Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Infamous Holiday Email

I once wrote an email in response to an issue some friends of mine were debating over (there were SEVERAL group emails on both sides of the issue). This is my response in its entirety, originally written in November '06. We thought this would make a good post since it's already written (ha!) and it happens to tell quite a lot about our family. The issue being questioned: Halloween--should we celebrate it since its origins are pagan? (And someone brought up Christmas as well because of its ties to pagan customs.)

I've been trying to organize my thoughts and finally decided I would weigh in on the issue…sorry about the length.

In my opinion, for what it's worth, I think it comes right down to this question: Are you pleasing the Lord with your actions? As basic as it may seem, it is ONE major question we should ask about everything, always measuring the issue against God's Word. Are you pleasing the Lord when you chase your sister until she cries? Are you pleasing the Lord when you hit your brother on the head with a block? Are you pleasing the Lord by your response to your parents? Are you pleasing the Lord by the way you eat? Are you pleasing the Lord by how you speak to your husband? Are you pleasing the Lord by how you manage your money? Some are obviously easier to answer than others because even as children many of us were taught the popular Scriptures, the ones easy to memorize, the Commandments, etc. and we learned to apply those principles to our lives. Somewhere down the line it got harder and harder to answer questions on our own. We stopped searching the Scriptures, we stopped seeking God's will, we stopped listening to the Spirit. Why? It's easier to stop. It feels good to our flesh to go along with the ways of the world. I'm speaking for myself here!!!! But God's Word really does have everything we need to answer this question, no matter what the issue. Are you pleasing the Lord with your actions? It is a question only YOU can answer because it is based on your specific set of circumstances, your own personal knowledge of God's Word, and the Spirit's subsequent convictions on your heart.

For me, I usually start to recognize these types of convictions when my mind keeps going back to something over and over. I just can't seem to quit thinking about something. You know, you're just trucking along and suddenly you get challenged with something. Maybe it's a Scripture you read, maybe it's a Scripture someone has shared with you, maybe it's something said in a sermon or a song, maybe it's a conviction someone else has and is sharing with you; whatever it is, you keep reflecting on it, maybe you even do everything you can to refute it, you ask others about it, you may be extremely bothered by it, you just can't seem to let it go. This is the point at which we need to ask God's direction about the issue, because He may be changing our hearts and minds about something we would never have dreamed we would change on.

For my family, we never ever considered doing anything different than what our own parents did during our upbringings. After all, we turned out okay, right? In fact, Noah's first year included both trick-or-treating AND Santa Claus, no big deal. Then a friend of mine in my Bible study mentioned she was struggling with several issues (I don't even remember if they had anything to do with Halloween) and that she had been led to the verse "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Phil. 4:8. Whoa! That verse is HUGE when we apply it to everything in our lives, huh?!! TV shows? Movies? How we dress? Books? Images we allow our children to see? God gave us very wise advice (of course!) in his effort to protect us from evil, from temptations, from struggles in raising our children, from cultural desensitization, even from bad dreams. Why? Because these are the things that keep us from having the abundant life He wants for us and these are the things that lead us down roads that are far from pleasing to the Lord, far from glorifying to Him. I know, I know, you're thinking "Good grief, it's just a little pumpkin bag filled with candy and jolly old St. Nick. Whatever could be the harm in those?" Maybe nothing, I suppose. It just depends on where you are in your relationship with the Lord and what His dealings with you have been.

On Christmas: Our specific convictions regarding our Christmas traditions are mainly centered around problems with Santa Claus. We decided to take him out of our family's celebration for the first time two years ago. Our biggest reason is that Santa has the potential to take away from Jesus. What child wouldn't obsess over Santa rather than Jesus? Santa, after all, is the one with all the potential "loot" and the cool sleigh and the magical powers, etc. A story about a baby being born long ago in a stable becomes, well, boring. You know. What's in it for me? Salvation? So?! What does that really mean anyway? What about the candy and Playstation 35 (or whatever number they're on now)? Children are not abstract thinkers. When given a choice over who is most important at Christmastime, who do you think they lie in bed excited about? I know I didn't lie in bed on Christmas Eve thinking of my Savior and His blessed birth. I was thinking about the man in red coming down my chimney in only a few short hours and all the great stuff he was bringing me. In fact, the whole process made me quite materialistic.

