At year-end, busy shoppers and revelers turn their attention to Halloween, Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations. But how often do they stop to ask "Why?" What do these holidays mean, and do they obscure mankind's attention from more important instructions given by God?
How did modern holidays originate?
What do these customs obscure?
Have you ever stepped back from the busy and often hectic events that mark the final months of the year (Halloween, Christmas and New Year's Eve) and asked yourself "Why am I doing this? What does all this mean? Does this lead anywhere?" Perhaps you sense the answers but have avoided asking the questions. If you are not afraid of finding real answers, and you want to discover vital information about the true meaning and purpose of human existence, keep reading—because that information is available—even though it has been nearly obscured by our popular holiday customs!
In many countries the year-end holiday season is a time of fun, frolic and fantasy! In late October, increasing numbers of adults dress up in ghoul-like costumes for Halloween parties at work while sending out similarly-clad children on nocturnal trick-or-treat forays. In the United States, many fall weekends revolve around football games and tailgate parties. After Thanksgiving Day family reunions in late November, the mad December Christmas rush begins—to buy presents, send dozens of cards and attend lots of social activities. New Year's brings another round of parties and also resolutions—perhaps the same ones you have made for decades—to do better next year!
Unfortunately, after Halloween costumes are put away, Thanksgiving dinners digested, the needle-shedding Christmas tree discarded and the post-New Year's hangover disappears, many people are left with bills to pay and a feeling of emptiness—post-holiday let-down. We know the feeling, but we seldom ask or look for answers to the hard questions, like: what do trimming a tree, decorating the house with lights, stockings, pine boughs and flying reindeer, hanging mistletoe and taking the kids to see Santa Claus have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ—the "reason" for the season? Why do sleigh bells and carols about "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" ring hollow as headlines report increasingly violent crimes, international terrorism, spreading droughts and famines, continuing wars and declining morals? Why do millions of professing Christians delight in dressing up as witches and devils? Why do so-called Christian nations perpetuate anti-Christian customs that make life an endless round of momentarily pleasurable, but largely meaningless, social activities?
Believe it or not, the customs that surround Christmas originally had nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Like traditions of Halloween, these customs originated in ancient pagan religious practices. This may seem shocking, but it is true—and the evidence is not hard to find. Dozens of books, articles and reference materials record the same facts—that for some reason, you may not have noticed or were never told!
Halloween is derived from pagan Celtic new year customs in pre-Roman Britain, Scotland and Ireland that "long antedate Christianity," ("Halloween," Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed.). The pagan Druids, "on or about the 1st of November… held their great autumn festival and lighted fires in honor of the Sun-god in thanksgiving for the harvest. Further, it was a Druidic belief that on the eve of this festival Saman [Samhein], lord of death, called together the wicked souls… condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals" (Ibid.). These departed spirits could visit their old homes (Druids believed in an immortal soul) on the last night of the Celtic year when they were released to go to Druid heaven. During the Samhein festival, horses and sometimes humans (later replaced by black cats) were "strapped in wicker cages and roasted alive as a sacrifice for the souls of loved ones. The finale saw celebrants donning masks and costumes and parading to the edge of town—a trick to get the souls to follow" (Sunday Telegram, Oct. 27, 1985, p. 7).
The church, in an attempt to gain converts, yet unable to eliminate popular pagan customs, merely placed a "Christian" label on traditional dates and practices. In the 8th century the Roman Church established All Saints' Day on November 1 to honor the dead elevated to sainthood. The 2nd of November, All Souls Day, which honors departed spirits not elevated to sainthood, "before becoming a church festival in 998 C.E. [AD]… was marked with celebrations from the festival of Woden (Odin) as god of the dead" (The Pagan Book of Days, Pennick, p. 124). People parading around in the costumes of animals celebrated this pagan festival. It is remarkable how many intelligent professing Christians perpetuate and participate in superstitious holiday customs where the chief character is the devil—yet fail to see—or ignore—its blatant pagan origin!
