Christmas, Hanukkah, or Humbug?
Christmas: Just Say “Humbug”
It is a well-known fact that the Christmas celebration has its roots in ancient pagan sun worship. Any reliable encyclopedia will confirm this. Pagans so highly esteemed the sun god that they set aside the first day of the week to honor the sun and named this day after the sun. Even in English the first day of the week, Sun-day, still bears the name of the sun god.
Each year as winter came upon the ancient pagan world, the days began to get shorter and shorter, and it appeared to the people that the sun god might be leaving them forever. The thought that the sun might abandon the earth and leave all mankind to die in a dark, eternal winter caused the heathens to be dismayed at what they saw taking place in the heavens. Yahweh’s people, however, were instructed by Jeremiah to “learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them” (Jer. 10:2).
Every winter the pagans watched the sky with eager anticipation to see what would happen. Shortly after mid-December, they could tell that the days were getting longer, which meant the sun was beginning his journey back to earth. Salvation had come! The good news of the sun god’s “rebirth” was celebrated on December 25 as the solar feast of Natalis Invicti, the Nativity of the Unconquered Sun.
To celebrate the glad tidings of the rebirth of the sun god, the heathens used mistletoe, wreaths, yule logs, holly, ham, gift-giving, and, of course, trees cut out of the forest and decked with silver and gold. In light of these facts, the words of Jeremiah sound as relevant to God’s people today as they were to the people of Jeremiah’s day:
Thus saith Yahweh, 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 so it will not totter (Jer. 10:2-4).
A lot more could be said about Christmas, but the above information should give Bible-believers sufficient reason to just say “humbug” to Christmas. For those who need more persuasion to abandon this pagan holiday, there are other books that go into more detail.
Humbug to Hanukkah?
Hanukkah (Hebrew, “dedication”) is a holiday that commemorates the cleansing and rededication of the Temple after Israel’s victory over pagan oppression. It is also a good, kosher alternative to replace Christmas. Some non-Jewish believers object to Hanukkah for the following reasons: 1) It is, they say, relevant only to Jews; 2) It was not commanded by God as the other Feasts were; 3) The fact that it begins on the 25th of Kislev connects it with the pagans’ December 25 festival. Let us look at these objections objectively.
A Christian who thinks Hanukkah is relevant only to Jews simply needs to be made more aware of what is commonly called “the Jewish roots” of his faith. There are many fine books on the market that teach this truth in great depth. The book I most highly recommend for learning this wonderful truth is called The Bible. Other books are also very helpful, of course. Non-Jewish believers who feel awkward about celebrating Hanukkah need to realize that their faith in Israel’s Messiah has made them part of “the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph. 2:12). Thus Israel’s grand and glorious history becomes part of their own spiritual history. And Hanukkah is an important part of Israel’s history.
The fact that Hanukkah was not commanded by God does not make it wrong; it only makes it optional. God is opposed to man-made holidays only if they have their origin in paganism, or if we “teach as authoritative the commandments of men” (Mk. 7:7), i.e., if we teach that the Lord commanded the observance of the day. The Purim celebration was not God’s idea, either, yet it is clear from the Book of Esther that God was in no way displeased with the Jews’ decision to inaugurate a new holiday to commemorate their victory. The same is true of Hanukkah. If the Lord were in any way displeased with the holiday, we would not read of the Messiah’s presence in Jerusalem during Hanukkah. (See John 10:22f, “dedication” = Hanukkah.) There is no connection between Kislev 25 and the pagans’ December 25 festival. The Lord chose this time to give His people victory, and Kislev 25 happened to be the date they were able to purify the Temple. As a matter of fact, Kislev is in the Hebrew lunar calendar and December is in the pagan solar calendar, so Kislev 25 rarely falls on the same day as December 25. In the year of the first Hanukkah, Kislev 25 fell on December 15 (New Jerusalem Bible, p.735, fn. 10a). The first Hanukkah was a time of removing all the pagan altars and shrines that had been erected in the Temple area. How ironic that Christians celebrate Christmas, a holiday saturated with paganism, during the very season that commemorates the victory of God’s people over the paganism that had saturated Jerusalem!
The Maccabees purged the Temple of paganism and rededicated it to the service of Yahweh. Hanukkah, celebrated in a meaningful way, can provide an excellent opportunity to remind believers to purge their lives of pagan influence and to dedicate their “temples” (their bodies, 1 Cor. 6:19) anew to the Lord’s service.