Christmas is Coming! Don’t Panic!

This is the awkward time of year for Messianic believers. Many of us have opted out of Christmas, something our families and friends do not understand. It is inconceivable that anyone who professes faith in Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) would not celebrate Christmas. It is inconceivable even though December 25th is most definitely not the day of Yeshua’s birth, and even though the customs observed in churches and homes have their origins in decidedly un-Christian pagan celebrations.

-from “Jesus Without Christmas”
published at The Barking Fox
Reblogged at natsab

And so it begins. The annual expression of angst at the approach of perhaps the world’s most well-known religious and secular holiday: Christmas.

I really didn’t think I was going to write about Christmas this year. Frankly, I’ve got too much else going on right now to really care and I have come to a certain peace about it all and no longer feel I have to contend with Christmas, let alone have a panic attack over it.

Yes, back when I was going to church, I’d avoid attending the Sunday services nearest to Christmas as well as all of the other Christmas programming, but that’s not because I felt I’d be tainted with “pagan influences”. After all, there’s no direct Biblical reference to Chanukah, and yet, along with many or most Jewish households, there’s a small but dedicated group of non-Jewish Christians, Messianic Gentiles, and Hebrew Roots believers who light the menorah (also not commanded in the Bible) for eight evenings in commemoration of the defeat of the Greek oppressors by the Maccabees and the rededication of the Temple, as well as to honor the “light of the world” (John 8:12).

It is true that my house is the only one on my block that is mostly dark every evening, surrounded by the more festive lights of our Christmas observing neighbors. But then again, my wife is Jewish and my feelings on the matter aside, it’s perfectly expected that the only special light visible from within our home for the next week or so (as I write this) should be that of the Chanukah candles on our menorah.

But Christmas is less evil than it is a tradition. It’s a terrifically lucrative tradition for retail outlets as events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday indicate. If I have a major objection to Christmas, it is because the holiday has become a symbol of both personal and corporate greed and gluttony, not because I think putting lights on a natural or artificial pine tree is “pagan.”

Most Christians I know are quite aware that Jesus wasn’t born anywhere near December 25th and accept that the date they celebrate the birth of Christ was established by tradition rather than empirical fact. Nevertheless, if Christians choose to become more Christ-like, more generous, giving to the poor, kinder to their neighbor, at this time of year, who am I to complain?

I mean no disrespect to the sensitivities of the author at “The Barking Fox” or Pete at “natsab,” but I really feel the traditional response of Hebrew Roots Gentiles to the advent of Christmas (pun intended) is overblown. Sure, it took my parents a few years to adjust after my wife and I announced we were no longer celebrating Christmas, but they are now perfectly content to send Chanukah cards to us and the kids. I do have some relatives, my brother for instance, who still send Christmas cards, but no one in my family (as far as I know) complains because we don’t reciprocate.

brace yourselfI’m reminded of Toby Janicki’s blog post of four years ago called The Scoop on What About Paganism, a topic he expanded upon greatly in his lecture series “What About Paganism” (available on Audio CD and in MP3 format). Toby coined the term “paganoia” in his lectures, and I think the term is fitting.

The Jewish people I know don’t really have that much of a problem with Christmas beyond having to explain to certain people that Chanukah is not the “Jewish Christmas”. In fact, in cities with a sufficiently large Jewish population, it’s something of a tradition for Jews to go out to Chinese dinner on Christmas Day. This is based on Buddhism being the primary religious expression for many Chinese immigrants which means they aren’t celebrating on December 25th either. I wish I lived in a city that had enough Jewish and Chinese people to make observing this particular tradition practical. It sounds delicious.

Christmas is a tradition. So is Chanukah. They both have their basis in events that took place around two-thousand years ago in another country. They have both been integrated into the Christian and Jewish faiths respectively. Some small number of “Messianic Gentiles” (however you want to define the term) consider themselves caught in the middle, but we aren’t really. There’s nothing wrong with traditions. They are what we make of them.

I’ll be traveling with my parents on Christmas Day, not because it’s Christmas per se, but just because it worked out that way (long story) and Christmas is a great day to be on the road. Not many people going anywhere on December 25th because most of them are already at their destination.

The uptake on all this? Christmas is coming. Don’t panic.

Oh, and my Chanukah related blog post will publish tomorrow morning.

Addendum: I just found a reposting of last year’s blog article Let’s Not Get Strange About Christmas, Shall We? by Rabbi Stuart Dauermann and thought I should add a link to it here. He does a much better job at explaining the “paganoia” around Christmas.

19 thoughts on “Christmas is Coming! Don’t Panic!”

