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A Tale of Two Holidays

By Gary F. Zeolla

When I first became a Christian back in the mid-1980s, one thing that really struck me was how opposed many Christians were to Halloween. Sure, people would dress up like witches and the like, but I never took any of it seriously. I even wore an awesome devil costume in college a couple of times for Halloween, but I was in no way a devil-worshipper. It was just fun.

The only real problem I could see with Halloween was all the candy kids collect. I can remember as a kid always ending up with a large bag of goodies. It was probably in part due to all of that candy that I was somewhat chubby as a kid and have a mouthful of fillings.

But now as a Christian, I quickly realized many Christians saw far more problems with Halloween than just the candy. They really would be offended by costumes like the one I wore in college, and the whole holiday was simply considered off-limits. I think more so than how your average person celebrated the holiday was the fact that true witches and warlocks took the holiday very seriously. As such, it was thought that Christians should just avoid the holiday altogether.

Lift Jesus Higher Day

Some Christians simply ignore October 31 altogether, but many churches hold alternative celebrations. The first church I attended after college would always hold a "Lift Jesus Higher" celebration. That celebration would consist of a worship time, and then there would be games for the kids, with candy as prizes. That way, the children has an alternative to dressing up and going out trick or treating.

Many churches that I have attended since then have held similar alternative celebrations, with varying names, like Harvest Party or the like. Some of these churches allowed the kids to dress up, but it would be strongly encouraged that the costumes not consist of witches, devils, and the like; angels instead were very popular, especially with the young girls.

This idea made perfect sense to me. It would be very difficult for a parent to tell their child to just go in their room and study while all of their friends were out trick or treating. But if their kids had an alternative party and way to get their candy, then the kids would be happy, and all of the non-Christian trappings of Halloween could be avoided. I would prefer that something other than candy be given out, small toys or the like would be better. But still, the kids need an alternative, and most Christians seemed to realize this.

Unfortunately, despite all of the Christian protests about Halloween, since the 1980s, Halloween has grown from a very minor holiday to the second biggest holiday of the year, at least in terms of retail sales.

But it got me thinking, what if the "Lift Jesus Higher" alternative had really caught on, at least among Christians? Maybe by today, it would be routine for Christians to celebrate "Lift Jesus Higher Day" rather than Halloween.

And what if this celebration by Christians caught on among non-Christian so much so that October 31 was no longer known as Halloween, but as Lift Jesus Higher Day? Even calendars makers began labeling the day as such, and retailers began selling Lift Jesus Higher Day decorations rather than Halloween decorations, with Lift Jesus Higher songs playing in the background. Even secular radio stations begin playing Lift Jesus Higher songs during October. Over time, everyone would forget that October 31 used to be called Halloween and used to be a day about witches and devils.

Christians would be rejoicing over this transition. No longer would witches and demons be getting attention on October 31, instead, Jesus would be! This would be viewed as a great change in the culture and a step away from paganism and towards the Christian faith.

Sure, the retailers would find ways to use the new holiday to sell all kinds of merchandise. And yes, many people would use the day just as an excuse to party and overeat, and the kids would still be getting fat and rotting their teeth from all of the candy.

But still, instead of witches and devils getting attention, Jesus would be getting at last some attention. You couldn't ignore the fact that His name was part of the name of the holiday and many of the holiday songs were praises to Him. And hopefully, Christians would continue to realize that this was a day designed to lift Jesus higher and would still make a worship time a central part of the holiday.

Future Fundamentalist Object

Taking this fantasy a little farther, a few centuries down the road, Halloween would be long forgotten and all that people would know would be Lift Jesus Higher Day. However, some future fundamentalist Christians would start doing some research, and much to their horror, they would discover that October 31 used to be a day when Satan was honored. Witches and warlocks used to especially celebrate October 31. Even worse, kids would dress up on that day, and the idea of candy being given to kids even had its roots in this unholy day.

