This seems to be an on going debate this time of year. I’m a Merry Christmas person, because I am a Christian. This is the time of year designated for the celebration of the birth of Christ… for Christians. But it wasn’t always that way…
Christmas, in it’s earliest days, was many different things. It was a celebration of longer days for the Europeans, most commonly called the winter solstice. It was a perfect time to celebrate in Scandinavia because most cattle were slaughtered, so they would not have to be fed through the winter. Folks had plenty of meat and, in addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally ready for drinking. The Germans were busy honoring their pagan god, Oden, during this time of year, huddling inside their homes in fear. In Rome, a holiday called Saturnalla, in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture was underway. They kept busy for a month with eating, drinking and turning the Roman social order upside down. During this time they also celebrated Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome, as well as the birth of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun.
As far as Christianity had been concerned, the main holiday was Easter. Period. It wasn’t until the 4th century that the church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ. Even though it is most likely that Christ was born in the spring, Pope Julius I chose December 25th and it was first called the Feast of the Nativity.
By the middle ages, Christmas celebrations were primarily drunken, carnival-like parties, much like Mardi Gras. Finally, by the 17th century, religious reform moved in and changed the celebration drastically… temporarily. It was even cancelled for a time.
With the beginning of America, in 1620, Christmas was boycotted once again. It had gotten so bad, that the holiday was actually outlawed in Boston from 1659-1681. Then in 1828, NYC police responded to the first Christmas riot, which many think was the catalyst to reform of the celebration. It wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870. Over the next hundred years, Americans constructed their own Christmas traditions. It was built with bits and pieces of many other customs from many different cultures and time periods.
The bottom line is this; Christmas is an invented holiday, that means many different things to many different people. For the Christian, it is the chosen day to celebrate the birth of our Savior, as the story is told in the Holy Scriptures. For the Hebrew, it is Hanukkah. For the pagan, it’s the winter solstice. Greek and Russian cultures are celebrating the Epiphany or Three Kings Day, which is the day they believe the wise men found the manger. There are many other types of celebrations all around the globe… and around your neighborhood.
If Christians really want to keep Christ in Christmas, I think we should stop worrying about the well wishes of others and look at ourselves. Instead of rushing the stores at 3AM with ill intent to the person snatching the last Elmo, lets visibly practice patience, kindness, self control and gentleness. Instead of stressing through long to-do lists, let’s count every minute as a gift from God, and visibly demonstrate peace and joy. Giving should be 365 days a year, not just though the holidays. We should be donating clothes, food, and gifts frequently. Let’s invite friends, family, and neighbors, to dinner regularly. Send cookies to people just for fun a few times a year. Tip your service people well – all the time, whether they are good or not. Seriously.
The Word says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:44-47
The Lord added to their numbers because of how they lived, which was different than everyone else. Being mad and offended is not being different. Being stressed and rushed and consumed with shopping and decorations, is not different. Christian’s can keep Christ in Christmas by being different – Galatians 5:22-23… Against such things there is no law…
Whatever your traditions are, stop worrying about what others are doing and saying and be at peace this holiday season… that is something I think we can all agree on. Really.
So, how do you celebrate on December 25th?