If you’ve seen my Instagram stories over the last year, you’ll likely have noticed I have strong opinions about some holidays. But why? What’s the big deal of having a fun and memorable day with family and friends? What I’d like to do is simply present the facts of history and allow you and your family to decide for yourselves. I’ll also add what my family currently does with each at the end, in case you’re interested to know. But before I do, I want to tell you a little of my background in holidays.
As a kid, my family was a part of the Baptist church. We celebrated and took part in the customs of the Gregorian New Years, a touch of Valentine’s Day, some of Saint Patrick’s Day, some of Easter, Resurrection Sunday, Independence Day, most of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. However, in 2006, my mom began making the transition from being Baptist to, eventually, Torah Observance, bringing the rest of us along with her. It’s an ongoing, long, and gradual process filled with a lot of study, prayer, and research, and along the way we’ve dropped some holidays, altered how we celebrate others, and picked up new ones altogether.
The main issue many people have with holidays is their roots in pagan idolatry. There are many verses detailing how we’re not supposed to worship our God, YHVH, in the ways of “the nations,” “the Canaanites,” or “the pagans.” To name a few:
“…But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.’ You must not worship YHVH your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things YHVH hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:28-32).
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
We are told to keep ourselves pure and holy, as living temples to the Living God:
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
In light of this, I will do a quick break down of each holiday with resources for a more in-depth look, followed by if or how my family currently observes each one.
Gregorian New Year
The Gregorian calendar was initiated with the intention of fixing Julian’s mistake of assuming a year is exactly 365.25 days, realigning the Catholic holiday of Easter with the solstice. Throughout its history since that time, it’s been closely linked to pagan thinking in how and when it’s celebrated.
For example, despite how good it is to be looking to improve yourself and how you live, we should always be doing that! We don’t need (and perhaps we shouldn’t even want) New Year’s resolutions to motivate us.
Wonderopolis says, “The tradition of New Year’s resolutions dates all the way back to 153 B.C.
Janus, [a mythical god of early Rome, from whom we get January’s name,] had two faces — one looking forward, one looking backward. This allowed him to look back on the past and forward toward the future. On December 31, the Romans imagined Janus looking backward into the old year and forward into the new year. This became a symbolic time for Romans to make resolutions for the new year and forgive enemies for troubles in the past. The Romans also believed Janus could forgive them for their wrongdoings in the previous year. The Romans would give gifts and make promises, believing Janus would see this and bless them in the year ahead.”
As I’m sure many of us know, this goes against the first 2 of the 10 commandments, among many other passages!
Another example here is noise-makers and fireworks. Nowadays, it is often used as a symbol of our happiness in typical celebratory fashion, however, as InfoPlease says, “Noisemaking and fireworks on New Year’s eve is believed to have originated in ancient times, when noise and fire were thought to dispel evil spirits and bring good luck.”
I want to add that I don’t know of anything wrong with fireworks or noisemakers themselves; they simply are used as superstitious tokens relating to pagan practices in this context.
For my family, we note the passage of a new year on a calendar we do still observe. However, we don’t have parties or stay up to celebrate. It’s sort of like an acknowledgment more than anything else. If we had a choice, we would switch to a calendar system I’ll discuss below, but at this time it doesn’t seem possible to entirely ignore the near-worldwide culture surrounding us.
- A History of New Years blog post by SimpleToRemember.com
- Why Do People Make New Years Resolutions blog post by Wonderopolis.com
- New Year’s Traditions by InfoPlease.com
- 6 Things You May Not Know About the Gregorian Calendar blog post by History.com
- Why Does The New Year Start on January 1 by Britannica.com
- New Year’s Day by Wikipedia.com
- Gregorian Calendar Background by Wikipedia.com
- Gregorian Beginning of the Year by Wikipedia.com
Valentine’s Day is made up of many legends and inconsistencies in its origins and backgrounds, few of which have withstood the test of time to give us many solid facts. It has become a “he said, she said” situation, making it difficult to prove whether it deserves our celebration or not based on its history. Some say it’s a re-branding of Lupercalia, a pagan Roman holiday that was celebrated February 13-15, from which February has received its name on our calendar, while others link it solely to some of the Catholic saints, all named Valentine, one of which was said to have died on February 14. However, we can still clearly see the origins in its traditions.
(Warning: several of the traditions and the sources I link to are recommended for mature audiences only due to the nature of the holiday.)
