but what if you find that everyone else’s watches are set to the wrong time?

Continuing the line of thought from my recent post “How Accurate is Your Watch”, here is a different – though related – scenario I find myself in: the kind of scenario where there’s an issue which you didn’t use to question, you just accepted the way everyone around you does things, and then at some point you find yourself beginning to question and to realise that… oops… you don’t really think it’s right actually…

This is when you have to decide, to weigh up how important the issue is – is this something I can compromise on or am I going to have to opt out, to stick my neck out and open myself to ridicule, misunderstanding, false accusations… and to risk hurting people’s feelings, including people close to me, people I love.

And it was because of not wanting to hurt people I love that I dithered for so long. But a few weeks ago I got to the point of realising that I simply can’t keep doing this any more. I just can’t keep doing Christmas.

Let me say very very clearly: I am not here to tell anyone else what to do. I am only sharing my own thoughts, feelings, experience, my own journey which has brought me to this point. This is not a lecture or a sermon, I have no authority over any of you who are reading this. And anyway, there always is the possibility that my watch is wrong again…

I am writing this because I need to write it, because I need to put into words what’s going on for me. (and this could be a good practice run before I try to explain this face to face to my husband’s parents, who are the ones most likely to be upset by this. husband understands where I’m at, though we’re not in the same place. we’ve invited his parents for supper this coming Monday, and they don’t yet know that we have a bit of a bombshell for them. I love them dearly, they welcomed me very warmly into the family when I married their son and I have no desire to hurt them. but I know this is going to hurt them. I wish I had a way out, but I’ve looked and couldn’t find one.)

Another thing I want to say very clearly: I really don’t want to turn this thread into a debate about whether or not it’s okay to celebrate Christmas. We had that here last year, so I really think I’ve already heard the arguments for and against from a Christian point of view. (which, as I’m a Christian, is the point of view which is relevant to my decision-making)

So, where am I at, how did I get here, and why have I dithered…

Obviously, growing up in a Jewish family in Israel, I did not grow up with the tradition of celebrating Christmas. I was introduced to this festival in 1989, my first winter in England. I had started going to church and was by then seriously considering becoming a Christian. So my first introduction to Christmas was in the context of church services and being invited to spend the day with people from church. In other words, it was introduced to me as a Christian festival, celebrating the birth of Christ. As such, it seemed positive.

So I embraced Christmas wholeheartedly. I enjoyed decorating the tree, I loved going to the midnight service, and the concept of eating and drinking and making merry did not present any hardship…

I do have a vague memory of hearing someone mention that there were some Christians who didn’t celebrate Christmas. But I had absolutely no idea why, and filed this under “weird”. In the same corner as I filed Christians who talked about being born again, and/or those who wore socks under their sandals. At that time I was in a traditional Anglican church and I absorbed all the stuff that was considered normal there, like kneeling to pray, sprinkling water on babies’ heads and saying they are now part of the church, reciting prayers from a book, etc etc. At that stage of my journey I was happily absorbing stuff and not questioning it.

There was a stage later when I started questioning things. I think the more I started to read the Bible and to take it seriously, the more I started to question various church traditions.

But whilst I’ve questioned things, I have not been quick to ditch them. I remember having a conversation with a Messianic Jewish friend about whether or not she was comfortable with Christmas cards, as by then I had heard that 25 December is not the date of Jesus’ birthday, and I said to her something like: I know it’s not the right date but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater… to which she replied: or let’s not throw the baby out with the straw :)

And if it was just that the date is incorrect in the sense of it not being the day Jesus was born, I wouldn’t make a big deal out of that. I could easily live with it that we don’t know the actual date he was born but we’ve picked a date at random and decided to celebrate then – after all, the Queen of England has an “official birthday” which is not the day she was born. I could live with Jesus, the King of Kings, having an “official birthday”.

I could live with it if it wasn’t for the fact that the date was not picked at random, and that I sincerely believe that the way this date was chosen is totally not a way he would approve of.

This is the bottom line for me – what does God say about this, how does he feel? From all that I know of God, from what the Bible tells me about him, would God approve of taking a pagan festival and sticking Christ’s name on it?

I’m sorry, but I am totally and utterly convinced that the answer to that is a very loud NO.

