With the upcoming roster of calendar marked holidays approaching, I thought it pertinent to discuss my opinions on a few of the following holidays. Those relevant to the American culture currently being: Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Earth Day among many others. This study won’t cover much about specific holiday traditions, rather, touch more on the idea of a civil holiday as it relates to scripture. What is a holiday and how do they differ from the scriptural version of holy days? Ultimately, fingers clasped, down on two knees begging the question; is it wrong to celebrate non-biblical holidays? The unpopular answer: sometimes.
If you’re anything like me and biblical discussion and study really suits your fancy, then you have most likely been approached by the common believer that is a purist at heart, with such a noble zeal for the scriptures that the frequent (perhaps habitual) accusation of being “pagan” escapes their lips. Though it is sometimes difficult to deal with such a person in a positive manner, being as their passion often overrides their factual understanding of certain issues, this is my favorite type of believer. Annoying as one might come off they are not always incorrect, but more often, simply misunderstood.
To be a pagan, historically, was not always a bad thing. In the ancient Roman world to be called a pagan simply meant that you followed the old ways and old traditions of your ancestors. You probably prayed to a tree somewhere outside the city walls reciting something similar to John Snow’s vow to the Night’s Watch (Game of Thrones plug). It is only recently and more particularly among Christians that the word pagan became a derogatory remark. To be considered pagan from a Christian’s view is to be godless or against God. A more appropriate view of how the word is used today would be synonymous with a heretic, an infidel, or a heathen, someone who is not righteous and contends against the scriptures of God.
It is this class of person that truly challenges societal norms and questions traditional views on modern day practices. At heart, the person’s intentions are meant well but often find that their delivery, to put it in slang terms, is whack! I’ve been on the receiving end and have also had the unfortunate experience of being the one making these accusations. Usually it isn’t received well when you decide to break the news that a tradition someone has held dear for all their lives goes against the doctrine of their personal beliefs. When I say “received well” I am severely understating this reaction. I’ve had family members not talk to me for a year when I told them Christmas was hijacked by Catholicism and, historically as well as biblically, had nothing to do with the messiah of the “new testament”.
Nevertheless, I trudge forward happy to tackle this issue after the biggest holiday of the year, since it will not trigger too many people like discrediting the nativity story seems to. I’ll crush those spirits later 😉.
Define Your Terms
To begin, like I do with all studies, I start with the question at hand and define the key words at the heart of the issue. The question being, is it wrong to celebrate non-biblical holidays?
Let’s start with the word “wrong”. Often, I find when people accuse another within the realms of biblical relevance and they use the term “wrong”, what they are truly aiming for is “sinful”. Because of this, we will be approaching this question from the angle of “wrong” meaning “sinful”. The reason being, for example, is that the act of killing is wrong by every standard, and yet there still exist circumstances in which the act of killing is not actually a “sin” and sometimes necessary e.g., self-defense, animal slaughter for food, etc.
In the bible, there are typically three words used to describe wrongdoing and each carry with it a specific way in which this wrongdoing can occur. These three words are, sin, transgression, and iniquity.
What is “sin”? Aside from its literal definition, sin is often thought of as something requiring punishment for. This is usually backed up by the verse that states the wages of sin being death. With the optics of this word in today’s present climate, where almost every day a new virtue signaling tactic is created and used for defending one’s rights and purposes, or condemning them, you can understand why some people would hate to be told they are wrong, or sinners. They’d have to die.
The Hebrew meaning of sin is to morally fail and the picture that comes to mind when mentioning this word is “to miss the mark” like a marksman missing a target. In this case, a moral cause missing its purpose. In the context of the Hebrew, culturally, to sin means to fall short of a commandment of God, to have disobeyed knowingly or unwittingly. Going against, or in contrast to what the creator has established as good, is to sin.
Iniquity is more at the heart of someone’s reasons for committing a sin. Iniquity is descriptive of crooked behavior, wickedness or corruption in an individual. This is often the case when someone is found to be evil or hateful in their actions. It is a matter of distorted conscience and consequences. Stealing money, claiming what is wrong is right and vice versa, these are examples of how someone can be iniquitous.
Transgression is an act of breaking trust with or rebelling against someone. This is what one does when they tell a secret of yours they had previously sworn not to disclose, when one country breaks a peace agreement with another, a leaked dossier by members of your own political party, these are examples of transgressing. It is related to the wrong doing against a person that is supposed to be trusted or done to a person in whom you have placed your trust.
In the English language we often associate the verb “celebrate” with parties and memorials. As it relates to holidays a more appropriate use of the word celebrate in scripture, is “observe”, meaning to perceive something as having some significance. In a wider sense from a Hebrew perspective this word would mean the safe keeping of something or the guarding of something precisely because you deem it significant. In this case, a specific day and its carried traditions. The Picture you can imagine here is a farmer who fences his garden to keep out rodents from destroying the important crop within. He celebrates his crop in doing so. That is the biblical scope and usage.
This is my favorite subject to discuss because the biblical view on this type of day contains so much more depth and meaning, that to me, has allowed it to become a part of my identity sculpting who I am as a person. It has shaped my views on societal norms and forced me to search the scriptures for the truth about what I believe.
