If you have grown up commemorating a Christmas centered around the religion of Christianity or pagan gods, but have since chosen not to celebrate it or have altered your way of celebration due to its historical origins or its association with a god you no longer worship, then this article may be beneficial for you. Our aim is to assist you in finding ideas and peace of mind as you continue to develop morally while avoiding idolatry.
It Boils Down To This
If an individual's customs and traditions do not involve the worship of idols or violate any of the seven categories of moral law, then those customs can be upheld. It is an admirable accomplishment for a person to achieve harmony with others while remaining true to their moral values. Disclaimer: Jewish people must adhere to the Torah's guidelines for Israel, maintaining separation from non-Jewish cultures. A Jewish person or Jewish family may not be permitted to embrace these leniencies. If you are Jewish, please consult your spiritual leaders for guidance.
Rational Considerations - Winter Traditions & Their Origins
The history of winter celebrations isn't limited to paganism or man-made religions and gods. Most people who observe Christmas today aren't focused on its controversial past. NPR pointed out a Pew Research study which confirms,
For a lot of people, Christmas Eve means a pilgrimage, pageant, Midnight Mass or lessons in carols. But a Pew Research Center study finds that while most Americans celebrate Christmas, fewer of them consider it a religious holiday. ~ NPR, Pew Poll: A Growing Number Of Americans Don't Celebrate Christmas As a Religious Holiday
Letting Go While Holding On
A simple guideline to prevent breaking one of the seven moral codes is to avoid any traditions if you are uncertain about their connection to moral law. If you've discovered that some traditions you once enjoyed have idolatrous connections, it's natural to want to distance yourself from them. There's nothing wrong with not participating in celebrations that make you uncomfortable. It might be the best thing to do. It is not at all odd or strange to refuse participation in cultural norms that you are not comfortable with. Not everyone participates in the various customs and celebrations of any given society. More importantly, if you believe you may be tempted to return to idolatry or haven't fully left idolatry, it may be a good idea to take a break from old traditions, unlearn, and unwind from anything that can be confusing to you.
Taking a break from holiday celebrations can help clarify your reasons for maintaining old traditions. After reflecting, if you still value certain traditions for family or sentimental reasons, feel free to continue them, as long as they don't violate the seven moral codes. If they adhere to these codes, enjoy them without worry.
Is the Desire for winter Tradition a Pagan, Christian, or Natural Impulse?
Let's first explore some popular traditions and their meanings. Contrary to what some religious groups believe, not all winter customs and decorations have roots in pagan or other faiths. It's improbable that you observe the "Winter Solstice" as a pagan celebration since it's nearly extinct globally, with only a tiny cult minority still practicing it. However, the term Winter Solstice is not a term used only for the pagan festivity; it's also an astronomical term for the year's shortest day and longest night. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs in December, while in the Southern Hemisphere, it takes place in June.
The word solstice stems from sol, meaning "sun," and sistere, which means "to stand still." People in ancient times couldn't fully comprehend outer space and inaccurately believed the sun was stationary during winter, resulting in the term "solstice." Instead of understanding it as a scientific event or a creation, they saw it as evidence of a Creator and attributed divine power to the sun. This misunderstanding contributed to the development of pagan and idolatrous beliefs. Often, religious leaders and history books only discuss the connection between pagan and Christian winter celebrations. However, there's more to this historical narrative.
Upon closer examination, it's clear that not all winter celebrations have their origins in religious beliefs. For instance, the use of candles to decorate homes and pathways has been a popular non-religious tradition in Europe during the dark winter months. In more modern times, multi-colored electric lights have replaced candles. This custom is widely cherished during the winter season. In many Nordic countries, special lights are displayed for Christmas, but simpler lights and candles remain throughout the entire winter, even after the holiday ends. The use of artificial light has always helped counteract the negative effects of dark and gloomy winter days on one's mental well-being. This tradition has spread globally, even to places where winters are not cold or dark. The abundant use of lights during Europe's dark winters could be a harmless tradition that predates paganism. Although incorporated by some religious practices, it doesn't necessarily originate from religious or idolatrous symbolism.
The Norwegian Norsemen celebrated Yule, along with the Celtic Druids and the Incas of Peru, who all honored their sun gods during winter. In contrast, other cultures like China's Dong Zhi practiced different traditions without worshipping any deities.