But at the same time, I know there are lots of sincere, well-intentioned Christians who do not see it this way and who sincerely use 25 December to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I know it well – I’m married to one.

And that’s why I have dithered. I have tried very hard to find ways of living with this. But every year we go to his parents’ on 25 December I feel more and more like it’s sticking in my throat. I look at the tree and I know that to them it’s simply something that tells them it’s Christmas and that to them Christmas is mainly about Jesus. (and also about family time and presents, which are not bad things at all) But I know that the tree comes from pagan customs, and that 25 December was (and probably still is) a pagan festival, and that the holly and mistletoe tradition comes from pagan origins… and I know how God talks in the Bible about smashing altars and having nothing to do with anything that is connected with idolatry, and yes, of course God sees what’s in people’s hearts and he is full of mercy and abounding in love and he does not pour his wrath on all the people who are doing what he said we shouldn’t do… yes, he understands our misconceptions, he makes room for our mistakes… as long as we haven’t understood that something is wrong, he bears with us – I know this well, I know how patient he was with me when I was living a very sinful lifestyle whilst being adamant that there was nothing wrong with it…

The problem is once you do know that something is wrong… Part of me wishes that I had never been told about the pagan origins of this festival – the date, the customs… It’s a bit like when, back in my single days in London when my cooking standards were pretty basic, and a friend pointed out to me what was on the list of ingredients on a packet of frankfurters – until that point, I used to really enjoy them, but once I knew… I just couldn’t…

So now I’ve got to face my husband’s lovely parents on Monday and explain to them in a loving way that, whilst I do not condemn them for their choice, I have reached a point where I simply can’t take part in this any more.

Is it, I wonder, a little bit like coming home to a particularly carnivore household and announcing that you have come to the conviction that eating animals is wrong?

Of course this is not the first time in my life when I’m having to break news to people that I know is not going to be very palatable to them. As a Jewish woman who has had to tell her own mother that she has come to faith in Jesus, this is not new territory… But somehow… I don’t know… I guess with my own mother I had a history of rebellion, ever since my teenage years I was in the habit of breaking news to her that she wasn’t going to like… I had kind of got used to that…

Maybe it’s because I’m used to upsetting my own mother, but I’m not used to upsetting my husband’s parents… Maybe because I realise how hurtful this can be to them, because no matter how nicely I try to dress it up, the bottom line is that I believe they are doing something wrong… Maybe it’s because I have more to lose here, because these are people that I see a lot more often than my mum, who lives 2000 miles away, and because these are people who have so warmly welcomed me into the family when I married their son… And because I know it’s upsetting for him too, because this is disrupting a family thing, it’s spoiling a significant family occasion.

I wish I didn’t have to do this. I wish there was another way. But I just can’t do this any more. I have seen the list of ingredients, and just because some pope about 1300 years ago stuck a kosher stamp on this, it doesn’t mean I can’t smell it… (said she, mixing her metaphors wildly)

wow. I’ve been drafting this post since last Sunday. I don’t think I’ve ever taken so long over a blog. but this is such a complex issue. much easier to blog when you see stuff in black and white, but I see so many shades of grey here…

29 thoughts on “but what if you find that everyone else’s watches are set to the wrong time?

  1. Not to ignore all of what you say in this good piece, but:"This is the bottom line for me – what does God say about this, how does he feel? From all that I know of God, from what the Bible tells me about him, would God approve of taking a pagan festival and sticking Christ's name on it?"Considering that God approved of taking the well established pagan tradition of having a divine spirit visit and impregnate a mortal woman with a divine child, I say God doesn't much care one way or the other.I suspect that these words and forms that we are all so fond of are of little interest to God. He speaks an entirely different universal language. The feelings in our guts when we want or we give, when we need and receive, when we feel anything–that is the language of God. When we pray it is not the words of the prayer but the place we open inside ourselves that God cares about.

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  2. Cad, from what you say here I think you and I have such very very different ideas about what God is like that I'm not sure we're talking about the same guy.But like I said, I really do not want to turn this thread into another debate about whether or not God approves of celebrating Christmas. From what I read in the Bible, it is very clear to me that God does not approve of tacking his name onto pagan stuff.And so the question for me is, since this is the conclusion I have come to, what do I do now.Please let's stick with that and not start that other discussion all over again. I'm sorry, but I had enough of that last year.

