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.
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.
I’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.