When The Adventist Home was published in the Polish language (as Chrześcijański Dom – literally The Christian Home) the entire chapter on Christmas was omitted. The chapter following Holidays and Anniversaries is The Family as a Missionary Centre. Now, I don’t know exactly why this decision was made. When one reads exactly what Ellen White wrote rather than a cursory reading in order to justify one’s Christmas celebrations, her advice on how to deal with Christmas is sensible and biblical. However the omission is understandable given the situation the Adventists faced in Poland.
Poland is almost entirely Roman Catholic (or was). But there are different types of Catholicism in the world. Anyone living in the West, where religious freedom is paramount, is likely to see a benign form of Catholicism that largely doesn’t interfere with anyone who is not Catholic (or so it appears on the surface). However, in other countries Catholicism has other characters, for example in the Philippines it appears more idolatrous, where statues of the Virgin Mary appear everywhere, including stuck to people’s dashboards in their cars, and people participate in processions.
The Catholicism in Poland going back to the time of WWII and post-war Communism could be described as being of the intolerant variety. Children would be bullied and people would sometimes have their houses trashed simply for not being Catholic or for worshiping on the wrong day. Given this, anyone becoming an Adventist knew what they were in for and the decision to become one was not taken lightly. Once they left Catholicism they wanted to distance themselves from all the non-biblical trappings of Catholicism. Christmas and Easter reeked of Catholicism and paganism to them so they were abandoned. When significant numbers of Polish Adventists began migrating to Australia in the 1960s it wasn’t so much for economic reasons as for religious freedom, for both Catholics and Communists made life difficult for Polish Adventists after World War II. They were seeking a place where it would be easier to keep the Sabbath.
These migrants wanted nothing to do with Christmas, and I predict a Christmas tree will never be found in a Polish church in Australia as long as anyone from the old guard is still alive. Even while using the facilities of an English-speaking church before the Polish people had their own building, when a Christmas tree was seen, the (Polish) pastor was approached with a question “What are you going to do about this Christmas tree?” Over time, some of these migrants transferred their membership to English-speaking churches, and sometimes fought battles over Christmas trees with the local congregations (sometimes winning, and it was known that as long as so-and-so is in the church there will not be a Christmas tree there). Much later, around the year 2000 when one of the Polish churches acquired a new pastor he was asked early on in his tenure in a board meeting “will there be a Christmas tree in the church?” This may seem like making a mountain out of a molehill, but to this generation the Christmas tree is symbolic of greater evils and if it is allowed into the church, there is a fear worse could come. Hence the omission of the chapter on Christmas from The Adventist Home, whilst maybe not justifiable, is completely understandable.
Back to Ellen White, let’s read some of what she wrote about Christmas in The Adventist Home, with my comments in italics.
The youth should be treated very carefully. They should not be left on Christmas to find their own amusement in vanity and pleasure seeking, in amusements which will be detrimental to their spirituality. (Like being excited about Santa coming, fixated on presents, made to believe a lie about Santa and the reindeer and the source of the presents.) Parents can control this matter by turning the minds and the offerings of their children to God and His cause and the salvation of souls. (Is this what is happening when we celebrate Christmas like the world?) AH 478.2
The desire for amusement, instead of being quenched and arbitrarily ruled down, should be controlled and directed by painstaking effort upon the part of the parents. (Do we see painstaking effort on the part of the parents to control the desire for amusement at Christmas?) Their desire to make gifts may be turned into pure and holy channels and made to result in good to our fellow men by supplying the treasury in the great, grand work for which Christ came into our world. Self-denial and self-sacrifice marked His course of action. Let it mark ours who profess to love Jesus because in Him is centered our hope of eternal life. (Is that what we see? Do we practice self-sacrifice and self-denial at Christmas? Do we make gifts which result in good to our fellow men, or do we see “token” gifts made which are of no benefit to others other than making us feel good that we have done “something” for someone?) AH 478.3
It is right to bestow upon one another tokens of love and remembrance if we do not in this forget God, our best friend. We should make our gifts such as will prove a real benefit to the receiver. I would recommend such books as will be an aid in understanding the word of God or that will increase our love for its precepts. Provide something to be read during these long winter evenings. (Who provides serious books written to bring people closer to God as gifts at Christmas time?) AH 479.1
Books for Children Are Recommended—There are many who have not books and publications upon present truth. Here is a large field where money can be safely invested. There are large numbers of little ones who should be supplied with reading. The Sunshine Series, Golden Grains Series, Poems, Sabbath Readings, [Note: Reference is made in this article to non-current publications. As the principles set forth in this connection are applicable today, these specific references are left in the article.] etc., are all precious books and may be introduced safely into every family. The many trifles usually spent on candies and useless toys may be treasured up with which to buy these volumes. (The many trifles spent on candy and useless toys continue to be spent on the same, and precious books are nowhere to be seen.) AH 479.2
Let those who wish to make valuable presents to their children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces procure for them the children's books mentioned above. For young people the Life of Joseph Bates is a treasure; also the three volumes of The Spirit of Prophecy. [Note: Early E. G. White books preceding the present “Conflict Of The Ages Series.”] These volumes should be placed in every family in the land. God is giving light from heaven, and not a family should be without it. Let the presents you shall make be of that order which will shed beams of light upon the pathway to heaven. (Who provides Spirit of Prophecy books for their children and families at Christmas time?) AH 479.3
Christ should be the supreme object; but as Christmas has been observed, the glory is turned from Him to mortal man, whose sinful, defective character made it necessary for Him to come to our world (AH 480.4).