These future fundamentals would then start proclaiming that there is no way any self-respecting Christian could have any part of Lift Jesus Higher Day since this holiday was on the same day as what used to be a pagan holiday! How could Christians possibly worship Jesus on this day when it used to be such an important day for pagans! And how could Christians possibly give candy to their kids and let them dress up on this day when that is what pagans used to do!

The whole holiday is just too tainted with pagan roots for any Christian to have any part of it. Never mind that no one remembers Halloween anymore and that no one even thinks about Satan and witches when they are giving candy to their kids and letting their kids dress up like angels; since pagans used to celebrate on this day and engage in such activities, then Christians simply have no business engaging in any kind of celebration on October 31 or in any actives that look at all similar to what pagans used to do.

To make matters even worse, these future fundamentals would argue, there is no Biblical basis for a Lift Jesus Higher Day and definitely, no Biblical basis for setting apart October 31 for such a celebration. The Apostle never celebrated Lift Jesus Higher Day, so neither should we.

Of course, what these future fundamentalists would be ignoring in their protests about October 31 is that very date was chosen for Lift Jesus Higher Day precisely because it used to be a pagan holiday. In fact, if there had not been a pagan holiday on that day then Lift Jesus Higher Day would never have been instituted.

Moreover, Christians at the time were rejoicing when Lift Jesus Higher Day replaced Halloween. It was considered a good thing. Those Christians knew there was nothing Biblically "special " about October 31, but they also knew that it was far better for people to be thinking about Jesus on October 31 than about witches and demons. They also knew that Paul had written, "The one honoring [or, observing] the day, to [the] Lord he honors [it]" (Romans 14:6). And the Christians at the time were doing just that, honoring the Lord on that day.

But centuries later, all of this rejoicing over the transition was long forgotten by the future fundamentalists. All they can see is the pagan roots of the holiday and the current corruptions of it into a merchandize season and excuse for partying. They could not see how beneficial it was for Jesus to even be nominal honored on October 31 rather than witches and demons. And they just couldn't accept that some Christians had avoided all of the secular trappings and still genuinely lifted Jesus higher on that day.

However, some cunning future fundamentalists would then start promoting the idea that the problem is not with the concept but with the date. They will use some convoluted Biblical "proofs" to demonstrate that the Apostles actually had set aside a day in July to especially lift Jesus higher, not in October. Never mind that this theory would be completely full of holes, it would start getting often and widely repeated.

Another Holiday

Some people reading this article are probably smiling at this point while others are probably getting upset as you know where I am going with this. This whole fantasy transition from Halloween to Lift Jesus Higher Day is exactly what happened in the fourth century A.D.. Only then, what occurred was a transition from pagan celebrations surrounding the Winter Solstice of December 22 to the celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25.

Exactly how this change came about is a matter of much debate. But one thing is certain, pagans had been holding celebrations and religious observances around the time of the Winter Solstice for centuries before the time of Christ. Various pagan gods were honored at these celebrations. Most probably, the Roman god Saturn was the god most honored in the Roman Empire at the start of the fourth century.

But then, sometime after the conversion of the emperor Constantine to the Christian faith in the early fourth century, the Roman Empire was at least nominally "Christianized" and people began celebrating Christmas instead of the Winter Solstice.

Most likely, Christian leaders at the time realized the same thing that parents today realize about their kids and Halloween; they couldn't just tell the populace to forget about Winter Solstice celebrations and get back to work. People at the time lived for holidays. To just take away a holiday without giving the people an alternative would cause quite a revolt. Moreover, Christian leaders were looking for a way to wean people away from the worship of false gods like Saturn and towards the worship of Jesus.

And that is how the idea of a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ most likely came about. The date of December 25 was chosen not because they thought Jesus was actually born on that day. They knew that no one knew when Jesus was actually born since the Bible gives us no such date. The date was chosen precisely because that time of the year was a time for pagan celebrations.