The Chinese celebration of the Winter Solstice, Dong Zhi (which means 'Winter Arrives') welcomes the return of longer days and the corresponding increase in positive energy in the year to come. The celebration may have begun as a harvest festival, when farmers and fishermen took time off to celebrate with their families. Today, it remains an occasion for families to join together to celebrate the year that has passed and share good wishes for the year to come. ~ History.com, Winter Solstice
During the Winter Solstice, the Japanese celebrate "Toji" and look forward to longer sunlight hours to help their crops grow. They prepare food and baths to address winter-related illnesses. Although not a festival, this event is more about expressing gratitude. Both Japanese and Chinese traditions align with Adam HaRishon (Adam the First Man) and his winter practice according to the Hebrew Torah.
The Science - of Dispelling Winter & Darkness
The use of artificial lights to make up for less sunlight is known to help alleviate depression, and the "winter blues".
For patients that have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depression during the winter months which is more common in northern areas where there is much less sunlight during the day, 'I recommend light therapy,' Jerald H. Simmons, MD, neurologist and sleep disorders special director at Comprehensive Sleep Medicine Associates told me. Simmons said that not all patients will respond to light therapy the same way — and that is because people have varying sensitivity to melatonin. 'Light therapy works by inhibiting melatonin secretion from the pineal gland. This reduction of melatonin release by the pineal gland normally occurs during the day, when exposed to bright light. Conversely, when you’re in darkness at night, the inhibition goes away and the pineal gland will increase melatonin secretion,' says Simmons. 'Melatonin makes the brain more prone to fall asleep by reducing wakefulness. Some people are more sensitive to melatonin and higher amounts will cause depression symptoms. Those individuals will feel more of the ‘winter blues’ and bright light therapy will reduce the melatonin levels and improve their symptoms.' ~ ABC News
Other Benign Winter Traditions Invented to Combat the Winter Blues
Sleighing and the bells tied to it don't come from paganism, Santa Claus, or Christianity. The real origin of jingling bells in winter is actual sleigh rides in the snow for transportation, amusement, and sports globally. Bells have been used as a warning signal and were part of winter horse tacking. In snowy late fall and winter, soft snow muffled the sound of horse hooves, so bells were necessary to avoid sleigh and wagon crashes. These bells were specifically for horses, not Santa Claus (or Saint Nicholas) and his reindeer as some believe. Equestrian winter bells are still used today but are less essential.
Many individuals who follow universal morality avoid idolatry yet maintain certain traditions for family or sentimental reasons. As you move away from idolatry and enhance your moral values, you may learn about the root systems of your cultural practices. To maintain harmony with others, achieve personal peace, and find spiritual contentment, it's essential to distinguish between harmless customs and idolatrous ones. Avoid worshiping false gods through actions like praying to, bowing down to, or offering it/him/her gifts. In addition, keep non-religious traditions separate from spiritual experiences and you'll avoid all potential mishaps. If you are uncertain about your actions, take some time to examine your customs and their potential connections. At the same time, strive to live harmoniously with those around you. By achieving this level of awareness and practice, you can continue to appreciate cherished traditions.
Universal Lessons From the Torah: On The Celebration of the Winter Solstice, Dispelling the Dark, and Avoiding Idolatry
The most well-known winter celebration in Judaism is Hanukkah, which remembers the Maccabees and the miracle of long-lasting oil in the restored Temple. However, the Talmud reveals an earlier winter celebration tied to the first man. He was amazed by the sun's behavior during his first winter but later understood that the winter solstice was part of the Creator's order of seasons. Unfortunately, this knowledge and Adam's traditions would be lost to and eventually corrupted by future generations.
With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer. Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship. ~ Talmud, Avoda Zara 8a:7-8
The final part of the midrash emphasizes how we often transform harmless traditions into idolatrous practices. Humans seem prone to this mistake, but technology has enabled us to better understand our world. To be unbiased in recognizing truth, we need scientific evidence or spiritual insight. Since the creation of the first man, the misconception that the sun remains stationary during winter has been debunked. Yet, our desire to appreciate the change in seasons remains strong. It is crucial that, while striving to find light amid literal darkness, we avoid assigning false importance to our desires and traditions.
Non-Idolatrous Winter Songs
Below is a list of neutral winter songs and their recommended versions, some with brief origin histories. No related music video for the recommended versions have been evaluated.
