Christmas is a beloved time for almost all in the Calvin community. Almost.
Despite his faith in Jesus as the Messiah, senior Zack Doering does not celebrate Christmas. For three Decembers he has abstained, and he has not looked back.
“I believe that as believers in Yeshua (or Jesus) we are called to keep the Torah … and it says that not one word shall fall away from it,” said Zack.
As a Messianic Jew by creed, Zack believes that, while Yeshua is the savior of the human race, Yaweh’s law as written in the Torah needs to be kept. But what does keeping the Torah have to do with Christmas?
“It says within the Torah not to worship God in the way of other gods. Christmas … has a pagan origin. It has nothing to do with Yeshua,” said Zack.
Christmas was placed in the month of December, overtaking the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, a celebration of the god Saturn. The change was made by Pope Julius in order to make conversion from paganism to Christianity as easy as possible.
According to Zack, it is more likely that Yeshua was born in the middle of October during Sukkot, or the Feast of the Tabernacle, and not in a stable but a Succa. A Succa is a tent, or tabernacle, that many Hebrews slept in during the festival of Sukkot.
“There probably would not have been animals there, because that would have been unclean,” he said.
Many Christians would not like to think of a Christmas story without a stable or animals, but to Zack it is unlikely that there were animals involved.
“Essentially the church has done a lot of revisionist history,” he said. “If you look at church history, starting with who codified the Bible, who translated the Bible, a lot of it was done by Rome.”
According to Zack, Rome’s history is one filled with anti-Semitism.
“Christmas was established by Rome while they forbade any sort of Jewish practice at all,” he said.
Zack, a distant relative of teenage Holocaust writer Anne Frank, has identified with Jewish culture from a young age. Having grown up in a Christian household, Zack first came into contact with Messianic Judaism 11 years ago on a Christian TV station. The more he learned about God and the Bible, the more he came to identify with the Jewish people.
“I came to Calvin as a Christian, and then became a Messianic Jew,” he said.
According to Zack, a major turning point was the DCM class he took freshman year, “The Name that Saves.”
“I remember we were learning a lot about Catholicism … how it started, where their orthodoxy came from. And I realized it had nothing to do with scripture and everything to do with tradition,” he said.
Seeing how tradition-oriented Catholicism is, he realized the rest of Christianity is similarly focused. Soon after, he dedicated himself to more closely following the Torah.
Though not entirely Jewish by ethnicity, Zack says he has found a deeper relationship with God through keeping Torah.
As a consequence, Zack has not celebrated Christmas for three years, even though his Christian family continues to celebrate.
“My family, I think in some ways agrees with me,” he says, “but they don’t practice the way I practice my faith. They don’t celebrate Christmas in our house, but my father owns a company and still throws a Christmas party, which I consider wrong.”
Despite not actually celebrating Christmas, he and his family have found a compromise when it comes to gift exchanges — Hanukkah.