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  3. Here's what I would do Meirav. I would not tell your in-laws that they are wrong for celebrating Christmas the way they do. Just tell them that you have been feeling uncomfortable with Christmas .. the tree, etc … the past few years and out of respect for them, you continued to celebrate with them. But you are feeling so uncomfortable about it this year, that you are having a hard time coming to grips with it and wish to not celebrate it at all. Explain to them that you have discussed it with your husband/their son and that he is understanding and okay with this. Please don't tell them they are wrong because of it's pagan roots. They may or may not accept what you feel about it. They may take what you tell them the wrong way and cause a lot of heartache for all concerned. But somewhere down the line, a few weeks or months after Christmas, they may want to ask about your decision and might be more accepting to how you feel by truly listening and respecting it.

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  4. thanks, Patti, much appreciated. and don't get me wrong, of course I'm not going to sit here and say to them: I think you're wrong. the trouble is, I will say I feel uncomfortable about it and they will want to know why :(I do intend to stress to them that it was out of my love and respect for them that I had kept this up for so long, that I really didn't want to hurt their feelings.

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  5. I do feel for you Meirav. Is a tough spot to be in, at the moment.Just tell them you are experiencing a conflict within yourself about the whole thing and everything associated with it, that you need to step away from it. Let them know that you love them and you respect them enough to not want to put a damper on their day by discussing it just now, that maybe sometime after Christmas, you will be able to better explain it. That way, you'll have the time you need to figure out how to truly explain it in such a way that they'll understand, that you would rather not (unless you change your mind) celebrate Christmas with the trees and trimmings and they'll have one Christmas without you and have been given the time to better accept why you would rather not celebrate it.And when the time comes, just tell them you had been learning about how some traditional things came about, their roots, and there were things that involved Christmas that made you very uncomfortable and have a hard time seeing it the way you used to see it.I know with my mother-in-law, I could have talked to her about what I read/learned, and we would have a frank and open conversation about it (even if it involved pagan roots). Because we were raised with different faiths, she would just talk to me about what she believed and ask about mine etc. She wouldn't have gotten upset or anything. She would have asked why the roots bothered me so much and if I could overlook them and if I couldn't, ask me why. If I felt that strongly about it, she would have respected my decision. But that's my mother-in-law. Having the same talk with my mother would be a whole lot different lol.

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  6. good to hear you had such a good relationship with your mother-in-law. and I've got a pretty good one with mine – she is very good at coping with disagreement, we've had some head-to-head collisions before and have survived them very well, so I'm sure we'll survive this too.I guess the big difference here is that she and I are both Christians, and the issue at hand is an issue to do with what is or isn't okay for Christians to do… so it's less easy for either of us to be detached and objective about it. but I'm going to chew on your advice, I think that might help.

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  7. Just with it being close to the season already, I would hold off on the why's until after myself. I'll keep you in my thoughts Monday and hope it goes well for you and all concerned.

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  8. I can't say much because, in a different kind of context, I have essentially the same kind of problem, and have a weak spot in regard to the whole issue, and am still a bit uncertain what to say or do. But there's one area where I think I can prevent misunderstanding. Some Christians might feel that I avoid Christmas because (they think) I don't believe in the virgin birth or the divine sonship of Jesus, or that I don't believe the angel Gabriel told Mary he would be called Son of the Most High and be given the throne of his father David and rule over the house of Jacob forever, and angels sang glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill to men, or was visited by Magi from the East,who presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I most emphatically do believe in these things, because they are clearly stated in the Bible, and I'm sure you do, too. I want to acknowledge these things, celebrate them and give God the glory for them. The problem is to put them in the right context. Theoretically, I think we know the answer to that, but that's another big issue. In a sense, the practical steps I take to resolve the issue are secondary, but if I don't actually do Christmas, I will want to re-assure my brothers and sisters in Christ, very explicitly, that I whole-heartedly believe the 'good news of great joy that will be for all the people.' If their hearts are in the right place, and apparently they are, that should reduce the pain.

