Infused within the months of October, November, and December is the holiday season. We as Christians seem to have a stark dichotomy in our approach to celebrating at least two of these: Christmas and Halloween. We can throw in the spring holidays of Easter (called Pasha) and Saint Patrick’s Day too. The disparity is that on one hand, many are complicit and capitulate to surrounding culture, which is surprising to me, but I’m also taken back that on the other hand, others hold such holidays in contempt. This may sound like I’m holding two opposing views at the same time, but I’m not. This is rather a false dichotomy. I think we ought to take a third way that has the biblical worldview as its skeleton.
The Two Main Positions
Often Christmas, Halloween, and Easter (often called Pasha) are claimed to have pagan roots. The argument goes that since they have pagan roots, we shouldn’t be celebrating and observing those holidays. We read in Jeremiah 10:2 “Learn not the way of the heathen” and Ephesians 5:11 “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” The problem is that neither one of these passages are speaking of the above holidays. The Jeremiah passage is speaking of making idols from a tree and the second passage is talking about sin. Just read the context.
Now, even if the holidays once incorporated idolatry and sin, that doesn’t mean that is how we do the holiday today. Just because others sin, past or present, that doesn’t mean I have to apologize. In addition, those who aptly use the pagan roots argument are committing the logical fallacy called the genetic fallacy. A genetic fallacy is judging something as either good or bad based on where it came from. Now the point may be suspect, but it’s not automatically bad or good because of its origins. For example, a point isn’t untrue just because an atheist professor makes it. Volkswagen isn’t presently a bad company because of past Nazi connections. Sure, the professor may be wrong and VW may make poor cars, but that’s not necessarily because of atheism or Nazism.
In addition, it is irrelevant if one of our holidays falls on or around the date of an ancient pagan or non-Christian holiday. Every calendar date could be tagged with at least one pagan or non-Christian holiday if we look hard enough through history and world culture.
Even though holiday origins are of little value, as I pointed out above, I wanted to note a humorous twist. In opposition to pop culture and mainstream thinking, these holidays have Christian roots, not pagan roots. I don’t have the space to show why here; I only note that to show another reason for the implosion of the pagan roots argument. I was humored when a “pagan roots” type of person switched his argument mid-conversation after I demonstrated the Christian roots of Halloween. The person then said it shouldn’t be observed because of modern paganization.
Now, the above concerned person does make a point that should be considered. What about the hideous, pagan, and ghoulish aspects of a holiday like Halloween? Why do some have such apathy towards these concerning things? Why do some capitulate to the freaky and morbid when it comes to the holiday? I’m a little surprised by how some Christian circles are so quick to celebrate the ideals of secularism and paganism.
In addition, why do we think of crazy costumes, jack-o-lanterns, witches, and trick-or-treating when it comes to Halloween? When we think of Christmas, why do we think of Santa becoming a chimney sweep in our modern, non-existent chimneys, elves on the shelves, and Rudolf’s red nose? Why are hidden eggs and bunny rabbits the first things to come to mind for Easter, and green clothing and bar hopping for St. Patrick’s Day? Jesus, making a different point, once said the children of this world are wiser than the children of light. Those of the world are making the impact, not Christians. So much so that the culture at large impacts us instead of the other way around. When these holidays come to mind, shouldn’t they scream Christianity? Have we as Christians failed to impact culture that much? Why do these things come to mind, not the Christian elements?
The Third Way
While some capitulate to culture at large with mindless mimicry, and others misdirect energy decrying everything less than Christian, we can take a third way. We can give a positive answer to such negative options. If secular and pagan culture can take Christian holidays and make them secular and pagan, why can’t we do the most Christian thing ever and redeem the days for Christ? Why can’t we reform and redefine the holidays?
Christ is in the business of redemption; shouldn’t we do the same? Sinners start out as sinners, and God converts them to saints. The apostle Paul was a persecutor of the Church, and he was redeemed. The evil of the cross has become our hope. The Old Testament patriarch Joseph said it best when he said this to his brothers; “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” You see, God is in the business of redemption. Even if a holiday has a negative stigma, why don’t we do the most Christian thing ever and redeem it for good?
The Creator created us in his image and tasked us to become co-creators. He created us as culture beings living in culture. Thus, we are also culture creators. Sadly, often we are the worst at creating culture. While, in general, I’m the last to get excited about holiday celebrations, many in the Church get enthusiastic about holidays. No matter our holiday interest level, we all can help create a Christian parallel culture since holidays are just one aspect of this parallel culture.
Where to Start?
Redemption of culture doesn’t mean just tweaking present culture. For example, instead of tweaking Halloween into harvest parties and trunk-or-treat, why not something more Christian? Why not go back to it’s roots of a day of learning, remembrance, and celebration of past heroes of the faith? Why not just make parallel culture? Redeeming Christmas doesn’t look like sending cards of an old, fat, white-bearded man in a red suit visiting baby Jesus. It is putting Jesus on center stage. If we really want old Saint Nick to show up at Christmas time, let’s trade out the commercialized old fat guy for learning about the deeds of the real Nicholas of Myra. Lastly, Christmas is a rare opportunity for us. Society at large often expects and is open to hearing about Jesus! Let’s not disappoint!
So we are left with a “vanquished by the culture” mentality, a “victimized by the culture” mentality, or we can have a “victory over the culture” mentality. Sure, we are up against a society that is pulling the opposite direction, eviscerating Western civilization and defenestrating Christianity. But, we are called to impact our neighbor. We are called to be “salt” and “light,” impacting the culture through flavor and tartness, through exposing evil and exposing good. We should be preserving truth and using our light to grow goodness all around us. Sure, it may be hard, if not impossible, to change culture at large, but what is not hard is to change culture at home and in your small Christian groups. If we would direct our lives in living out the Christian life and Christian worldview in our small spheres of influence, how many would be impacted in generations to come? You and I may not change the world today, but we sure can change the world for those nearest to us.
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