As for the man who is a weak believer, welcome him [into your fellowship], but not to criticize his opinions or pass judgment on his scruples or perplex him with discussions. One [man’s faith permits him to] believe he may eat anything, while a weaker one [limits his] eating to vegetables. Let not him who eats look down on or despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains criticize and pass judgment on him who eats; for God has accepted and welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on and censure another’s household servant? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he shall stand and be upheld, for the Master (the Lord) is mighty to support him and make him stand. One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike [sacred]. Let everyone be fully convinced (satisfied) in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives to himself [but to the Lord], and none of us dies to himself [but to the Lord, for] If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or we die, we belong to the Lord. For Christ died and lived again for this very purpose, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you criticize and pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you look down upon or despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God [acknowledge Him to His honor and to His praise]. And so each of us shall give an account of himself [give an answer in reference to judgment] to God. Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather decide and endeavor never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle or a hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:1-13, AMPC)
I am Dr. Lee Ann B. Marino. I am an apostle. I have been in ministry for 19 years. I have a confession.
I do not celebrate Christmas.
Actually I don’t celebrate any conventional or secular holidays. Not Christmas, Easter, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Patriotic holidays, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Columbus Day, none of them. I haven’t celebrated any of them for approximately 16 years. I will not ever celebrate them again.
I am not anti-observances. I feel Pentecost is perhaps the most relevant day of the church year, as it’s the church’s birthday, but we seem to allow that to pass our calendars without a single thought. I consider communion to be an observance of the believer’s Passover, but we also seem to allow communion to slip from our fingers as we don’t want to dress for church or run the risk that our church service might run over longer than we would like. I even observe my own birthday, which I probably wouldn’t if I could ever get people to do things for me any other time of the year, but I digress. But when it comes to the holidays that the world tells us we have to celebrate, count me out.
Call it the non-conformist in me, but there is more to it than that. That might be what keeps me going, but it isn’t how it all started. 16 years ago I was still a student, and in the process of studying the origins behind different religious groups, I stumbled across the history of modern holidays by pure accident. I learned where they came from, I did not like what I learned, and I literally let every one of them go, cold turkey. I never regretted the decision. It is a conviction; it is how I feel about this issue; and I do feel it deserves respect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get it.
Just last night I saw a post on Facebook that said to the extent: “If you don’t want to celebrate Christmas that’s fine, but you don’t have the right to govern what other people do. If you want your beliefs respected, then respect those of others.” I beg to differ with the statement. In the 16 years I have not celebrated Christmas, I have never governed another individual’s right to celebrate the holiday (or any holiday, for that matter). I have never told someone they will go to hell if they celebrate Christmas and, to be quite honest, I don’t care if someone celebrates Christmas, or not. If that is someone’s choice, then that’s fine, but then I don’t want to have the holiday shoved down my throat, which is exactly what happens in the process. I have felt the pressure, year after year, to keep quiet about my beliefs and not only that, hear people whine, moan, and complain about everything they hate about Christmas. In my personal opinion, if you hate it that much, stop observing it. But beyond that, every time I ever try to discuss the issue in any form, whether it’s because I was asked about it or because I wrote something about it, I am met with a long line of defenses, much like the status I saw earlier. The message I get, loud and clear: this is what I want to do, and don’t you dare do or say anything to threaten my comfort in doing so.
I’m not writing this to be belligerent or to start an argument. In fact, I don’t really want to hear why you celebrate Christmas because I don’t care if you celebrate it. I care if you celebrate it and it interferes with your relationship with God, but I don’t need to be that involved in the discussion with you if I am not already. I don’t want to argue. I want to point out that because this issue is so ridiculously emotional and hostile, nobody ever listens to anyone else’s point of view, and that by itself is offensive. I’ve heard why those of you do choose to celebrate; I have respected your choice; and now I am here to explain why it is my choice not to observe the occasion for the sake of our own learning and because I have as much a right to my opinion as you do to yours. As the Bible says, some of us view all days as the same, and others view things as special (I’ll put aside Romans 14 was not talking about Christmas for the time being and look at the principle, instead), which means I have just as much a valid perspective as any one who celebrates the holiday.
A note as I move forward with my position: I have done so much research on the history of Christmas over the years, I don’t remember where many of the facts in this article are from. I have a book where I detail many of the references, and that book is currently being reworked and will be released at a later point in time. All of the information that is presented, however, can be discovered through simple research, and if you have any question about the facts I present, feel free to look them up.