I think it's worth noting, too, that Santa, like Jesus, can't be seen but we are asked to believe in him anyway, at least until we're old enough to know better, at which point you couldn't blame a child for logically pointing out Jesus must not exist either. We have been telling our children Santa brought them all those gifts and now they find out we've been lying to them all this time. Okay, maybe it wasn't THAT traumatic to you as a child, but if you're the parent, don't you think it will be hard to reconcile that lie when the time comes? (Note: We also tell our children it's a sin to lie!) I once overheard a friend asking a child what was so special about December 25th. The child answered that it was Jesus' birthday. The friend responded with, "Yeah, but what else?" Again the child answered something like "God sent Baby Jesus to us." Sadly, our friend said, "Yeah, but what else?" This went on for a while, as the child just wasn't catching on. It was like "Jesus PLUS..." The message: Jesus is not enough.
And that's just part of it. Shouldn't we want our children's hearts to belong to US (Malachi 4:5-6) and not to some chubby elf who doesn't even exist? Paul and I tell our children that all those gifts are from US and the gifts have nothing to do with how good they've been; we give the gifts because we love them so much. It's just another way to direct their eyes and hearts to the Lord, because He too loves us no matter how good/bad we are. His love is unconditional, and your love for your children is, too. About the Christmas tree: Yes, its history is less than lovely, but by putting up a tree in 2006 are we displeasing the Lord? Maybe. Maybe not. I know at least at our house we don't hang replicas of Bacchus (the pagan god) on our tree. Instead, our tree has a star on top (to represent the star of Bethlehem), the beginnings of childhood memories, angels, crosses, and other things that honor the Lord and the family He has gifted us with.

On Halloween: Our problems with this holiday are the obvious ones. The images and practices connected with (which have a history in paganism AND are still prominent in the culture today) are not of the Lord. Period. Am I pleasing the Lord by allowing my children to dress up as princesses and pumpkins to look cute and accept candy from neighbors? I wouldn't call that in itself DISpleasing to the Lord, but taking part in it--no matter how innocently one does it--may show others our acceptance of the entire holiday, and God calls us to be a light to the nations. It's not like we'll be walking down the street, hand-in-hand with our costumed children, wearing a placard around our necks explaining to everyone that we reject the pagan customs of old, the Satanic practices of today, and the whole idea of witchcraft, and that we are merely doing the fun, cute stuff with our family. Of course not! We'll be lumped in with the rest. Oh, sure, you can argue that most people are clueless about Halloween's past and even the dark side of its present. But is their ignorance our excuse for participating?

We have to ask ourselves, am I wanting to participate because I just can't imagine life without it?? Speaking for my family, we haven't missed anything! Our kids get plenty of candy year round (too much if you ask me) and we have a dress-up box they can play with any day they want. So what's it all about if not those two things? Is it seeing the neighbors and family members? We could visit at other times. Is it about looking like everyone else so as not to appear weird? REALLY think about that one. As believers, we're not supposed to look just like the rest of the world. We're supposed to be different so that people will ask us WHY we're different. We have a good explanation!!!! And they need to hear it!

Is it hard to reject these customs after having them be such a prevalent part of our own childhoods? Yes!!! Noah once commented in front of his grandmother that she had wicked stuff on her table (a "decorative" Halloween witch). And doing without Santa means asking the grandparents (who feel they did a pretty decent job raising children WITH Santa) to please refrain from buying gifts with Santa on them or labeling packages from Santa or asking (for goodness' sakes) what Santa is going to bring them. It's hard! It's controversial! It's radical in many ways. Being different is always difficult from a worldly standpoint. But Paul and I are starting to feel more and more comfortable with radicalism. As long as we are being radical for Jesus and allowing Him to transform our lives according to a biblical standard, we are willing to appear totally weird to everybody else. (Believe me, the Christmas and Halloween issues are nothing compared to the other things the Lord has changed our minds about!) The disclaimer: This is simply an explanation of where we are and how we got here. While we are totally convinced this is what God wants for OUR family, we recognize that not everybody is going to be in the same place.

1 comment:

  1. This is exactly where Rowland and I arrived and for the same reasons. Although my children don't receive anything from Santa, and we don't talk about Santa's being "real," I do torture them every year with a trip to the mall to sit in the lap of the "man dressed up like Santa." They'd like to point out that we don't celebrate Santa so why do we have to get a picture made with him? My point - because you all look so miserable every year, and it makes me laugh! I just CAN'T give that up!!


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