Jesus, the Majesty of heaven, the royal King of heaven, laid aside His royalty, left His throne of glory, His high command, and came into our world to bring to fallen man, weakened in moral power and corrupted by sin, aid divine.... (AH 481.1).
Parents should keep these things before their children and instruct them, line upon line, precept upon precept, in their obligation to God—not their obligation to each other, to honor and glorify one another by gifts and offerings. (The obligation to honour and glorify one another by gifts seems to have won this battle.) AH 481.2
“Shall We Have a Christmas Tree?”—God would be well pleased if on Christmas each church would have a Christmas tree on which shall be hung offerings, great and small, for these houses of worship. (Do we have Christmas trees in the church on which to hang offerings for church construction or to send to missions?) [Note: Reference is made in this article to current building projects. As the principles set forth in this connection are applicable today, these specific references are left in the article.] Letters of inquiry have come to us asking, Shall we have a Christmas tree? Will it not be like the world? We answer, You can make it like the world if you have a disposition to do so, or you can make it as unlike the world as possible. (Are the Christmas trees in churches today as unlike the world as possible, or rather are they EXACTLY like the world?) There is no particular sin in selecting a fragrant evergreen and placing it in our churches, but the sin lies in the motive which prompts to action and the use which is made of the gifts placed upon the tree. (What is the motive behind having the tree in the church? Is it not to simply celebrate “Christmas” because that’s what is done at this time of year? And what of the gifts, if any, around the tree? You will notice that there is no mention of or support for having a Christmas tree in the home.) AH 482.1
The tree may be as tall and its branches as wide as shall best suit the occasion; but let its boughs be laden with the golden and silver fruit of your beneficence (ie money for holy causes), and present this to Him as your Christmas gift. Let your donations be sanctified by prayer. (I’d like to see this, but sadly haven’t seen it yet in any church I have attended at Christmas.) AH 482.2
I’d like to suggest that if one reads what Ellen White wrote and puts it into practice regarding Christmas there wouldn’t be a problem. Even the Polish migrants to Australia who are allergic to Christmas should be able to accept this. But what happens currently is the exact opposite. We are doing exactly what Ellen White told us not to do and not doing that which she said we should do. And harking back to the syncretism of the Israelites, the Christmas tree has become the idol of modern-day Adventism at Christmas time. The people demanded of Aaron “makes us gods…” and the people today demand of their pastors and leaders (or do it themselves) to put up Christmas trees, and my, oh my, the fuss that is made if someone dares to question this.
Ellen White's counsel regarding a tree appears to have been to redirect the flow of spending around Christmas and help reduce the debts of the churches in Battle Creek and Oakland etc. We do not see where Ellen White advocates placing a Christmas tree in the home--on the contrary she advocates putting one in church for the sole purpose of putting money gifts on it to reduce debt and enhance missions.
She recommended that parents purchase wholesome books for their children instead of candies and trinkets.
She personally forbade people from getting her a birthday or Christmas gift, desiring instead that family and friends would put money in the Lord's treasury (RH, December 27, 1906 par. 9).
Let us search our hearts, read the guidelines given us by Ellen White, and re-examine our relationship to Christmas. And if we are determined to celebrate Jesus’ birth and draw people’s attention to Him, let us not simply copy what others do and call it witnessing or worship.
Let’s learn to differentiate between worship and entertainment. Let’s not mix the sacred and the common by singing questionable Christmas carols. Let’s not get caught up in commercialism and spend large amounts of money on unnecessary presents and on feasting and gluttony. Let us examine also the way in which we celebrate Easter, for the same issues exist there, and let’s go further and examine other areas of Adventist life to see if we can improve what we do and if necessary, get back on the right path that we have wandered from.
Leopold Hamulczyk, B. Pharm., is a Pharmacist residing in Australia. He is also an elder at his local church in Bairnsdale, Victoria, and preaches occasionally there and in nearby churches.
Together with his wife he is passionate about conducting evangelistic missions in the Philippines and elsewhere, as God calls.