Jesus was not born on December 25 – If you don’t know that Jesus was not born on December 25, that gives me a disturbing insight into the lack of proper education and training in churches today. Truth is, we don’t know when Jesus was born, neither in month, day, or exact year. Throughout history, Jesus’ birthday has been observed in every month of the Julian calendar. The reason Christmas is observed on December 25 is more sinister than we might like to imagine: December 25 was the date for the Roman Feast of the Invincible Sun, often observed in different cultures around the time of the Winter Solstice. If you do some history into the pagan holiday, you will note that many of the traditions sound familiar: giving gifts, large parties, spending large amounts of money, using evergreen to decorate, etc. When the Catholic Church was devising its calendar in the 300s, Christmas was added as a means to try and make church membership more appealing to the pagan masses. The church was also associated with the Holy Roman Empire, and that meant it needed to build up its available army to conquer (yes, in a military sense, not a spiritual one) other countries. Instead of making the pagans Christian as a part of the New Testament’s one new man, it made the Christians pagan. What basically happened is the baby Jesus got plopped right in the middle of a pagan feast, churches made Christmas day a mandatory day of observation, and voila – you have Christmas as it came to be known among the church.
The early church did not celebrate Christmas – There is no record, anywhere in anything, that Christmas was ever celebrated by the early church. In fact, we know it wasn’t celebrated by the early church, because the birth of Christ was regarded as a secret. If you think about Herod and his personal crusade to kill all the infant boys, keeping his birth a secret made sense. Even as Jesus got older, His birth date would need to remain a secret because discovering He survived through Herod’s mandate could get Him killed at any point in His life, taking Him out before He fulfilled His destiny. By the time Jesus was an adult in ministry, nobody probably knew when it was (no birth certificates, no birth records, etc.). Jesus’ birth was known only to a few when it happened, and everyone made every effort to keep His presence on the QT for fear He would be killed. Christmas was not a facet of the New Testament church (or the church for several generations thereafter) and I do not believe that given all they had to overcome as a people that celebrating a pagan holiday with a little Jesus mixed in would have been deemed appropriate.
Neither Biblical nor apocryphal records support all the details we believe about Christmas – There’s no record that links the visit of the Wise Men with the birth of Christ. The Bible states that Jesus was a “child” in a “house” when they visited Him; not a visit to the manger. This makes more sense, as they didn’t just hop in the car or on a plane and zoom across many countries to visit Him. Land travel took a long…long…long…time to accomplish, and it most likely took years for them to arrive at their location. Nothing says there were three Wise Men. Some might say these things don’t matter, but I’m into technicalities. So to me, these things matter.
Nothing about the birth of Christ was about family – When Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph were a long way from home due to a census. They weren’t with their families and they weren’t around anyone that they knew. The push for family at Christmas has nothing to do with family values, although many like to tell themselves that. Family images, having the perfect dinner, the perfect meal, with everyone looking quaint and cute, is a marketing gimmick. It exists so you will be willing to go out and spend thousands and thousands of dollars to make it happen on food, travel, gifts, decorations, and general “Christmas spirit.” The media wants us to think there is something wrong with us if we accept ourselves and our situations as we are, and maybe admit that we don’t like our families the rest of the year, because if we come to a place of acceptance, we won’t be so quick to shell out extensive amounts of money to spend time with a bunch of people we don’t even like.
Secular Christmas figures are decidedly racist and supremacist, not endearing – You are seldom, if ever (more like never) going to see a Black Santa, or an Asian Santa, or a Mexican Santa in the media because that’s not the image of Santa that has sold throughout the decades. The image of Santa represents the stereotype of 1800s American ideas about what “benevolence” and “charity” looked like: older, white, bearded and mustached wealthy men who had pity on all the poor, unfortunate little children who didn’t have the good fortune to be his kids. As for the elves, they have a long history as spirits of pagan lore (I’m sick of hearing about the spirit of Jezebel, I want to hear about the spirit of elves!) that worked mischief, including that of a sexual nature, among unsuspecting individuals. However, in the case of Santa Claus, they also represent enslavement, as they do all the work in his factory, for free, year after year…and it’s understood they are not paid for what they do. Sounds a little too much like a mythical version of cultural slavery as existed in the time period when Santa came into existence.