I’ll start with perhaps the most obvious: Cupid. It’s extremely common to see “cute” little cherubs, angels, and Cupids adorning decorations, boxes of candy, etc. linking to Valentine’s Day. This is because Cupid is a Roman god of desire, love, attraction, and affection, being the son of Mars, the god of war, and Venus, the goddess of love, beauty, desire, fertility, and prosperity. (The Greek equivalent of Cupid is Eros, son of Ares and Aphrodite. The symbols they stand for are also all equivalent.)
Another tradition is the giving of chocolate and roses.
Chocolate has been labeled an aphrodisiac food (named after Aphrodite) since, as some sources say, the time of the Aztecs, and is scientifically named “theobroma cacao”. As Wikipedia says, “The generic name is derived from the Greek for ‘food of the gods’; from θεός (theos), meaning ‘god’, and βρῶμα (broma), meaning ‘food’.” Chocolate was used in Mayan marriage ceremonies, as well as in pagan offerings to Aztec gods. To quote VOA News, “Historians believe the Mayan people of Central America first learned to farm cacao plants around 2,000 years ago… Cacao and chocolate were an important part of Maya culture. There are often images of cacao plants on Maya buildings and art objects. Ruling families drank chocolate at ceremonies… Historians believe that cacao seeds were also used in marriage ceremonies as a sign of the union between a husband and wife. The Aztec culture in current-day Mexico also prized chocolate. But the cacao plant could not grow in the area where the Aztecs lived. So they traded to get cacao. They even used cacao seeds as a form of money to pay taxes or give as offerings to the gods.”
Aphrodite was also said to have made red roses. Rose Festival Kazanlak says, “It has been believed that this type of flower was created by the goddess of love, Aphrodite. According to the legend, her tears and her lover, Adonis’, blood watered the ground from where the red Roses grew. It was then a symbol of love until death.”
The same source states its importance in many other cultures’ mythologies and religions: “In Roman Mythology, it was reported and observed that wealthy Romans prefer the flowers of red Roses to associate beauty and love. The goddesses* love to pamper their body with a bath filled with Roses while some of them filled their bedchambers and bedrooms with flowers and petals of red Roses because of the pleasant smell and for soft skin.”
* Likely Venus and/or Flora.
Continuing the quote: “Another legend for its romantic significance was the belief of the early Christians that this flower was the virtue of the Virgin Mary. Because of the beliefs and mythology, it became the ultimate symbol of passionate love and romance.
“…In [an] Arabic [tale], a nightingale saw a white Rose and fell in love with that it caused the bird to sing. Because of overwhelming love to the flower, the nightingale pressed its body hardly to the Rose that its thorn pierced through its heart. Its blood flowed to the Rose and it turned red.”
Quick searches of “roses” (specifically red ones) with goddess names on Google can find more sources to back up these mythologies, however it’s a slippery slope of very pagan images, rituals, and statues that I’d rather not spend much of my time delving into.
Lastly, I’ll touch on Valentine cards and love letters. According to Wikipedia, “According to legend, in order ‘to remind these men of their vows and God’s love, Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment’, giving them to these soldiers and persecuted Christians, a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine’s Day.” Another section reads, “There is an additional embellishment to The Golden Legend… On the evening before Valentine was to be executed, he is supposed to have written the first ‘valentine’ card himself, addressed to the daughter of his jailer… signing as ‘Your Valentine.’ The expression ‘From your Valentine’ was later adopted by modern Valentine letters. This legend has been published by both American Greetings and The History Channel.”
Nothing inherently needing to be avoided. However these claims are based on legends, their true origins unknown. Use at your own discretion.
For my family, Valentine’s Day is just a normal day. At most, we take advantage of store’s sales and stock up our candy supply for the next few months. Lol
- History of Valentine’s Day blog post by History.com
- Why Chocolate on Valentine’s Day? blog post by SantaBarbaraChocolate.com
- Chocolate: ‘The Food of the Gods’ blog post by LearningEnglish.VOANews.com
- Why Are Red Roses Considered Romantic? blog post by RoseFestivalKazanlak.com
- Valentine’s Day by Wikipedia.com
- Chocolate by Wikipedia.com
- Aphrodisiac by Wikipedia.com
- Lupercalia by Wikipedia.com (Note: potential nudity in statues and artworks)
- Aphrodite by Wikipedia.com (Note: nudity in statues and artworks)
- Venus by Wikipedia.com (Note: nudity in statues and artworks)
- Cupid by Wikipedia.com (Note: nudity in statues and artworks)
- Eros by Wikipedia.com (Note: nudity in statues and artworks)
In the Bible, Purim is the holiday mentioned in Esther 9:20-24, detailing it as a holiday celebrating the victory and survival of the Jews in what was likely to be the 5th century B.C., and observed during the 14th or 15th day of Adar (usually landing somewhere from late February to early April on the Gregorian calendar). The historical accuracy of this holiday has been doubted by some in the past, but due to its being mentioned in such detail in the Bible, those who believe in the Bible and its testimony are likely to also believe in the book of Esther being the source of Purim.
