It’s funny how things change over time. I recently drove past the house a grew up in and I wouldn’t have believed it was the same house if I hadn’t actually been there. After a lot of construction, it’s the same address, but not the same house. Similarly, we’ve had people who had founded our church back in the mid 1960’s come back to find that the church and the church buildings are not as they were when they left. Language is another one of those things that seems to change over time.
Did you know that “holiday” is actually a compound word? Originally, “holiday” was “holy day”. These were days set apart as days of religious observance and worship. Many of our holidays have pagan roots. Easter is named for Estera or Esteros, a pagan fertility goddess (hence all the duckies, bunnies, eggs, and flowers). December 25 was originally Saturlina, a celebration of the god Saturn—and an interesting (though counterfeit) story of sacrifice and resurrection. As Christianity spread and Jesus was preached people began to see the truth behind the counterfeit worship of false gods. Many began to turn their worship of idols toward the worship of the true God and to find new meaning in the symbolism of their celebrations.
Another thing that seems to change over time is the reason we do things. What may have been vibrant worship born of a fresh view of your life through the lens of Christ’s sacrifice can become cold, lifeless tradition over time. I am not saying that it is wrong to celebrate our traditional holidays simply because they have pagan roots. If that is your conviction, then you need to faithfully abide by it. If it is not, then you need to know why you observe the traditions you do. Nor am I suggesting that traditions are automatically bad. Holidays are still holy days. They are seasons of worship, and if we are going to bring something before God as an offering of worship then we had better know, not just what we are doing, but why we are doing it. Often in scripture God rebukes his people for bringing meaningless offerings and empty worship. You don’t want to find yourself in their shoes.
All the festivals, feasts, and celebrations in scripture were intended to celebrate God and teach the people, particularly the younger generations. The symbolism and traditions were rich in history and bore witness to the greatness and goodness of the living God. All these feasts and festivals were shadows of Christ himself. In Jesus those observances and reminders are fulfilled. Those celebrations were worship and they point to Jesus. And our holy days—whichever holidays we observe—also must exalt and teach of Jesus. As engrafted branches we may not share the Jewish traditions, but we must share the same passion and desire to glorify God and teach our children about him. Our great struggle now is that we teach our kids more about the value of presents, candy, food, and family than about the unfailing love and faithfulness of God and the value of wholehearted devotion to Him. We can assume nothing. Every aspect of holiday worship needs to be intentional, God deserves no less.
It’s good to have fun. I firmly believe that God delights in our smiles, laughs, and warm sentiments. Yet at the same time, singing songs like “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at Christmas time, for example, is too much like singing “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Tom…at Larry’s birthday party. If we are claiming that a holiday season is about Jesus, then why reserve any love, affection, and adoration for traditions and icons (idols) that have nothing to do with Him? Why teach our children to make those compromises?
Again, not all holiday traditions are bad…and St. Nicholas is real, and a very devout follower of Jesus. Use his example to teach your children, but don’t ascribe to him the attributes of omniscience (“he knows if you’ve been bad or good”) and omnipresence (“he sees you when your sleeping”…which is really kind of creepy) that are attributes of God alone. What are some of your favorite traditions and holiday memories? What do they make you think of? Which ones will you carry on and what kind of legacy will you leave? Will your holidays be a vacation from God, or will they be for his glory? What will you set before God as your holiday worship?