This past summer, in reading Revelation 2, I came across mention of the Nicolaitans. Of course I had seen the word before, but this time I looked it up on Google. I discovered it refers to people in the early church who combined pagan practices of worship with Christian worship, something that God says He hates. This got me thinking about an issue among some Christians who view Christmas and Easter as pagan holidays.
I started on my journey toward Christian faith by listening to Christmas carols. Years later, I was further influenced about the reality of Jesus by accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection—excerpts from The Greatest Story Ever Told—that the Denver Post printed during one Easter season.
The first winter after my husband and I came to faith, we celebrated Christmas. We felt a joyful unity with others who were commemorating Jesus’ birth. For the first time, I fully understood and enjoyed WHO the Christmas carols were all about. We even put up some small decorations, though they were secondary. We figured our family and friends were upset with us anyhow for believing, so we might as well enjoy the “fun” part along with the deeper celebration. It never occurred to us to question why December 25 had been chosen, or whether it was the “correct” day.
Anyway, reading Revelation, I got to thinking: Are we wrong to celebrate Christmas and Easter, which occur on dates once set apart for pagan rituals? Not only that, but in our modern culture the holidays have been twisted beyond recognition by hedonism and commercialism.
As I thought about it and remembered what the holidays meant to me long before I knew what a Nicolaitan was, I knew I would continue to enjoy these holidays for their original intent. They tell of Jesus’ birth, crucifixion and resurrection—important doctrines of my faith. While they may be celebrated at certain times when pagan festivals were once observed, the celebrations I know have not combined pagan with sacred. If anything, they have replaced pagan ritual with sacred commemoration! To commemorate a supernatural event as a reminder and a teaching tool is an important step toward bringing unbelievers to faith and believers to greater faith.
As my husband and I raised our children, faith was foremost, holiday ritual secondary. Yet the holidays were tools for reinforcing the faith we were trying to instill, so at our house we celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays. We celebrated to teach our children that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that He redeemed our Jewish people at Passover, and later sent the Messiah to redeem everyone, Jews and Gentiles, from sin. With the celebrations came a certain amount of secular or at least extra-biblical practices, such as candle lighting, gifts, special foods, etc., but we never saw any of that as an obstacle to the true meaning of the holidays. (We did, however, draw the line at Santa Claus, because he seemed to be taking the place of Jesus, the true Reason for Christmas).
I don’t know why some in the early church combined pagan practices with Christian worship. Maybe they were unwilling to discard old traditions, or maybe they were filling in the absence of Christian tradition with familiar practices. Since I have never researched the subject, this is purely conjecture. I only know that these holidays are not pagan holidays to me. They are wonderful reminders of God’s grace in sending us the Savior.
Ceil Rosen, wife of Moishe Rosen, edited our newsletter for many years. She continues to take an active interest in Jews for Jesus.