Blast from the past….
(Author’s note: This article is not an attempt to persuade anyone else to my point of view. It is offered solely for whatever it may be worth, and expresses my opinion only. Jb)
Now that Christmas 2000 is just an X on the calendar, I want to take the time to explore an issue that comes to the minds of many, if not most, exWCG+ members when they first break into the open and dash for freedom from the cult: What about Christmas? (Or Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, New Years?) Even though one has left the cult, is it still necessary to observe “days and times and new moons”, or is it now okay to observe “pagan” festivals?
When I first broke loose in 1992, the observance of holidays was the last thing on my mind. For months I was preoccupied with a reassessment of my entire belief system, including everything from whether to eat Jello to whether I should still hate homosexuals. At the same time I was acutely conscious that the “true church of God” was no such thing, so where was the True Church? Or did it exist? And what about the tons of doctrines we had been taught. Surely not all of them could be wrong, but which were and which weren’t? I hardly had time to worry about Christmas.
But Christmas rolled around all too quickly. I resigned on May 29, and as autumn approached my wife began talking about possibly returning to a celebration of the winter festival.
So I had to detour for a while and consider the matter. And I think most exWorldwiders at some point do the same thing.
I recently visited a former WCG forum and found a discussion on Christmas. Several people admitted that they now celebrate Christmas in some form, others do not. What struck me was that even those who do somehow felt obliged to explain themselves. “We don’t keep it in a religious sense”, “we only buy gifts for the children”, “we exchange gifts but don’t have a tree”, etc. (these are not exact quotes from the forum, but are representative of the apologetic nature of the actual postings).
I asked myself, Why? Are these folks still somehow laboring under the assumption that Christmas is somehow bad? Was Herbert Armstrong so powerful, so persuasive, that he still has such power over people mentally, even years after they have escaped him physically? Did he take the joy out of every aspect of life? Does he still control us from the grave, even now that we know what a despicable piece of shit he really was?
Maybe he does.
Christmas (Xmas, if it makes you more comfortable) is not bad. Hanukkah is not bad. Ramadan is not bad. Groundhog Day is not bad. All of these are just man-made holidays, and though bad things may sometimes happen during these days, they are no more evil than Flag Day or Pearl Harbor day (non-U.S. residents please supply your own secular equivalents).
I had to address these issues back in 92, and all it took for me (being one of simple mind and spirit) was thinking it all through in a logical manner. I didn’t need to do any research, as I had done plenty of that over the years. All I did was apply what I had learned (most of it accurate) and examine that under the microscope of common sense. (For those of you still in one of the cults, this is called “leaning to your own understanding”. Don’t try it at home, or you may not get to go to Petra.)
All my adult life I had hated Christmas. We had observed it until I was thirteen, when my mother joined Worldwide Church of God. After that we avoided it like the plague, literally. Herbert Alarmstrong (“God is going to raise up a man who can raise a strong alarm!” — Gerrull Wateringhole) had decreed that God hated Christmas and that anyone who observed it was actually bowing down to idols. A number of idols were named, chief among them being Molloch, an ancient god to whom infants were sacrificed by being burned alive. We were told that Jeremiah 10 referred to the Christmas tree, and that a Christmas tree was a phallic symbol. Any and all scriptures that condemned idol-worship could be used to condemn Christmas as well.
I had even given a sermonette on the subject (yes, I did give a few, though I was never ordained), in which I trashed Christmas thoroughly. And every year as winter approached, I dreaded the season. I dreaded the traffic and the music (most of it is rather annoying), and the parties and the attention I always generated by avoiding them. Most of all I dreaded total strangers saying to me, “Merry Christmas!” with their big smiles and sincere wishes. And the Christmas cards. I dreaded it and I hated it.
And yet . . .
Somewhere, deep inside, there was a part of me that envied those people. I didn’t admit it even to myself, but it was there. A sort of warm feeling as I looked at the lights and gaily decorated trees. I remembered Arkansas in 1952, when I was four — the snow and icicles, the overpowering smell of pine, the roaring log fire, the dazzling tinsel and glittering glass balls on the tree. Sights and sounds and smells, the most powerful sensory experiences for a child. I still remembered.
And one song, the most beautiful score ever written, always sent a chill down my spine, especially if performed instrumentally so I didn’t have to hear the lyrics. That song was “Silent Night”. To this day it gives me chills.
But it was a sin. God hated it. So I hated it, too.