Very quickly, Winter Solstice celebrations and honoring of the god Saturn were forgotten and were replaced with Christmas celebrations, and Christ was at least nominally being honored. Most likely, the Christian leaders and Christians in general were rejoicing at this transition. It was all considered to be a very good thing and a sign that the Roman Empire was truly being Christianized.

Eventually, various pagan practices like the decoration of trees became part of this Christmas celebration. But when they were, again very quickly, any remembrance of the pagan roots was long forgotten. The trees became symbols of the new holiday, and it was of Christ and Christmas that people would think when decorating a tree, not some pagan god or ritual.

Fundamentals Object

But now, centuries later, today's fundamentalists object to Christmas on the same grounds that my fantasy future fundamentalists objected to Lift Jesus Higher Day.

Such fundamentalists will object, "It used to be a pagan holiday!" True, but that is precisely why the date was chosen. It is far better to have a day set aside for honoring Christ than for honoring the god Saturn, or would you prefer everyone went back to worshipping Saturn on December 25?

"There are formerly pagan practices incorporated into Christmas celebrations." True, but the pagan roots are long forgotten. Current Christmas practices are just that, Christmas practices. They cause people to think about Christmas, not paganism.

"There is no Biblical basis for celebrating Christ's birth." Actually, Matthew and Luke have rather drawn out stories about Jesus' birth. Those stories were certainly read and celebrated during early Christian worship services.

"Jesus was not actually born on December 25." True, but since we do not know when He was born, there is no problem with picking a day on which to honor Christ and thank God for His birth (Romans 14:6).

"Jesus was actually born in September, during the Feast of Tabernacles, not in December." This claim I addressed several years ago in my article Jesus Born in September? When I wrote that article, I thought it was just the one pastor of church I formerly attended that promoted that idea. But since then, it has been repeated to me many times and can be found all over the Internet. This truly saddens me as it took me all of five minutes of Bible study to discover the many holes in the idea. Maybe people should try studying the Bible more rather than repeating unsound ideas.

"Christmas has been turned into a merchandize season, with little regard for Christ." Unfortunately, very true. But many Christians still make Christ the center of their Christmas celebrations.

Moreover, even with all of the attempts to get Christ out of the season, you still can tune into two different radio stations and two different TV music stations on a local digital cable service here in the Pittsburgh area during the Christmas season and hear many traditional, Christian Christmas carols being played. Sure, they play more "Ho, ho ho," songs than Christian carols. But songs like, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Come Let Us Adore Him" still get played quite often. And hearing songs calling for everyone to praise and adore the Savior on secular radio stations is a very good thing. Maybe, just maybe, those lyrics will sink into someone listening and will turn their minds to the Real Reason for the Season. If for that reason alone, I thank God for the Christmas season.

Merry Christmas!

I've been publishing this email newsletter for six years. Each December, I have run a special Christmas issue. And each year, someone will complain, "Why are you celebrating that pagan holiday?" Well, this issue is my response to that complaint.

So I will close this article by wishing all of my readers a Merry and Blessed Christmas! Enjoy the holiday and the time spent with family and friends. But also be sure to set aside some time to focus on the Real Reason for the Season, the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

8And shepherds were in the same region staying in the fields and watching over their flock [during the] watches of the night. 9And look! An angel of [the] Lord stood over them, and [the] glory of [the] Lord shone around them, and they feared a great fear. 10And the angel said to them, "Stop being afraid! For listen! I bring to you* the Gospel [or, Good News] of great joy, which will be to all the people. 11Because a Savior was born to you* today in the city of David, who is Christ [the] Lord! 12And this [will be] the sign to you*: You* will find a Baby having been wrapped in long strips of cloth, lying in a feeding trough."

13And suddenly [there] was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army [or, host], praising God, and saying, 14"Glory to God in [the] highest, and peace on earth, good will among people!" (Luke 2:8-14; ALT3).


A Tale of Two Holidays. Copyright 2008 By Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).

The above article first appeared in the Free Darkness to Light Newsletter.
It was posted on this site December 1, 2008.

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