The word holiday is derived from the old English, “holy day”. In the Hebrew Torah there are specific days that one is called to remember, keep holy, and observe. These days are known as “moedim” (mo-eh-deem), and the most common translation is “appointed times”. The fourth day of creation is connected to these special days, because He created the sun, moon, and stars for the purposes of telling time, and recognizing His signs and seasons. All so one could follow His calendar to be able to observe these holy days. Within the “old testament” there are many days which are commanded to be observed as festivals or gatherings, each having its own requirements and traditions but all encompassing the remembrance of God and the covenant He has made with His people, the children of Yisrael.
In the Torah there are 7 seasonal holy days and 1 weekly day that is to be kept holy or set apart (my previous studies on the Sabbath go into detail on this idea of what it means to be holy, as it relates to a day). These days are separated into two seasons: Spring and Autumn. Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of First Fruits, and the Feast of Weeks occurring in the Spring, and Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles (or booths) occurring in the Autumn. There are reasons why people believe these are no longer needing to be observed but that is its own discussion for another study on another day.
Is it “Wrong” to Celebrate the Civil holidays?
To fully answer this question, we must dissect a few holidays and look at what is going on underneath the skin, so to speak. Some holidays were created to commemorate or honor the brave acts of certain individuals while others have been historically manipulated and used to control the masses into no longer believing the faiths of their ancestors, typically under the guise of the Catholic church. It is amongst the latter where we find the issue of something being called “pagan” roots its claim.
Days such as Independence Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, etc., have all been established by governmental bodies collectively having decided that these are reasons to take off work and remember what our people and country have historically experienced. They are pivotal points of history worth taking note of and understanding the relevant consequences and outcomes of said event. This type of remembrance is an honorable way to “celebrate” any civil holiday so long as it does not supersede or grow in importance above the holy days The Bible has set forth for all believers. It follows in suit the same spirit as The Biblical holy days by choosing to remember certain events for reasons above those of our own personal views and more so acknowledging that as a people we grow and together we must find a way to live peacefully and in unity.
On the other hand, exist holidays that have been reformed from their original purposes with the intent of guiding formerly “pagan” societies to Christian values and traditions. Some of these holidays are as follows: St. Valentine’s Day, Easter, and dare I say Christmas. These holidays all share a common denominator which is the Roman Catholic Church. Each one of these holidays has had a previous set of traditions and purposes for either a separate god other than Yehovah, the God of The Bible, or simply unvirtuous rites and practices.
For example, Valentine’s Day was chosen by this religious body, specifically Pope Gelasius I, to honor the Patron Saint Valentine who was martyred for reasons concerning the marrying of Roman soldiers, as one legend has it. Whether or not this Saint truly existed is of no importance because the day still exists. The question is why? The truth is far more sinister than just a romantic tale of some noble Saint who wished to see Roman soldiers inclusively partake in loving matrimony. Among the locals was a practiced festival called, “Lupercalia”, a festival observed for the averting of evil spirits and purifying of the city as well as increasing health and fertility. This was an ancient practice and the Catholic church, being the rising power at the time had to seize this pagan practice and find a way to make it their own, as it was quite popular.
Whether or not this is a noble act in attempts to clean up their own societies by easing them into the ways of Christ or not, is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that sacrifices and evil customs, according to the Bible’s terms, were being practiced on this same day and the Catholic leaders simply mopped the floor of the blood and covered this day with a mask and called it something else entirely. They created their own legend with their own hero and proceeded to shape history for their own reasons.
This act of covering up ancient festive days and celebrations was not the first nor would it be the last committed by the Roman Catholic Church, with a couple other notable holidays that shared the same fate including:
Again, these are not the only instances, but they are among the two most popular. However intelligent of a political move this might have been, the fact remains the origin and the occurrence of the day that is celebrated remains intact, with a little bit of make-up brushed over attempting to conceal its true wrinkles.
The arguments for the continuation of these celebrations are many and not without their own passionate expressions, but the issue at hand is whether these are pagan holidays. As believers are we to celebrate days that are “pagan”? Is it wrong or sinful to celebrate these types of non-biblical holidays?
For someone who reads the Bible and reveres the word as truth, you must not tread this ground lightly, this is the passion expressed by those who accuse another of being pagan. The love they have for scripture and God’s word has surged through them and refused to care about another’s sentiments since they too have been attacked, disgusted and betrayed by the common societal acceptance of traditions in contrast to the God of The Bible, especially amongst believers who share their faith.
As we can see there are two varieties of holidays created that serve other purposes other than pleasing God. Those that have been acknowledged for their historical importance and those that have been “cleaned up” and restored with new moral value for the purposes of the church. Are they wrong to celebrate? I believe that in celebrating the latter, you are sinning. As beautiful as it sounds and as metaphorically, religiously substantial it may be, it is missing the mark. The mark being: God’s purpose and God’s appointed times.
It is a difficult distanced target to hit. The archer had all the top-notch gear and sights to help him succeed, and notably great form and accuracy at other distances as well. He has made a powerful draw, perfect release, excellent follow through and yet, has still failed to hit the bull’s eye. Missing the mark, no matter how close you get or how great of a shot it may be, is still missing the mark.
-The NorthWest Hebrew