OPINION | Sunday, 16 December 2007

Guess who’s not coming for Christmas dinner

Everywhere one turns this time of year, Christmas is in the air. Roundabouts are decorated with colourful seasonal lights – and publicly decried for having a decidedly non-religious focus. Carols blaring over loudspeakers in city streets assault every potential shopper with the message of an open season for spending. Stores and homes are decorated with red and green, and nary is there a waking moment where the forthcoming ‘holiday’ is not exploited.
Of course there are the counter-secular cries as well: “Jesus is the reason for the season”, “put Christ back in Christmas”, and a torrent of other articles, letters and impassioned pleas to turn back the tide of commercialism.
But then comes Christmas dinner. An island of peace and tranquillity after crossing the rough seas of manic shopping, family stress, demanding children, and days of culinary preparation. This is surely what it is all about… only… the guest of honour is missing. Jesus didn’t come to Christmas dinner!
He was invited of course. Even though everyone was more focused on satisfying their own needs first, this is, after all, his birthday celebration, right?
The historical (i.e. real) Y’shua – more commonly known as Jesus – hated Christmas. His Father had been denouncing it through the prophets for centuries, and neither Y’shua nor any of his followers would have ever dreamt of gracing a celebration of it with their presence, much less thought that in centuries later, people claiming to follow in their paths would have the audacity to rework the whole thing ostensibly in Y’shua’s honour.
Hold on a minute rabbi! I can hear it already. How could Y’shua have hated something that had not yet been started? How was Christmas celebrated hundreds, or even thousands of years before he was born? Well, a bit of history is in order then…
It wasn’t called “Christmas”, for sure, but the day of 25 December in the old Roman Empire was called “Saturnalia”, among other names, and was a feast to the sun-god. In fact, various forms of sun-worship called the day by different names, yet they all agreed on the date – 25 December – and later, these feasts were merged by the Emperor Aurelian into one grand party of paganism called “Solus Invictus”, translated as the “feast of the unconquered sun”.
Adonia, Appolo, Attis, Baal, Bacchus, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, Ra, Theseus, Tammuz, and Woden are just some of the false gods associated with sun worship across many cultures, all of which placed great import on the feast following the winter solstice, which was kept on 25 December. The actual solstice is of course a few days earlier, however this was the time that the lengthening of daylight became measurable to the ancients, and so they celebrated the return of their god the sun on 25 December.
Many of these rites centred on a cut and decorated evergreen tree. Greek worshipers of Adonia decorated fir trees, as did Roman worshipers of Bacchus who decked them with bits of shiny metal and ornaments resembling him. The Druids placed fruit and candles on the branches to honour Woden. The Egyptians, without any local fir trees, used palm trees instead. So pervasive in antiquity was the custom of decorating trees in a bid to magically ward off the decline of the sun, that it is mentioned specifically in the Tanakh (Old Testament) book of Jeremiah:
“Thus saith YHWH: ‘Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are vanity; for it is but a tree which one cutteth 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 10:2-4
So pervasive was this practice, that another prophet, Isaiah, even speaks (Is.14:8) about the fall of Satan, saying that “the evergreens rejoice, singing ‘since you fell asleep, no woodsman comes up to chop us down!’”. In the end, worshiping any replacement for the True God is worshiping Satan, and that’s just where the Christmas Tree originates.
In the ancient world, the sun was the most common object of this false worship, and often, dates of importance in the cycles of that orb also became associated with human god-types they symbolised. One of these – whose birthday was 25 December – was Tamuz, the real-life son of the Babylonian king Nimrod and his own mother Semiramas, who called herself the “queen of heaven”.
Gift-giving was a major part of Saturnalia. Yule logs, mistletoe, wreaths, in fact most every major symbol associated with Christmas, all have a long pedigree in pagan worship rites on that day.
So how is it that a feast as vile and revolting as this – even more so than Halloween – came to be revered by millions as a symbol of the Messiah’s birth? It would be like going into a Catholic church on 31 October, and seeing the place decorated in orange and black, with ghosts, goblins, and witches, and with the priests wearing pentagrams especially for the day – all now re-invented to supposedly honour the Immaculate Conception!
As farcical as it may sound for such to happen today, that is exactly what Constantine did in changing Solus Invictus to Christmas. As a politician, Constantine recognised that it would be easier to get the sun worshipers to give up their gods than their parties, and thus was born one of the most significant deposits of pagan religion into the new religion of Christianity… Christmas.
But, so what? Yes, the history is blighted, but that was then and this is now – we have honourable intentions. Does that make it right? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of the Messiah, but why not do it instead on the day he was actually born? The bible says that he was born in the fall, around the first day of the seventh Hebrew month. Was Constantine justified in his absorption of Christmas instead?
Tanakh is expressly clear that mixing something profane with something holy does not make the profane holy – rather, it makes the holy profane. Read Haggai 2 for just one such example.
What does Y’shua think? To understand why he didn’t come to Christmas dinner, imagine how he feels about having his birthday celebrated on a day that marked the birthday of many false gods. Imagine how he feels having the customs from the worship of these gods used to supposedly honour his birth. Does he care? Would you?
The real question to ask this season is: which do you love more – him, or tradition?

David Pollina is an ordained Rabbi and a first-century Judaeo-Christian scholar.

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