  1. I love the light hearted approach to this post. I suppose one could say the same about celebrating individual birthdays, Independence Day in the US (or any other country I supposed). It really is tradition. I know some get hung up on on the scriptures in Jeremiah 10. I certainly am not about to speak on God’s behalf and claim that today’s tradition of a Christmas tree is acceptable to Him, however, I can’t help but consider that there are much weightier issues, such as loving one’s neighbor and how we treat the “least of these.”

    Thanks for the quick reality check, James.

    1. Thanks, Terry.

      I just created an addendum at the bottom of this blog post. Rabbi Stuart Dauermann reblogged a missive of his on this topic from last year. He makes a point very similar to yours in that, if we reject Christmas because it is “pagan,” then we have to throw away the modern calendar because the days of the week are named after pagan gods (and believe it or not, I once met a woman who refused to say the days of the week for that exact reason). I put a link to R. Dauermann’s blog post in the body of this blog if you’re interested.

  2. Great article. His writing drips with sarcasm, but he makes such great points. I have to respect a Rabbi that is capable of using the term, “nostril-flaringly adamant” as part of his discussion. I feel like I may have to create a use for that term in a future post and give him credit. I love a good challenge… 🙂

    Happy Hanukkah and safe travels over the holidays.

  3. Being suitably Messianic and a Gentile, I chose a middle way between the holidays in December since they are not moedim, yet I too want to observe some brightness in the darkness of the December days.

    I would have no trouble lighting a Manorah, but the symbolism seemed all wrong for a Gentile…it’s not about my temple. But I like candles, and so I started there. I am not paganoic, although Druidic notions, worship of the Sun god Apollo, and Mithras’ birthday being on December 25th can easily get in the way, while Xmas trees are just too much expense and bother for a singleton alone on a holiday I don’t celebrate. Still, I like a little holiday decoration.

    Oddly, everything I do turned out to be symbolic, sparkling and cheerful, yet simple, and so unattached to traditional decorations.

    I clear off the big desk in my living room, almost like an altar, polished to reflect the light, and place a brass goblet there…empty, for it is not yet Passover, yet speaks to the Son of G-d. I have 5 brass candlesticks, the number of grace, with five tall white wax tapers of righteousness that I light each night at sunset from the beginning of Channukah to the last day of December, to celebrate the Light of Yeshua.

    Scattered amongst the white tapers and their brass holders that encircle the goblet are sprays of light golden leaves, covered in fine gold glitter that looks like gold dust in the candlelight, signifying Yeshua’s kingship, while they are interspersed with green leaves to remind me that Spring is coming, and clumps of red berries are clustered around, reminding me of the shed droplets of blood of the Mashiach, while making a star shaped display that radiates from the cup, almost automatically making a star to represent Israel, or to remind me of the conjunctons of the planets that lit up the sky in and around Bethlehem three times in 7-6 BC, right next to the star named Tsemach.

    I give no presents, and send no cards, and use the money I would otherwise waste for one of the many food drives in Israel at a Messianic Synagogue. I refuse to hear the Xmas Carols until Xmas eve, and then only play a few favoured songs from my childhood, then listen to the Hallelujah Chorus as played by the London Symphony Orchestra while I sip a little chocolate brandy, and smile in the quiet of the night.

    Xmas day brings my yearly viewing of the 1972 ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ miniseries…all six and half hours of it! Then a fine steak for dinner, and a handful of See’s candy for desert (specially ordered, and pre-delivered), and then I finish out the day with a new book for my holiday pleasure.

    So laugh a little and enjoy, as I do, for I have raised my own traditions for the winter season, and simply call it the Festival of Light.

    1. Season’s Greetings, “Q” — You might want to consider a bit more emotional investment in Hanukah, since non-Jews also made use of the Temple, on occasion, to present offerings and to benefit therefrom. The message of Hanukah is dedication to HaShem and His Temple, and the enlightenment that demands religious freedom (even if it’s not always used rightly). Since its mention in John 10:22-23 implies that Rav Yeshua also observed its celebration, his non-Jewish disciples have justification to pay some attention to its observance even if not identically to his Jewish disciples.