Sleigh Ride - Ella Fitzgerald (Recommended Version) “Sleigh Ride is a light orchestra standard whose music was composed by Leroy Anderson. The composer had formed the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946, and he finished the work in February 1948. The original recordings were instrumental versions. The lyrics, about riding in a sleigh and other fun wintertime activities, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950.”
Let it Snow, Let it Snow - Brett Eldridge (Recommended Version) “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, is also known as simply Let It Snow, is a song written by lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne in July 1945. It was written in Hollywood, California during a heat wave as Cahn and Styne imagined cooler conditions.”
Linus & Lucy - Vince Guaraldi Trio (Recommended Version) "Linus and Lucy was originally featured on Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1964) and was also released as the B-side for the single ‘Oh, Good Grief’.”
Winter Wonderland - Michael Buble (Recommended Version)
There’s No Place Like Home - Perry Como (Recommended Version)
My Favourite Things - Tony Bennett (Recommended Version)
I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm - Frank Sinatra (Recommended Version)
Sleigh Ride - The Ronettes (Recommended Version)
Frosty The Snowman - Ella Fitzgerald (Recommended Version) Frosty The Snowman, “The song was written in 1950 by Walter ‘Jack’ Rollins and Steve Nelson…However, unlike ‘Rudolph’, ‘Frosty the Snowman’ is not necessarily a Christmas song. Nothing about Christmas is mentioned in the song's lyrics at all. It is just a generic wintertime song. It was when Rankin/Bass decided to make it into a Christmas special that Christmas came into the story. In fact, they even changed the final line of the song for the TV special. In the original, it says at the end, ‘But he waved goodbye, saying, 'Don't you cry. I'll be back again some day.'’ On the TV special, it says, ‘But he waved goodbye, saying, 'Don't you cry. I'll be back on Christmas Day.'” - CBR
Winter Song - Leslie Odom Jr. (Recommended Version)
Baby It’s Cold Outside - Lydia Liza & Josiah Lemanski (Recommended Version)
Dashing Through The Snow - The Hillbilly Moonshiners (Recommended Version) Jingle Bells, aka One Horse Open Sleigh, aka Dashing Through The Snow is, “One of the most popular songs heard during the Christmas season began not for that holiday but as a [Thanksgiving] song with this title, ‘The One Horse Open Sleigh’ (original sheet music cover shown above, first published in 1857 by Oliver Ditson in Boston)…Jingle Bells was written by Medford [Massachusetts] resident James Pierpont in 1850, inspired by the annual one-horse open-sleigh races on Salem and Pleasant Streets between Medford Square and Malden Square.” - American Music Preservation
Jingle Bells - Gwen Stefani (Recommended Version) Jingle Bells, aka One Horse Open Sleigh, aka Dashing Through The Snow is, “One of the most popular songs heard during the Christmas season began not for that holiday but as a [Thanksgiving] song with this title, ‘The One Horse Open Sleigh’ (original sheet music cover shown above, first published in 1857 by Oliver Ditson in Boston)…Jingle Bells was written by Medford [Massachusetts] resident James Pierpont in 1850, inspired by the annual one-horse open-sleigh races on Salem and Pleasant Streets between Medford Square and Malden Square.” - American Music Preservation
Snowfall - Tex Beneke (Recommended Version)
Winter Weather - Peggy Lee & Benny Goodman (Recommended Version)
Song For A Winter’s Night - Sarah McLachlan (Recommended Version)
Wintertide - The Choir of Royal Holloway (Recommended Version) Wintertide, “…a folk melody has been set in a wonderful a cappella setting for divisi chioir and given a new English text by Charley Anthony Silvestri. Octave doublings and softly echoing choral accompanying parts set a gentle, rocking texture that is accessible and stylistically appropriate, while the evocative winter themed text creates a beautiful aura for the season.”
Looks Like A Cold, Cold Winter - Russ Lorenson (Recommended Version)
Skating - Vince Guarldi Trio (Recommended Version)
Hot Cocoa - Big Jeff (Recommended Version)
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TMC employs widely accepted academic sources and abstract reasoning to delve into the topic of moral behavior, considering observable and measurable data. We also incorporate traditional Jewish knowledge on moral conduct due to its extensive wealth of philosophical wisdom, as symbolized in our logo.
Our ultimate objective is to offer guidance for achieving a happier and more fulfilled life through the embrace of moral living, irrespective of whether one is already familiar with it or just discovering it. Live morally.