The story of Christmas and its customs is similar. The widely held idea that Jesus was born on December 25 is known to be a fabrication! The Bible does not state when Christ was born, nor does it indicate His birth should be celebrated. Authoritative sources and historical facts suggest that Jesus was born around or before 4bc—when Herod died. He was probably born in the fall because sheep were in the fields (Luke 2:8)—a situation that would not exist in December. Jesus was also six months younger (Luke 1:24-26) than John the Baptist, who was conceived in late June (after his father had served the eighth course of Abijah—see Luke 1:5 and 1 Chronicles 24:1-19). Josephus, the Jewish historian, indicates 24 courses of priests served in the temple for one-week periods twice a year beginning in the month of Nisan (in the spring, about April). If John had been born in March, Jesus would have been born six months later, in September—not on the 25th of December!
But why do people celebrate Christ's birth on December 25? Late December is the time of the winter solstice, one of the major festival periods in the ancient world. Historians note "the birth of many solar saviors and dying gods is celebrated at this time, usually on December 25th" and that "Christmas is a wonderful amalgamation of many religious traditions, ancient and modern, pagan, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Mithraic, and Christian" (Pennick, pp. 132-133). Modern Christmas is a composite of several year-end festivals celebrated in pagan Rome. The Saturnalia, (December 17-21) was a time of "extravagant decadence" when slaves and masters traded places for a few days. It was a season of revelry where the common greeting was "bona Saturnalia." Next came the Sigillaria—the feast of dolls—on the 22nd when toys were purchased and given to children. The Brumalia (December 25) was celebrated as the "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, when the days began to lengthen after the solstice" (Christmas and Christmas Lore, Crippen, p. 7). These were times of feasting, drinking and debauchery. The Egyptians also celebrated the rebirth of the sun in the form of an infant several thousand years before the Romans (see The Golden Bough, St. Martin's ed., pp. 471-472).
By contrast, the early Christian Church did not celebrate Jesus' birthday as long as the teachings of the Apostles remained intact. In fact, as late as 245ad, the church scholar, Origen "repudiated as sinful the very idea of keeping the birthday of Christ" (Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed.). However, in an effort to gain converts, "the church at Rome definitely fixed on the 25th of December as the birthday of the Lord" in the 4th century (Crippen, p. 6). The choice of the winter solstice festival and the birthday of the sun-god were deliberate. New "converts" could continue their popular pagan customs uninterrupted—but under a new "Christian" name! People follow the same fabricated practice today—largely ignorant of what is hiding behind the "Christian" façade.
The celebration of New Year's on January 1 also dates from Roman times. The festive atmosphere of parties, drinking and uninhibited behavior is a relic of the pagan Roman Saturnalia. The New Year babe in a diaper traces back to the rowdy Greco-Roman festival of Dionysus (Bacchus—the god of wine) held at the beginning of each year. Father Time, the white-haired man carrying a scythe, represents the Greek god Cronos (Saturn), the mythical "silent reaper" who mutilated his father and ate his own children in episodes of cannibalism (Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 3, p. 13). We accept and perpetuate these depraved pagan symbols in our endless cycle of fun-filled, yet empty, holiday activities. But have you ever wondered if there is more to life than this? Have pagan customs adopted by mainstream Christianity replaced more meaningful biblical practices?
Again, it may come as a surprise, but the Bible outlines a definite series of festivals or feast days that the people of God are commanded to observe. While many have been told these festivals were Old Testament practices and are no longer relevant to New Testament Christians—nothing could be further from the truth! The festivals outlined in the Scriptures (see Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16) are extremely significant and packed with meaning. These festivals outline God's plan of salvation for mankind. They reveal the major steps or events in that plan. The overall format of the festivals reveals the true purpose of human life. That purpose is exciting, inspiring—and humbling—yet it has been obscured by pagan holiday traditions professing Christian churches have absorbed! Church services—commanded assemblies—on each of the Holy Days review the meaning of the festivals. Notice what historian W. D. Davies wrote about early Christian practices:
"Everywhere, especially in the East of the Roman Empire, there would be Jewish Christians whose outward way of life would not be markedly different from that of the Jews. They took for granted that the gospel was continuous with [the religion of Moses]; for them the New Covenant, which Jesus had set up at the Last Supper with His disciples… did not mean that the covenant made between God and Israel was no longer in force. They still observed the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles; they also continued to be circumcised, to keep the weekly Sabbath and the Mosaic regulations concerning food." [Judeo-christianisme, "Paul and Jewish Christianity," 1972, p. 72, quoted by Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday, p. 151].