  4. James, its late and I can’t sleep, little advice, don’t drink caffeine at night, it keeps you awake.

    *It is not called the Hebrew Roots movement for no reason at all, if it was called the Pagan Roots movement, then Christmas would be fully embraced… 😛

    I read the article, and I don’t see anyone panicked, I just see people having to interact with an uncomfortable truth and how to deal with it in a family setting, not everyone has a respectful situation like you do with your family or like I do as well. That said, I personally am uncomfortable celebrating pagan traditions, despite them being so far separated from their source and thus technically “no longer being pagan.” No one is putting those presents under the tree as gifts to an idol anymore, so we can cross that off the list, in fact, no one knows why they do any of these things, they are just fun traditions, and ignorance is bliss. However for some, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, just like being knowledgeable of certain “Christian history” leaves a bad taste in the mouth… but despite Christmas having pagan roots, that is not my main concern, that is actually a minor. My main concern as a Messianic Gentile, or Hebrew Roots or whatever other name I could be, is that of the humanistic nature of Christmas. The materialism (as you also mentioned), the semi-pagan god, also known as “Santa-Clause” and the merging or crossing of beliefs. Christmas in my household was all about gifts, despite growing up in a Christian home and for many of my Christian friends, it was more about Santa Clause than Jesus, “look what I got from Santa this year”, I would respond with “Santa is not real”, and then I would receive angry counter responses, because they fully had faith in him. So, even if Christmas is not considered for its roots, I don’t think you can simply write it off as a perfectly good holiday for believers to keep, which seems to be your underlying conclusion, or maybe you just have the perfect Christmas in your mind.

    So as for your comparison of Hanukkah, I don’t see the over generalized correlation, no one is claiming to be against all traditions, even secular traditions can be wonderful, so we are not talking about a lump sum. Just traditions that are deemed ungodly.

    *Side note on Hanukkah, part of my family are reform Jews, and Hanukkah was in some ways a replacement for Christmas, every year I remember hearing, “we get 8 days of presents”, so technically it was the “Jewish Christmas”. 😛

    Certainly there is good in this time of year, there is generally a raised awareness for charity and that is a wonderful thing, I also really enjoy my family getting together, and like your family, my family also respects that we do not celebrate Christmas. And lets not forget all of the beautiful lights.

    As for me, I won’t be panicking this Christmas, I will simply be refraining. 😉

  5. Though Chanukah isn’t in the Torah it’s alluded to and the NT goes as far to mention the festivity in John 10:22….. Keep in mind (as you may already know) even though it’s not a biblical commandment the sages still recommended and encouraged it’s observance in tractate Shabbos…. No different then the non biblical commandment of what actually constitutes for a Kosher Succah (since the Torah doesn’t explain how to erect one), we turn to the Tractate Succah to learn demensions etc, in making sure our observance is in-line with the early followers.

    Chanukah Sameach!


  6. Questor said:

    I would have no trouble lighting a Manorah, but the symbolism seemed all wrong for a Gentile…it’s not about my temple.

    Well actually, as PL said, anyone is allowed to offer sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem when it’s standing. Even Orthodox Jews believe that Gentiles will offer sacrifices at the Temple in the Messianic Age, so in a sense, it is our Temple (not by possession as much as by allowed access). Scripture testifies that the Temple is a “House of prayer for all peoples”.

    @Zion: I’m certainly not advocating for celebrating Christmas. I don’t celebrate it myself. However, I am saying that we need to step away from disdaining anyone who chooses to celebrate this holiday. Pagan origins aside, I think Rabbi Dauermann is correct in saying that Christmas has morphed into a Christian tradition in the present age. Judaism is replete with traditions that do not have a direct connection to a Biblical commandment, and yet most of us don’t bat an eye at Jewish observance of both Torah and Rabbinic statues, at least within Judaism. I can accept that Christians are observing their traditions in celebrating Christmas and while you and others aren’t in a panic over it, I imagine some folks still are. Most other religious expressions have their traditional observances and I’ve learned to be OK with Christians celebrating Christmas. That doesn’t mean I have to be a part of it, of course.

    As a Messianic Jew commented on Facebook:

    My first exposure to the New Testament was Linus on “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men, what’s not to like?

    BG said:

    Though Chanukah isn’t in the Torah it’s alluded to and the NT goes as far to mention the festivity in John 10:22….. Keep in mind (as you may already know) even though it’s not a biblical commandment the sages still recommended and encouraged it’s observance in tractate Shabbos…

    Yes, you’re right, I am aware of that. I merely mentioned Chanukah to illustrate that we can have traditions that aren’t directly commanded in the Bible and still be OK.

  7. When my boys were little (probably only three of them by that point) and I realized I appreciated seeing lights when I looked outside (and my oldest boy did too, and there was no reasonable way to say to a child that lights are bad), I wanted to provide something of a view for my neighbors across the street too. This was some few years after moving from CA. So, we started to use blue lights [the first year, and sometimes white or yellow or snowy later]. We turned them on starting the first night of Hanukkah (and I was clear about this with my sons). Now we’re in a different house; there’s an alcove in the front that looks really dark with the early evenings of December, so I decided to put one blue bulb in there (then added a green one in the outside fixture). It’s nice.

