The early church did not celebrate Christmas. To them, the most important date to celebrate was the resurrection, Easter. It wasn’t until the fourth century AD that Christians began to celebrate Christ’s birthday. Jesus had many different birthday celebration dates back then. Eastern Christians celebrated on January 6th. Dates in other places were set in March, April or May. Finally December 25th was set by Pope Julius as Jesus’ birth date.
December 25th is the same date as the feast of Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a Roman festival of the Unconquered Sun. Ancient peoples of the northern European hemisphere celebrated this time when the daylight hours were their shortest and longer days were being welcomed. Greenery and candles decorated homes and worship places. Special music with feasts and gift giving occurred. The Druids worshiped mistletoe and the Saxons used holly and ivy. The pagan customs and festivities of the winter solstice were absorbed into Christianity as it spread throughout Europe.
Over the centuries many events occurred that became tradition. A few include St. Francis of Assisi organizing a live nativity scene for the illiterate, common people in the 13th century. The first mention of a Christmas tree was in Germany in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Handel’s Messiah was written in 24 days. Until we come to the mid-19th century when Clement Moore’s, A Visit from St. Nicholas, brought Santa into the celebration.
Santa is undoubtedly here to stay, but he has morphed somewhat from St. Nicholas. I wonder what Jesus would (or does) think of all the commercial hullabaloo and jolly ole Santa on His birthday celebration. As I know Jesus, I do not think that He is flattered. I rather think He may feel many emotions, from sadness to gladness. For I am sure that He sees all the goodness this season brings. And feels sadness for all The Little Match Girls.
If we are still looking for the true meaning of Christmas, remember Charles Dickens’ story, A Christmas Carol. Think of the spirit of warmth, good cheer and giving. Most importantly, remember the Christ child and how he devoted his entire being to us that we may have everlasting life. Merry Christmas to all.
Copyright © Ann Rains, December 2014
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