Historian Edward Gibbon made a similar observation: "The first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews; and the congregation over which they presided united the law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ. It was natural that the primitive tradition of a church which was founded only forty days after the death of Christ, and was governed almost as many years under the immediate inspection of his apostle, should be received as the standard of orthodoxy. The distant churches very frequently appealed to the authority of their venerable Parent" (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter 15, section 1, p. 389).
In an earlier article (Tomorrow's World, March-April 2000) we outlined the meaning of the spring and early summer festivals—Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost. The Passover comes in the spring (when God begins the year—Exodus 12:2) and is an annual reminder of our need for a Savior and forgiveness of sin. The Passover lamb offered in the Old Testament (Exodus 12:3-6) foreshadowed the coming of Jesus Christ to die for the sins of mankind (John 3:16). Although Jesus fulfilled the symbolism of the sacrificial lamb (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29) the Apostles and the early church continued to observe the Passover (Luke 22:14-16; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) as an annual memorial of Christ's sacrifice. During the seven Days of Unleavened Bread, leaven is removed from dwellings, conveying the lesson that to obey God we must put sin (symbolized by leaven) out of our lives. This is what Christian growth—repenting, changing, growing and overcoming—is all about. The Apostles and the early church kept the Days of Unleavened Bread to perpetuate the meaning of those days (Acts 2:38; 20:6; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
The New Testament Church began on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples (Acts 2). The Feast of Pentecost (meaning to "count fifty") is also called the Feast of Harvest or Firstfruits because it came at the beginning of the summer harvest. This harvest was small, picturing the fact that God is calling a small group of people now (Matthew 13:10-17; John 6:44-66; 1 Corinthians 1:26-28), before He begins working with all mankind. The annual observance of Pentecost is a constant reminder that God has a special purpose for those called to be firstfruits (Revelation 14:1-5), and of the special understanding that comes by receiving and nourishing the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-16, 26; 16:13; 2 Timothy 1:6-7).
In God's plan of salvation, the spring and early summer festivals picture events that have already happened. The death of Jesus Christ fulfilled the meaning of the Passover 2,000 years ago—hence we no longer sacrifice a lamb—but we observe the Passover as a memorial of that important event. The Days of Unleavened Bread picture an ongoing process of putting out sin. The events of Pentecost—the giving of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the New Testament Church—inaugurated the Christian era in the 1st century ad. The remaining fall festivals are prophetic—picturing major events that have yet to occur! The reason for observing the fall festivals is so we can understand the future and have hope. The four fall feasts outline the culminating steps in God's plan of salvation for mankind—a dimension that has largely been hidden from the world—obscured by popular pagan holidays!
The Feast of Trumpets pictures the next event in the plan of God—an event that will change the course of human history forever—the return of Jesus Christ. Bible prophecies associate the Second Coming of Christ with the blowing of the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:15). Trumpets are used to make announcements, mark the feasts and sound alarm during times of war (Numbers 10:1-10). Cataclysmic events will precede the Second Coming of Christ (Matthew 24; Revelation 6; 8; 9). Jesus will return to a planet torn by war and tribulation to save mankind from utter self-destruction (Matthew 24:3-7, 21-22). He will conquer human armies that will resist His return (Revelation 19:11-19). At His return the saints (the "firstfruits") will receive immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-54) and reign with Christ on this earth (Daniel 7:26-27; Revelation 5:10). The annual observance of the Feast of Trumpets keeps us mindful of these incredible events. It supplies real hope in a world filled with bad news.
The Day of Atonement pictures the fact that Satan—the real instigator of the evils and troubles in this world—will be bound for 1,000 years when Christ returns (Revelation 20:1-2). This future event was pictured in the Old Testament by a goat sent into the wilderness bearing the sins of Israel. While modern translations of the Bible refer to this animal as the "scapegoat," suggesting it was without guilt, Jewish traditions correctly identify this goat as symbolic of the prince of fallen angels—Satan (Leviticus 16:8-10). The other goat killed for the sins of the nation pictured Jesus Christ. Fasting on the Day of Atonement teaches the need for humility and our need to become at-one with God (see Leviticus 23:27; Psalm 35:13; John 17:11).