Without it, winter was a long damn time.
And it seemed the whole damn world was wrapped up in it. If you admitted to someone that you didn’t observe Christmas, they acted as if you had syphilis. It made them edgy, uncomfortable, and some of them wanted very little to do with you afterward.
Oh well, we had been told to expect persecution, hadn’t we?
The Christmas tree was a phallic symbol from ancient Babylon (even though the encyclopedia said it started with Martin Luther — what did Britannica know, anyway?). The baby Jesus was actually Nimrod, the father of all idolatry. Mary was really Semiramus, Nimrod’s harlot of a mother who later became his wife. Joseph was not assigned to anyone that I can remember, so he must have just been a pimp. Christmas had been celebrated in one form or another for over 4000 years, 2000 years before Jesus. So it was a fraud, a phony, a counterfeit. It had been called Saturnalia by the Romans and had a dozen other names as well. The druids had celebrated it as the winter solstice. It had only been assimilated into Christianity in 327 AD by the emperor Constantine, to appease his idol-worshipping converts who did not want to give up all their old celebrations. It had nothing to do with Jesus.
Hell, Jesus wasn’t even born in the winter!
Historically, most of that is true. Christmas really does not have anything to do with Jesus, yet it claims to be his birthday. And what the hell does Santa Claus have to do with Jesus? (Could it be . . . S-A-T-A-N !!! ???)
So we should not observe it.
That was what I had always believed.
In 1992 I had to figure it all out. Rethink it. Make a decision.
And I did.
A few years earlier I had walked into the office one day and saw two of the ladies working on the Christmas tree. One of them was actually on her knees, bending over, doing something underneath the tree. In that snapshot of a moment she looked exactly like someone prostrating herself before an idol. In a moment of uncharacteristic rudeness, I blurted out: “Bowing down?” And walked on into the next room.
Well, that was uncalled for, but this particular lady was one of those offensive Christians who loved to needle me about my Saturday religion. So she deserved it. But it was still wrong of me to say what I did.
In 1992 I remembered that moment. And it occurred to me that what she was doing was very different from bowing down to an idol. She was decorating a tree, which is a secular — not a religious — symbol of Christmas. In her mind she was not bowing down to any idol. As obnoxious as she was, she was a fervent fundamentalist who would have never bowed down to any graven image. You could have flayed off her skin and she would never have done it. My statement had been grossly unfair, because what counted was what was in her heart.
They always told us that, didn’t they? Where your heart is, etc. This lady’s heart was with her perception of the Lord, whatever that meant. In her mind, by observing Christmas she was honoring her savior. From a religious perspective, what was so wrong with that?
And then it all came clear to me. None of the Christians I knew, or had ever known, would ever bow down to an idol. Having a Christmas tree and exchanging presents was not an anti-God activity. Christmas has two faces — one is the baby Jesus theme, the other is purely secular (Santa Claus, etc.). It can be observed either way. The very fact that its origins were pagan actually meant that it was okay to observe Christmas, as long as it was observed in a secular way (in those days I had not yet come to understand that Christianity itself is bogus, so I was unable to connect the rest of the picture). And for people who viewed it as the birthday of Christ, what was the harm in honoring him, even if it was not a holiday hallowed by the Bible? Their hearts were in the right place, and the heart is the only thing that matters.
For me, it became very simple — Christmas is a national holiday in the United States. I could observe it as a U.S. holiday at the very least, just as I observe Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Independence Day, or any other. No difference.
And that’s what we did. In 1992 I had a Christmas tree for the first time since 1960. I even put lights on my house. But Christmas was not (and is not) a religious event. It’s a nice holiday for the family, a time we spend together over special food and treats, a time to give presents. Jesus is not in the equation, and neither is Nimrod.
And neither is Herbert Armstrong.
My advice to anyone who feels it is somehow wrong to observe any of these “pagan” holidays, or who observes them but feels guilty for doing so, is to ask yourself why. Why does it bother you? Is it because you were force-fed Armstrongism for so long that it became deeply embedded in your mind, an unconscious trigger that won’t allow you to enjoy normal life? Or is it something else? Only you can supply the answer, and only you can decide what (if anything) to do about it.
It’s your life. Do what you want to do, and enjoy it all you can. Don’t let them control you any longer.
Is celebrating holidays and exchanging gifts soundly condemned by the Churches of God as unbiblical?THINK AGAIN!