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Published:December 7th, 2009 14:36 EST

Christmas: A Jewish Holiday?

By Geoff Dean

 At this season, we invariably hear the appeals to put Christ back into Christmas. He is "the reason for the season", we are told (Wow, I thought the reason for the season was to sell off excess merchandise). I don`t have any complaints with returning Jesus to his birthday, I reckon. Still, if we are "putting things back" the way they should be, we should take the "Christianity" out of Christmas.


 You see, Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus was a Jew. As a matter of fact, he was a rabbi, or even a sage, with the requisite disciples (all major rabbis in history have had some). He was born in Bethlehem (nowadays a Palestinian city) and raised in Nazareth (an Israeli Arab city). He was born to Miriam (Mary), a Jewish young woman, most definitely not the caucasian woman in most paintings and manger scenes, betrothed to Joseph, a similarly Jewish Jew. Jesus, which is actually the same name as Joshua (of Jericho fame) in the original Hebrew, was an observant Jew. He kept the Sabbath and the festivals. He overturned the moneychangers because he was "zealous for the Temple" as any Jew should be. He referred to a Gentile woman as "a dog" (in Mark 7:27), a feeling still held by some Jews today. When he met a Samaritan woman, he came down decidely on the side of orthodox Judaism, rejecting Samaritan worship at Mount Gezarim (so much for tolerance) declaring that "salvation is of the Jews." (John 4:22). He was born as a Jew, circumcised as a Jew, "bar mitzvahed" (or at least the first century equivalent) at age 12, lived as a Jew, and died and was buried as a Jew. He kept Kosher law and wore a prayer shawl (a woman touched it and was healed). I could go on and on. And I think I have.

 The teachings of Jesus, when viewed objectively, are remarkably mainstream in Jewish thought, not surprising since he based his ministry on the words of the Torah, the Old Testament. Even the Lord`s Prayer is amazingly Jewish. His disciples asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus began with, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..." In Hebrew this would be something like, "Avinu Shebashamayim, Baruch Ata Hashem..." For any Jew, this is an extremely familiar prayer opening line as most Jewish blessings begin with this formulation or a very similar one. Jesus taught his disciples to pray as Jews, as that is what they were (and remained so to the ends of their lives).

 So, what? Appropiate, if rude, question.

 If you want to get Christmas back to Christ, first you had better kick out the non-Jewish foolishness like Santa Claus, christmas trees, mistletoe, stockings, wreaths, etc. These customs all came in as the message of Jesus was blended with Greek culture into a hellenized Christianity. Kick out the fair skinned Marys` and baby Jesus`, too. You`d better kick out December the 25th, too, since this was not his birthday. We don`t know when Jesus` birthday was since Jews did not celebrate birthdays (this, too, was a Greek idea). We don`t know Moses` birthday or Abraham`s, either. This is based on Ecclesiastes 7:1 which declares that "the day you die is better than the day you are born." Until recent times, Jews only celebrated the day/anniversary of a death and never a birthday. No one remembered Jesus` birthday because it was considered insignificant until Greek Christians needed one and so made one up (with a little help from Mithra). You had better change the name of the holiday, too (Yes, you guessed it. Greek, again.)

 If you really put Christ back into Christmas, the whole thing just might fall apart. Maybe we better keep the baby Jesus at a considerable distance from his namesake holiday.