeal to make converts, adopted a whole bunch of practices from the people they were “converting” to make it easier for those people to become Christians. The new converts would be able to continue celebrating as they always had, but their God now had a new name – Jesus.

But why were those things still hanging on? Wouldn’t the converts have gradually given up their pagan ways as they realized Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life? And it WAS still His birthday, wasn’t it?

Well, no. Let’s change the subject and talk about Halloween for a moment. Many Christians have realized, over the last 20 years or so, that Halloween is basically a celebration of evil and the occult, and have pulled back from their observance of it. But so that their kids could still dress up in cute costumes and enjoy candy like their neighbors, Christian parents have begun offering Halloween alternatives such as church harvest parties, also held on Halloween night, so they can still have the fun without the scary, bad parts.

Christmas started out sort of the same way. There are actually several pagan festivals that took place on the date that we know as December 25. Among the gods associated with that day are the Roman Saturn, Babylonian Tammuz, and Persian Mithras. It was known as the “birthday of the unconquered sun,” and was an occasion for revelry and debauchery. We noticed in scripture that the word “Christmas” doesn’t appear anywhere, nor does the Bible instruct us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. We learned how early believers showed no concern for celebrating the birth of the Messiah until around the 3rd century, when there were several possible dates being considered – scattered throughout the year. When it came down to it, in the 4th century, Rome decided to celebrate Jesus’ birthday on the same day as these other pagan festivals.

So it’s as if, hundreds of years from now, Christians believed that “Harvest” was a Christian holiday, and imbued it with meanings it didn’t originally have, because it was originally just a substitute holiday for Halloween. We even found out that Christmas-keeping was actually illegal in the American Colonies until the 1850s! That’s why the whole movement to “keep the ‘Christ’ in Christmas” is such a head-scratcher to those who know the background.

In the Bible, we learn that God is really big on making distinctions. He separates things with regularity – light from darkness, clean from unclean, Israel from the nations. He sets things apart to be called “holy” – people (the tribe of Levi), things (the instruments of the tabernacle), places (Mt. Zion), and times (His holy days). He tells His people to “Be holy, as I am holy.” He tells us to come out from among the peoples of the earth and “be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17).

The other day, we passed by a house that had a huge jumble of blow-up characters on the lawn, including a nativity scene surrounded by Santa, Frosty, Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore. Are we really reducing the Messiah of the world to the status of a fictional character and making him compete for the children’s attention to that extent? As my daughter asked, “Mom, can we just call the holiday ‘Chrismush’?”

Though we were uncomfortable with all of this, we still weren’t ready to totally walk away from our childhood traditions, so we decided to pack up the Christmas decorations and leave them in the attic for one year, just to see how we did, and if our conviction on these things would lighten. We would still go out to Grandpa and Grandma’s house for dinner, just for the fun of joining in on the traditional get-together. We thought we might be able to just do it as a family tradition, without religious connotations.

What we found was that there was way too much awkwardness in trying to do things halfway. We would tell people we would come to the celebration, but not to get us any gifts. So, there we would be sitting, as we watched others open their gifts to each other, our kids eating their hearts out as the colorful packages beckoned from beneath the tree. Oh, and the family hadn’t been able to resist getting us “a little something,” since they were doing presents anyway. But we had no gifts for any of them, which made us look cheap and uncaring, and they felt funny doing things in front of us that they knew we had consciously chosen to avoid. We realized with sinking hearts that this was not working out. What were we supposed to do? Just do the Christmas shopping anyway, so we would have something to give our hosts? And then, if we’re doing that, why weren’t we giving anything to our children? That would put us right back in the whole frenzy. Sorry, but Christmas IS largely about the gifts.

We know from the Bible that God wants us to use discernment, and judge things by the fruits they bear.

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matt. 7: 17-20)

When we stepped back a bit and observed, the things we saw as the fruits of Christmas in our family were Greed, Materialism, Perfectionism, and Drivenness – and a whole lot of Nostalgia – none of which are among the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

Something else we noticed was that when we pulled back from Christmas, the other holidays got a LOT more attention. We had been participating in celebrating the holy days laid out by God in Leviticus 23 for many years at that point, but hadn’t noticed that we weren’t giving them the attention they deserved as something the Father had actually put in scripture as part of His everlasting covenant.

Because we observe these holidays and steer clear of Christmas, some friends and family have thought we have turned away from our Messiah, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew), and are trying to be Jewish. Nothing could be further from the truth! We strive to follow his example in all areas of our lives, which includes celebrating the holidays that were His family traditions, growing up – Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Did you know that Jesus even celebrated Hanukkah? (“And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.” – John 10:22) Christmas isn’t on the list. But we found that if Christmas is still on OUR possibility list, it will always be the King of Holidays, because that’s the way we were raised, and because it takes so much preparation time and attention to do it “right.” When Christmas went away, we did sooo much better at planning and preparing for these festivals, it was amazing!

So, we liked many things about the choice to abandon Christmas – less stress, more focus on the Lord and lessons from Him. It felt like cutting out a lot of clutter from the attic. We just breathed easier, and watched the frenzy around us with peace in our hearts, though the feeling that family was hurt by our absence, and was celebrating without us was (and is) difficult.

The final scripture we read that made us cross the point of no return was the one about Nadab and Abihu, in Leviticus 10. They were priests in the Tabernacle who offered “strange fire,” before the Lord and were struck dead on the spot. What was “strange” about the fire they offered? Only that God had not commanded it. They were offering it to Him, but it was their own idea, and not coming from obedience. As Keith Green put it, “To Obey is Better than Sacrifice.” Christmas, to us, has come to be seen as strange fire. We are uncomfortable offering something different than what He has asked us for. It would be like sending your son to bring you a screwdriver, and having him decide to bring you a cup of coffee instead. A cup of coffee is nice, but it doesn’t do the job you need done. God has tools he has laid out for us to use, and unless we use the right ones, we aren’t getting the full benefit of what He wants to teach us as we practice using them.

We found that a celebration of Jesus’ birth fits much better with a holiday he would have observed – the Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkot. It is an eight-day celebration where we build a temporary dwelling and celebrate the theme of God dwelling with us, as well as appreciating the temporary nature of this life. So when many people are starting their Christmas shopping, you can find us sitting outside in our beautifully decorated sukkah, eating special treats, enjoying fellowship with family and friends (yes, there are others who share our convictions!), and learning the lessons God has for us that are inherent in the things He has actually commanded us to do. We are amazed at what we learn through simple obedience!

His holy days are so rich and stunning and amazing that contrasting them with Christmas reminds me of the time there was a lightning storm on the Fourth of July one year. We were watching the fireworks until the lightning started up. The lightning was sooo much bigger and more amazing than anything man could have designed. The fireworks looked utterly puny and silly next to the flashes that lit up the entire sky!

So, this Christmas Eve, we’ll have a cozy fire, flickering candlelight, the scent of spices and fresh baking in the air, and music, games and great conversation around a richly decked table, but it will be in celebration of Erev Shabbat, a Holy Day Jesus would have observed on a weekly basis.

2011 update: For the record, Erev Shabbat does NOT coincide with Christmas Eve this year, but the 8 days of Hanukkah (another feast Jesus DID celebrate – See John 10:22) will overlap. We are taking advantage of the long weekend this year, and planning a getaway with friends, as we all celebrate Hanukkah together. Chag Sameach!

New for 2013: See https://fruitfulvinewife.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/christmas-journey-update/ !

 

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