It draws people away from church and Christian faith – Now let me say, I didn’t say it draws you, who are reading this away from church and the Christian faith, but as a minister, I can’t deny what I see in people every year, at this time of the year. The first thing that typically happens is people stop giving to their church and to ministries they know. This might sound contradictory to you, because the image we see in the media and we see stereotyped as the spread of good cheer is that this is the only time of year when people want to give to church. This is, unfortunately, a falsehood. It might have been true at one time in history, but 16 years into ministry, I don’t know a single ministry that is not hurt financially every year when Christmastime rears its head. Let’s examine why this is: Christmas costs money. It doesn’t cost a little bit of money, it costs a lot of money, and the cost of it increases every single year. The holiday quickly becomes the priority over everything else in one’s life, and that may also include one’s relationship with God as they pursue their way to prove something about themselves or their families at this time, each year. As of the writing of this blog, the debate of the year is as to whether or not churches should be open because Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. There are those who are the first to condemn everyone to hell for all the things they do all the time who are saying if their churches are open, they will refuse to go to church because they want to spend time with their families. To me, in my ears, this sounds an awful lot like idolatry, like you are putting your family (which you can see before church, or after church, or can come to church with you, or you don’t like anyway so what difference does it matter) ahead of your priority to worship God. Look, I grew up in a church that regarded Christmas as a “holy day of obligation,” which meant if the day ended in a “y” you had to show up for service. If it fell on a day other than Sunday, you had to go to church on Sunday, and then that day, and then the following Sunday, again. All this mess tells me is that people’s priorities are screwed up. If you are even in question as to whether or not you should go to church on Christmas, then stop telling me you celebrate Christmas because “Jesus is the reason for the season.” In that instance, no He isn’t and I know straight up He doesn’t appreciate getting the blame for excuses to get out of worship.
I can’t afford it – People tell me all year they can’t afford tithes. They can’t afford offerings. They don’t have the money to sow into a mission trip. They can’t afford their school tuition. They can’t afford this. They can’t afford that. These same people always have money for Christmas, the expensive Christmas. Food costs money. Trees cost money. Decorations cost money. Lights cost money (electric bills are not friendly). Presents cost money. Travel costs money. Christmas cards cost money. Christmas pictures cost money. And the reality is I do not have the extra money to spend on all the “holiday” things that others think I should be doing at this time of the year. To me, it’s really simple: God is the One Who called me into ministry, and that means I am called to be financially prepared and prudent for the things He wants me to do in each season of my life. If it’s a question between hosting a ministry event or going on a mission trip and celebrating Christmas, Christmas is going to have to lose, because I have other priorities. You can say all day long you can do both or have both, but the realities speak otherwise. If you can’t tithe all year or give all year, or can’t travel all year or hold events, but all of a sudden Christmas rolls around and you find a way to celebrate Christmas, then that tells me where all that money went! It might be said, even be intended that you can do it all, but I’ve been at this long enough to know it never happens. If it’s a question between obeying God or having myself a merry little Christmas, I have to obey God. We never think about God putting us in a position to make those choices, but if we are serious about ministry and even our faith and something ties up our finances, our ability to work in and help the church, and do a work we say He called us to do, then we have to seriously think about our actions and what our choices are doing to our call and relationship with Him.
I can’t get away from it – If I post a status that you don’t like about not celebrating Christmas, you have every choice to keep on scrolling and forget you ever saw it. But I don’t have the choice to forget about “seeing” Christmas. I go to the grocery store on December 20th just to do regular shopping, because I have to live, but I am barraged by Christmas gifts, checkers who think it is comfortable and friendly to ask me what I am doing for the holidays, decorations that reflect and are hard on my eyes and severely affect my ability to see due to a physical light sensitivity I have due to albinism, rude crowds, incessant Christmas music that is repeated year after year, and people who send greetings for the holiday, even after I have told them I don’t celebrate. That sounds to me like people are forcing me to get into something that I don’t want to be a part of, and it’s honestly very disrespectful. I understand that those who don’t know me don’t do it out of harm, but it is so automatically assumed that everyone is celebrating it, I can’t get away from it. Then I come online and see the mess of people defending various positions, arguing back and forth in favor or against, and it’s like everyone takes a posture that is both rude and inconsiderate that maybe, just maybe, everyone doesn’t automatically feel the way about Christmas that you do and maybe we all get tired of hearing about it.
