Merry Christmas! This is a favorite time of year for lots of people, even the COG. Former members often cherish the holiday season even more, especially those who grew up without ever having received a Christmas present during their childhood and missed out on celebrations with extended family.
Despite decrying Christmas as evil, the COG does love this time of year, not merely because of its winter weekends, but also because it gets to play the "we are a special and persecuted minority of God-fearing truthers." Yet, it also often highlights its raging hypocrisy on the issue of disdain for holidays and rituals rooted in ancient paganism.
Christmas, Halloween, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Valentine's Day and even birthdays have been banned within the COG for their connections to similar-ish pagan holidays long ago. Silly books like Alexander Hislop's "The Two Babylons" have lined COG bookshelves for decades and many, many booklets have been published where Armstrongite authors stomp their feet that mainstream Christians and the rest of "the world" are in Satan's thrall for trick-or-treating, hanging tinsel or drawing heart shapes.
Unfortunately for the COG, pagan connections to modern holidays often aren't as strong as Armstrongites claim them to be and vastly more complex. Taking Easter for example, rather than being a direct descendant of Babylonian celebrations of the goddess Ishtar, it instead didn't arise until the late 2nd Century CE and its etymology is in dispute, even while clearly-pagan symbolism gradually climbed its way onboard from the wellspring of traditional folklore among peasants (as opposed to church mandates).
When it comes to Christmas, the COG and other fundamentalists like to say it's nothing more than a repackaged version of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of the unconquered sun), a supposedly-Roman solstice holiday that took place on December 25. The problem is, there’s no definitive proof that this celebration actually ever existed. Solstice celebrations were common during the era, but this isn’t likely to have been one of them. Some paganism associated with Christmas can indeed be found in the Bible where it discusses fastening ornate trees as something heathens do. And it’s obvious when the Catholic Church instituted Christmas, they allowed people to craft a large amalgamation of traditional pagan solstice rites into their celebrations of Christ’s birthday, in the name of converting the unwashed masses to the new religion. However, rather than Christmas being a continuation of a specific pagan celebration -- the holiday didn’t arise and spread until the 4th century CE -- it’s a Christian-created holiday. In fact, before Christmas was established as the “official” birthday celebration for Jesus Christ, many Christians celebrated Epiphany on January 6 in its place, after the Winter Solstice and its pagan connotations would have already passed for the year. So basically, there’s no consistent continuation of December 25 celebrations between pagan tradition and early Christianity, and any pagan elements were added gradually over time.
"SO WHAT?" a COG member might say. "Satan has clearly been gradually boiling the frog of mainstream Christianity and deceived everyone." And that makes sense within the construct of church doctrine. Where the COG's argument about rejecting modern holidays based on their ancient pagan roots falls apart is where they ignore the fact that the "connect pagan rituals to modern celebrations" game can be played with lots of holidays, even ones members celebrate.
For instance, various COG groups have become pretty squishy about traditional bans on New Year's Eve celebrations, despite a direct connection to Roman Catholic holidays in many places across the world, a connection probably stronger than that of Easter to ancient fertility rites.
Another example is Mother’s Day, which has its own pagan doppelgangers. And yet, because it’s an “American holiday” established by Woodrow Wilson in 1914, it somehow gets a pass. However, if we wanted to play the COG’s game, we could connect it to the Roman holiday Hilaria to honor the goddess Cybele. It occurred in the spring, like Mother’s Day, and involved similar traditions such as games, rejoicing, gift-giving and honoring motherhood.
Father's Day, while created in the United States as a response to Mother's Day, has analogues in ancient Babylon, the COG's most hated archaic civilization frequently associated with sin and false religion.
And how about Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles? Even though the celebration comes straight from scripture, there are many pagan harvest festivals that are extremely similar and take place around the same time of year. There are also striking similarities between Israelite religious festivals and those found in ancient Canaan. See how this game is played?
The COG is pretty silly when it comes to its crusade against paganism, yet it has a blind spot to the traditions they themselves partake in gleefully that could be just as simply connected to pagan customs. So why aren't these also examples of "Satan boiling the frog" and deceiving people into false religion? The problem with trying to eliminate paganism is that it’s everywhere, since its origins are tied to the development of the human psyche from ancient times to today.
A COG member might argue that the pagan connections in the examples we give are weaker than those for popular mainstream holidays. We would counter though that much of the COG's mania against paganism is based on old, suspect or incorrect scholarship and many of the connotations they think exist either don't or have different, more complex origins. And that's the point we're trying to make. COG members can easily rationalize away pagan similarities to holidays they like, as could others for the holidays that they like.
The reality is, modern mainstream holidays are not about spiritualism, religion, origins or honoring long-dead pagan dieties. They're about partying with friends and family and rampant consumerism, first, foremost and for the last 200 years at least (though some historians argue commercialism was just as rampant in ancient and medieval times). Rather than being the rites of a heathen religious force, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Halloween and others are just as secular as Mother's Day and Father's Day in modern America.
COG members can of course celebrate how and what they want to or don't. There are plenty of people who don't celebrate Christmas. We're really just picking on their particular logic. A plenty good reason for a Christian not to celebrate Christmas would be that December 25th was not the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth, nor is there any scriptural command to celebrate his birthday. That's really all the logic one would need, if they're looking for a reason not to celebrate Christmas. Decrying mainstream holidays as specifically evil and forbidden with Satanic roots though is silly and divorced from reality and historical fact.
Anyway, enjoy this holiday season, regardless of how you celebrate it or don't.