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  9. I can feel the pain of the problem from here – or maybe it is the same pain that I feel.So many of us have this difficulty, both with family and close friends. I have a very old friend who is so close that she is the closest thing that I have to a sister. Like me, she was brought up in the Anglican Church ( I am in my late 60s) and she is a few years older than me. Once I began to realise what scripture actually said by comparison with what most Churches teach, I had a terrible sense of betrayal, almost as if I had been lied to for most of my life. It was dreadful. I quickly realised that those teaching these things firmly believed them to be true and were simply teaching what THEIR teachers had told them.The snag is that we tread on dearly held beliefs and traditions, mostly held by good, honest, sincere, wonderful people. How do we get our understanding across without – 1. Seeming to attack their beliefs directly, 2, Looking like total nuts who have lost it. 3, Offending people we love, 4, Compromising our own understanding and conduct, 5, Breaching what we understand God to want us to do, or not to do?It is a very delicate balancing act and, I suspect, every person needs treating differently. I know that Jesus gave people a simple message and if they declined it, moved on. But that was to people who had already been well grounded in the scriptures, which hardly describes most people in the Churches and even less many of our close acquaintances.If there is a simple, easy answer to this – I'll bet its totally wrong………………..Let's face it my wife and I are quite different in our attitude to Christmas cards for the family and friends. I am still uncertain of the ideal approach and would appreciate opinions of a sensible course to take.I am trying gentle explanations, references to Jesus' actual words, and an "I accept your disagreement, but please also listen to my understanding" approach.As my wife says, once you have learned the reality, you cannot unlearn it.If you find useful pointers please, please post them!

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  10. Thank you Robert and David for the helpful input. It really helps just to share this pain, to know it's not just me.and you're absolutely right, David, those teaching these things believe them to be true and are simply teaching what they've been taught by their own teachers, who believed it to be true because they'd been taught it by their teachers, etc…and as you say, "The snag is that we tread on dearly held beliefs and traditions, mostly held by good, honest, sincere, wonderful people." and pointing out to people that some of their deeply-held traditions may be wrong – it's not very nice…but God is in the habit of picking a person now and again and sending that person to tell others that stuff they're doing is wrong. *cringe*but for now, I don't feel he has appointed me to tell others that it's wrong, so I'm going to try the softly-softly approach tomorrow, just saying I'm feeling uncomfortable with doing Christmas and can they please not take it personally but I really can't do this any more. And if at some point in the future they'd like to discuss the ins and outs of why, I'd be happy to do that, but let's not do this right now, let them enjoy their festivities.

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  11. and if/when we get to discussing the pros and cons of Christmas, I will certainly point out to them as you suggested, Robert, that I do believe in all that the Bible tells us about the birth of Jesus, and that the fact of his birth is certainly something worth celebrating – at an appropriate time and in an appropriate way…

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  12. Just to let you know Meirav, this is one of those blogs I read and do not have a comment readily available… so if it's alright with you, I'll sit back and be silent while I think and digest on what you've shared. I might return and say something when … But thanks for sharing. Must've been really deep. And just to let you know again… *Firm Squeeze* (I thought 'hugs' are just overused)

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  13. update: just had a chat with husband about this evening. he very wisely helped me to see the downside of my plan – if I say "let's not talk about the reasons why just now" they might (being British and reserved as they are) never ask me my reasons, they might just end up thinking "meirav has gone totally gaga" and worry about us. so I am going to say something about the reasons why.I'm just going to aim to present it in a gentle manner, not trying to persuade them of anything, just a case of: this is where it looks from where I'm looking, I understand that it looks different from where you're looking and there are lots of sincere Christians who share your view, but please understand that from where I'm looking it seems to me so clear that I can't ignore what I'm seeing.

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  14. okay, we have survived it :)actually it went really really well. I did explain, they did have a chance to raise objections and questions, we had a very good discussion and we're still friends.

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  15. just realised I never updated here. the next episode in this saga was when my father-in-law phoned and said they thought I really should see my pastor. this left me seething – felt he was implying I've totally lost the plot and need a minister to sort me out. also felt he was attempting to boss me around, and seeing as he has no authority over me, I'm not having it.now we're off to visit them tomorrow. those of you who pray – please pray!

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