It makes people treat me differently – My decision not to observe Christmas is rooted in my faith and my strong conviction as a Christian and what it means to be one. I am sorry if you do not agree with me about that, but that does not give you the right to question my faith or my ministry calling. One of the reasons I don’t talk much about not celebrating holidays is because it always seems to cause others to treat me differently or not feel I am as “anointed” as I was before they found that out. Suddenly I am perceived not to be a Christian anymore, as someone who has no faith and there is something wrong with. Let’s look at the images we often have of people who don’t celebrate holidays: The portrayal in classic literature and movies is always of anti-Christmas people as stingy, selfish, workaholics, unkind, hardened people while those who want to celebrate are infringed and forced to do things so they can’t observe the holiday because of these evil Scrooges and Grinches. It’s implied and sometimes outright stated that those who don’t celebrate just want to keep people from what’s “really important” in life and the only way they can change their sinister ways is to do what – celebrate Christmas. This mentality has filtered down to today: if we don’t celebrate it, we aren’t in alignment with God in some way. This sounds an awful lot like faith by works to me, that somehow celebrating Christmas is what makes us a Christian, and last time I checked, the Bible is really clear to me that our faith is NOT based in our works. Maybe those who insist it is necessary need to go read their Bibles again.
I’m not sentimental – This one is just a personality quirk of mine. I don’t lament over the “good old days.” I want to move forward to what God has for me, not sit around and cry over sappy commercials. I can’t stand the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” There’s nothing wrong with being sentimental, but there’s nothing wrong with not being sentimental, either, and we need to make room for those who are different as much as those who are conforming to a societal concept of “heartwarming.”
For many, Christmas hurts – Suicides are higher between Christmas and New Year’s than any other time of the year. As you go about your time, prattling on endlessly about your family gathering, there’s someone out there whose mother, or father, or child, or sibling, or close relative, or close friend recently died (or maybe died a few years ago) and doesn’t feel joyful or happy this time of year. There are people who have been rejected by their families, who refuse to have them in their households, for one reason or another, or who make them feel unwelcome there. There are people who live in true poverty and who do not have money to get their children anything, and there is no community goodwill or other organization to make up for their lack of gifts. This time of year makes these feel more empty, reminds them of what they do not have and of what they have lost. Instead of wanting a Christmas card or to hear another Christmas song, they want a hug, they want to know someone cares about them and is there for them instead of feeling lost in the Christmas shuffle.
I hate the “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays” battle – For crying out loud, can we all please grow up? I grew up in a small community that had a very active and thriving Conservative Jewish congregation. I grew up in one church, with one set of Christmas traditions, and many of my friends went to other churches that celebrated different observances. There were kids in my class who were not Christians, even when I was in Catholic school. There were kids whose families only went to church on Christmas, and others who celebrated Christmas, but never went to church. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and I feel that saying “Merry Christmas” instead of wishing people a blessed season or “Happy Holidays” is shoving Christmas down their throat, like it’s some sort of battle. It is not a witness; it is trying to impose your feelings on everyone else, and that’s just not right. Respect goes a lot further than arguing over cups in Starbucks or automatically assuming it is the right thing…because history is full of people who were zealous over things, and were wrong in their approach.
I am grateful Jesus was born every day of the year – This is the most significant factor for me, and it is why I have saved it for last. I am able to regard “all days as alike” because there isn’t a day of the year when I am not grateful that Jesus was born. There isn’t a day of the year when I am not grateful that Jesus rose from the dead and is just as much with me today as on that day, all those years ago. I don’t need Christmas to be grateful He was born, and I don’t need Easter to be grateful that He is alive. God wants ALL of us, not just a period of time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The summary to me of it all is from Isaac Watts’ hymn, “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross:”
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
All days are alive because all days of the year, God loves me, and that requires my soul, my life (not just one day or a few days a year), and my all. He is the “I AM,” not the “I Christmas.” If I don’t need it to feel close to Him, then I shouldn’t have to put on a show or pretend that I do just to make you like me better or accept me as a fellow believer. You regard some days as special, then that’s fine. That is between you and God. But my lack of observance is also based on what is between me and God, and I have to observe all days as alike. You have your reasons for what you do, and you believe them to be valid, and as I have proven here, I have my reasons, as well. Mine are just as valid as yours. The point of Romans 14 is to prove that no matter what we do, we should be doing it unto God. If you’re not, and that’s obvious, then you need to make changes accordingly, because that which is not done in faith is done in error. This shouldn’t be a debate and it shouldn’t be such a cause for venomous division and bitter hatred between believers.
Maybe what all of this proves is that no matter how Christian we claim to be, there’s still an awful lot of ways that we cling to our traditions as proof of our belief and we don’t focus enough on our actions aligning with what we believe. Christmas or not, one day should not hinge so much of our identity as believers. Every day, we have the chance to do something good for someone else, to visit our families, to buy or give someone a gift, or to do something for others that matters. We shouldn’t just try to cram it into a holiday that has a spurious history and causes more trouble than it is often worth. The Bible tells us that they will know we are of Christ if we are of love. Thus, the one thing all of us can do is learn to better love one another, no matter what day of the year it is.
© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.