Traditions linked with Purim since its creation and origin include reading the full book of Esther, dressing up in costumes, baking and eating “Hamantashen”, and giving baskets of money, food, and drink to the poor. In the fashion pre-established for the first two holidays in this post, let’s delve into the history and origins of Purim and its traditions.
The reading of Esther during Purim began as a commandment in the Jewish Talmud as a way of remembering the events of history. According to Wikipedia, “The first religious ceremony which is ordained for the celebration of Purim is the reading of the Book of Esther (the ‘Megillah’) in the synagogue, a regulation which is ascribed in the Talmud (Megillah 2a) to the Sages of the Great Assembly, of which Mordecai is reported to have been a member. Originally this regulation was only supposed to be observed on the 14th of Adar; later, however, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi (3rd century CE) prescribed that the Megillah should also be read on the eve of Purim.”
It’s usually a loud and fun event, with people of all ages booing, hissing, or using noise-makers to essentially blot out Haman’s name whenever it’s read, or cheering for Esther and Mordechai when their names are mentioned. Wikipedia again says, “The practice can be traced back to the Tosafists (the leading French and German rabbis of the 13th century). In accordance with a passage in the Midrash” — which is a commentary on some of the Hebrew Scriptures — “where the verse ‘Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek’ is explained to mean ‘even from wood and stones.’ A custom developed of writing the name of Haman, the offspring of Amalek, on two smooth stones, and knocking them together until the name was blotted out.”
Dressing up in costumes on Purim has been recorded as a memorial of the way Esther kept her identity as a Jew secret from even the King, as well as the fact of the Jews survival being nothing short of a miracle, yet hidden with such a bizarre situation you almost forget about it. Chabad says, “The custom of wearing costumes on Purim is an allusion to the nature of the Purim miracle, where the details of the story are really miracles hidden within natural events.” Some also say we dress up to celebrate Mordechai’s dressing in the King’s garments in Esther 6.
The traditional confectionery treat called Hamantashen originates, as many say, based on the hat Haman is said to have worn. However, as The Spruce Eats says, “…These styles were not in fashion in Haman’s time, and it’s unlikely he ever wore hats like these. It’s much more probable that over the centuries, as hats came into vogue that resembled hamantaschen, an association between Haman’s alleged hat and the pastries was born.”
The recipe’s origin lies in Europe around the 16th century. Hamantashen got its name in Germany, where a popular treat called Mohntaschen already resided. It was a cookie filled with poppy seeds, thus where it got its name. To again quote The Spruce Eats, “The name is derived from two German words: mohn (poppy seed) and taschen (pockets)… Around the late 1500s, German Jews dubbed them Hamantaschen, or ‘Haman’s pockets.’ The play on words likely references the rumor that the evil Haman’s pockets were filled with bribe money. Plus, mohn sounds like Haman.”
Lastly, we are told in Esther 9:22 to give gifts to the poor for the feast of Purim: “[Mordechai] wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” As such, those in need will go into their streets during Purim and those passing by can bless them with traditional baskets (often likened to those seen around Easter), money, or small treats and foods.
I’d liken this day to Independence Day in my house: it’s a historical day about battles won and evil conquered. We read Esther and it with a nice meal and sometimes Hamantashen, booing Haman and cheering for Mordechai and Esther (who is also known as Hadassah). We also try to bless someone else during Purim, based on Esther 9:22b.
- Esther 6 in the Bible
- Esther 9 in the Bible
- Purim blog post by Britannica.com
- Purim by Wikipedia.com
- Why Do We Dress Up On Purim blog post by Chabad.org
- Why Do Jews Eat Hamantashen blog post by TheSpruceEats.com
*Record scratch noise*
With that, I’m going to hit the “pause” button. Obviously, many, many holidays are missing from this post. My original plan was to make a single post with all 19 of my planned holidays contained within it, but after delving into it all — and in an effort to indeed keep this “quick” — I changed my mind. Keep an eye out for the rest of the holidays, including Passover (or Pesach), Easter, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot), Halloween, and Christmas!
In the meantime, with the recent new moon and aviv barley in Jerusalem, my family and church congregation is heading into another holiday season (I’ll touch on the details and history of it in my next post, which I intend to put out before the holiday begins). Despite the coronavirus’ best attempts to kill the mood, I hope that you will consider joining us in our celebrations!