  8. And a Happy Channukah to you, “PL”.

    Without a Jewish presence within 60 miles, I find it hard to find out the details of how the tradition is observed, or what it means to a Gentile to have the 2nd Temple re-dedicated to G-d when I am awaiting the 3rd Temple. Not being able to look back to my people being freed from a tyrant to worship their G-d in peace, I can only look forward to the Temple yet to come even then when I know that an interloper will desecrate it again before Mashiach will come to set matters to rights.

    In truth, when I light the candles, I thank G-d for Yeshua, because as a Gentile I have no other link to the promises given to Israel. In truth, when the five candles are lit, it is a beautiful sight in my eyes, and I value it accordingly for the grace I have received.

    1. Well, “Q”, five candles are nice, as any number of candles may be interpreted with some meaning or other. But what do they signify to you, that might possibly be related to the spiritual victory commemorated at this season? One may also consider a more prosaic aspect of celebrations like that of Hanukah, which is the demand and the excuse to drag ourselves out of the house to go interact with other folks, or to invite them to join us in sharing the festivity and its significance with them in our own home.

      I sometimes ponder the two variations of the dreidel symbols: they both contain the letters nun, gimel, and hey, signifying “nes gadol hayah …” (“a great miracle happened …”); but the fourth letter may be either a shin or a peh, signifying either “sham” (“there”) or “poh” (“here”), indicating whether the user is in Israel where the action occurred or outside of Israel looking from a distance toward where it occurred. I perceive in this a potential metaphor for non-Jewish participation, as looking from a distance toward the locus of the miraculous event (“sham”) but participating in the appreciation of its significance nonetheless. Similarly, when one internalizes the significance of the message of continual rededication, one realizes a great miracle within (”poh”, “here”) as well.

  9. @ James “Scripture testifies that the Temple is a “House of prayer for all peoples”.”

    Very true, but Channukah to a Messianic Gentile with no Jewish family or friends makes for a lonely menorah, and there is no one to play with, even had I a dreidel. I can take pleasure only in the beauty of the symbols I have some right to, and look forward to a time when there will be no more fussing about which holiday is a holy day.

    When I light my candles and pray, I enter into the heavenly temple, and it is enough to know that my King is adding another portion of incense at the altar for me.

  10. ” Well, “Q”, five candles are nice, as any number of candles may be interpreted with some meaning or other. But what do they signify to you, that might possibly be related to the spiritual victory commemorated at this season? ”

    Light by it’s sheer presence diminishes darkness, and that is to be celebrated at any season.

    So, I strike a match, lift it to each of my candles, and watch the flickering of the flames chase a little of the present darkness away while I wait for the Light to fill another temple as miraculously as was done in the past.

  11. Just like Zacharias and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary named their baby boy according to the command of the angel Gabriel. Joseph and Mary were faithful parents…..

    Jesus’ Dedication.

    About 33 days after Jesus’ circumcision, or 40 days after His birth, His parents took Him to Jerusalem to be dedicated to the Lord.

    According to Leviticus 12:4-5, every male child was to be brought to the temple in Jerusalem for dedication to the [LORD] at the completion of a mother’s purification.

    And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” (NASB) Luke 2:22-24

    Once again His parents were being faithful to the Lord. His dedication to the [LORD] God involved the sacrifice of some animals. Leviticus 12:7-8 says that Joseph and Mary could have offered either a lamb or two turtle doves or two pigeons.

    I’m not posting this link to recommend the site but because whoever runs that site had written up most of what I wanted to say. This occurrence — of J’shua being dedicated — could not have happened at the Temple in Jerusalem had there not been a dedicated Temple in Jerusalem.

  12. @Questor: Don’t do anymore than you feel, even if it’s just lighting a candle a night each night of Chanukah. Of course, potato latkes are pretty tasty, so you may want to have a few.

    Lois Tverberg just wrote a new blog post called Advent & Hanukkah — The Most Hebraic Time of Year which describes how our lives as believers would be different if the historical events surrounding Chanukah never took place. Food for thought.

    Another video I’m glad hasn’t disappeared from years ago.

    You get the English words (translation) in the second half. This tune generally makes my eyes tear up or me to in fact cry. My children and I would hear this as we lit little bowls of oil on our Hanukkia because we had a music box in the base of it.

    I like what James said; even lighting just one candle a night if you feel like it is a nice way to think about it. My youngest son and I were talking last night about remembering the eight-day autumn celebration (that had been missed) after taking back hold of the Temple.

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