The Feast of Tabernacles is the physical and spiritual highlight of the year. While professing Christians have been told for centuries that good people go to heaven, and revelers during the Saturnalia and Christmas try to create heaven on earth for a few days, the Feast of Tabernacles pictures the coming of the kingdom of God to this earth. This seven-day festival offers an annual foretaste of the 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ and the saints (Revelation 20:4-6). During this period (the Millennium) the government of God will bring peace and justice to this earth and restore all things (Isaiah 9:6-7; Acts 3:19-21). It will be a time of harmony (Isaiah 11:6-9), health and abundance (Isaiah 35; Amos 9:13). Cities will be rebuilt (Isaiah 61:4; Ezekiel 6:10). The government of God will promulgate the laws of God from Jerusalem to the whole world (Isaiah 2:2-4).
The Last Great Day is the final festival on God's Holy Calendar. It pictures the Great White Throne Judgment period the Apostle John wrote about (Revelation 20:11-12) when the Holy Spirit will be made available to all mankind (John 7:37-39; Ezekiel 36:24-27). After the Millennium, there will be a great resurrection of everyone who has ever lived (Revelation 20:5). The message of the Last Great Day is that those who died without hearing the gospel are not lost. They are not burning right now in hell. They are waiting in the grave for this great resurrection when they will have their chance for salvation and eternal life (see Job 14:10-15). Those who reject God's way during this period of judgment (which appears to last a lifetime of 100 years—Isaiah 65:20) will be consumed in a lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). However those who chose to live according to God's way of life will gain immortality.
Now you might be thinking this all sounds interesting, but does it really matter if we keep those Old Testament festivals or not? You may "love the Lord" and do not see anything wrong with dressing up on Halloween. You may feel you are honoring Jesus by celebrating His birth, and you really do not over-indulge at New Year's. Is there anything wrong with giving a new meaning to the "enjoyable" parts of old pagan practices? After all, you say: "We are not worshipping pagan deities; we merely want to show our love for God."
The Bible answers those very questions! God told the nation of Israel to follow His commandments and not alter them (Deuteronomy 4:1-2). Through Moses, God repeatedly warned the Israelites not to forget His commandments (Deuteronomy 8:10-14) and to avoid being ensnared [captured, trapped] by the evil religious practices of pagan nations. God specifically stated "do not inquire after their gods, saying how did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise. You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:30-31). Again in this context God states "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32).
These clear warnings are repeated in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The prophet Jeremiah pointedly told the Israelites "learn not the way of the heathen… for the customs of the people are vain [false, empty, worthless, a delusion]" (Jeremiah 10:2-3, KJV). Jesus even said of religious people, "in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8-9, KJV). The Apostle Paul made similar admonitions (1 Corinthians 10:6-7; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17). However, the history of the Israelites—and of the modern professing Christian churches—has been to ignore and reason around these very clear instructions. This is why God inspired Moses to warn thousands of years ago "I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger through the works of your hands" (Deuteronomy 31:29).
That time of national punishment is about to come upon the modern descendants of the ancient Israelites (as explained in our booklet What's Ahead for America and Britain?). God has blessed the people in the western world, but they have been led astray to follow pagan customs that are "fun," but false and empty of real meaning! They have substituted customs that God says are evil, for festivals God designed to keep them mindful of His great plan of salvation and the true purpose of life. They have listened to false teachers "who call evil good, and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20). They have been deceived by religious leaders "who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). They have "exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshipped and served the creature [pagan customs] rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). When you, personally, start to observe the biblical festivals God has ordained, you will begin to understand what life is all about. The Bible and the world will begin to make sense. The excitement and fulfillment you will experience will make the frivolity and fantasies of pagan holiday practices seem empty by comparison. Perhaps it is time to open your eyes to what is actually hidden by the holidays!
If you would like to learn more about the true Christianity practiced by the Apostles, which included the festivals and so much more that has been lost to today's churches, please write for your free copy of Roderick C. Meredith's booklet, Restoring Apostolic Christianity.