It’s that time of year again, and I am reminded of my atheist Uncle George. In our booklet Easter: The Untold Story, I mentioned a connection between Easter celebrations and his rejection of God. I also have an Uncle George story involving the Christmas holiday, now so near at hand.
One day, near the end of his life, my uncle brought up the subject of Christmas. Knowing that I was a Christian minister and assuming that I celebrated the most stereotypically “Christian” of all occasions, he wanted to needle me a bit by explaining the undeniable pagan origins of the holiday. He explained that Jesus was not born on December 25 and that celebrations on and around the winter solstice long predated Christianity. He explained the origin of custom after custom honoring false gods like Mithra, showing that they were associated with the Roman celebrations of Saturnalia and the Calends. He pointed out the hypocrisy of calling the day a Christian holiday when its origins were anything but biblical.
I listened carefully until he finished his unsolicited history lesson, and then replied, “Uncle George, everything you say is true.” I explained that he had just listed the very reasons I did not keep Christmas, and then I looked him in the eye and asked, “Uncle George, do you keep Christmas?” I already knew the answer, but I confess that I enjoyed turning the tables and putting him in the hot seat, so to speak. He squirmed in his chair and explained that he felt an obligation to give gifts to people who gave him gifts. Societal pressure apparently exerted a powerful influence on this avowed atheist.
So here we were, a Christian minister who did not keep Christmas and an atheist who did!
At Tomorrow’s World, we look to the Bible as the infallible source of truth, and it gives direction to our personal lives. Our mission is to warn the world of what will happen if that truth is rejected, as well as to show that there is real hope for a better world—but only with the return of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. In spite of today’s relentless assault against biblical values, we will continue to tell you the truth that is clearly revealed in the pages of the Bible. That is what readers of Tomorrow’s World should have come to expect—but notice that I said “should.” Why the qualifier?
Most readers of this magazine recognize and agree that the world around us is going in a dangerously wrong direction. Morality is at a truly disturbing low, many—if not all—nations are badly divided, and even the forces of nature have turned against us with devastating ice storms, record-breaking heatwaves, droughts, and forest fires. But long before these problems, the professing Christian world took a wrong turn that helped further the rejection of God.
My Uncle George is not the only one to see hypocrisy in Christianity and the Christmas celebrations, but Christianity did not begin that way. There was no celebration of Christ’s birthday in the early Church. The Encyclopædia Britannica states, “As late as 245 Origen, in his eighth homily on Leviticus, repudiates as sinful the very idea of keeping the birthday of Christ ‘as if he were a king Pharaoh’” (1911, vol. 6, p. 293).
Virtually every reputable historian recognizes that “the Christian church took over many pagan ideas and images.”
From sun-worship, for example, came the celebration of Christ’s birth on the twenty-fifth of December, the birthday of the Sun. Saturnalia, the Roman winter festival of 17–21 of December, provided the merriment, gift-giving and candles typical of later Christmas holidays…. Some pagan customs which were later Christianized [an act of disobedience to God, as we’ll see], for example the use of candles, incense and garlands, were at first avoided by the church because they symbolized paganism (Eerdmans’ Handbook to the History of Christianity, 1977, pp. 131–132).
These facts have little effect on most professing Christians. Uncle George, at least, never claimed the day to be something it is not. But what is the harm for those who celebrate Christmas? Since no one knows the day of Christ’s birth, why not take a time when the pagans celebrated their god and make it into a Christian holiday?
There are at least three problems with doing so. The first is that the proclaimed meaning of the “Christmas” day—with all its associated customs—is unarguably a giant lie. The second is that God tells us not to borrow practices from the heathen to worship Him (Deuteronomy 12:29–32; Jeremiah 10:1–4; cf. Mark 7:6–9). And the third is that these pagan celebrations become substitutes for the days God set aside as holy.
Members of the Living Church of God, the sponsor of Tomorrow’s World, observed the Feast of Tabernacles this past September. To many of you, that may sound strange. Who has ever heard of “the Feast of Tabernacles”? Jesus, for one, as He kept it even under the threat of death (John 7:2–10)—and when He returns to become King over all the earth (Zechariah 14:1, 4, 9), He will command all nations to send representatives to keep it in Jerusalem (v. 16). He is so serious about all nations keeping this Feast that He will punish any nation refusing to do so (vv. 17–19). That is probably not something you would be told in any Sunday service, but don’t take our word for it—look up these verses.
Consider that Jesus kept the Feast of Tabernacles and expects all nations to keep it when He returns. Also consider that nowhere in the Bible do we read of anyone observing the annual celebration of Christ’s birth. Yes, we read of His birth—and by doing so, we see that the popular story has since been corrupted by folklore. The wise men arrived when Jesus was in a house, not a stable—weeks or even months after He was born (Matthew 2:11, 16). They gave presents because He was born to be a king, not because it was His birthday. This and so much more is explained in our free booklet Is Christmas Christian?
Yes, we live in a confused world, and this does not only apply to current events and politics. Professing Christianity is in a state of confusion, which is exactly what the Bible predicts. The first sign Jesus gave indicating “the end of the age” was false Christianity. “‘And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’ And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name [claiming His authority], saying, “I [that is, Jesus] am the Christ,” and will deceive many’” (Matthew 24:3–5).
God’s master plan for mankind is obscured and forgotten when even “Christians” substitute heathen celebrations and pagan holidays for the days Jesus, His Apostles, and the early Church kept. Nevertheless, there are still people who follow Christ’s example and observe the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Day of Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day. Each Festival spells out a successive stage in God’s plan for mankind, and each is a joyous celebration of that stage.
Many people are curious about these days; perhaps you are one of them. I’ve personally been observing these days with thousands of others for nearly 60 years and have never regretted doing so. The frivolous customs I gave up many years ago are not worthy to be compared with the richly meaningful and joyous days given by God. If you are interested in learning more about the biblical Festivals and Holy Days, you can order a free copy of our study guide The Holy Days: God’s Master Plan from the Regional Office nearest you (listed on page 4 of this magazine) or read it online at TomorrowsWorld.org.