Last week I wrote about Santa Claus, stating that I believe in Santa Claus in the same way I believe in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. I like to pretend, and the characters are fun. Today, I would like to take this opportunity to share what I really believe about Christmas. Year around, my favorite words come from the Bible and frame all that I am and all I believe. Please permit me to share them with you.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God from the beginning…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” From the first chapter of John. I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, who died to pay the penalty for my sin and the sins of the world. This redemption is offered to anyone who believes in him. The gift he gives us is eternal life. Christmas is the day we celebrate his birth.
Having said that, last week, after writing the Santa story, I decided to take a backward glance at the history of our Christmas traditions. I’ve spent hours researching Christmas and its history. Did you know that the early church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus? Indeed, scholars do agree on the location of the birth of Jesus, but they do not come together regarding the time of his birth. Most scholars claim it was most likely in the spring around Passover, but others argue for fall around the Feast of Tabernacles. The Bible is silent on this detail. The early Christian church celebrated Easter (the resurrection of Christ) and later added Epiphany when the deity of Christ was made manifest. Birthdays, on the other hand, especially those of martyrs, were not celebrated (or even noted).
I have heard it said that during the years of the early church when Christ followers were being heavily persecuted, they chose to have a religious celebration during the winter solstice celebrations so they could practice their faith without being noticed. My research revealed no data to support that claim. However, as early as 221 Sextus Julius Africanus identified Dec. 25 as the most likely date of his birth. The date was achieved because the Annunciation (the date Mary was told she would have a child) and therefore the date of conception was determined to be March 25. Following this, nine months later takes us to December 25. There are many strong arguments for this date.
According to several scholars, the fourth century Roman emperor, Constantine, declared Dec. 25 as the date of Christ’s birth to coincide with the celebration of Saturnalia and the “day of the birth of the unconquered sun.” Both pagan holidays were celebrated on Dec. 25. Presumedly, Constantine hoped to increase the popularity of Christianity, while overshadowing the pagan holiday. For the most part, he was successful.
During the middle ages in Europe, the celebration of Christmas was accepted as December 25. It continued through history as both a religious and secular holiday. It was interesting to learn that in 1644, while under strong Puritan influence, the English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas as sinful revelry. The holiday was reinstated in 1660 when Charles II took over the throne. Indeed, early American Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas in Boston from 1659 to 1681. However, Christmas was enthusiastically celebrated in nearby Jamestown during those same dates. Following that, Christmas was seen as an English institution and during the Revolution anything English was highly frowned upon. During that era and for years following, Americans by and large did not celebrate Christmas, especially in the New England states. It continued to be more accepted in Southern regions. Not until June 26, 1870, did Christmas become an American holiday!
This quest into the history of Christmas has been a fascinating journey. However, it does not change the fact that Jesus is a real historical person. He was born sometime. We, in today’s culture celebrate birthdays. If we choose to celebrate Dec. 25 as the anniversary of his birth, the date is good enough for me. After all, it has been celebrated on this date for almost 2,000 years. It is recognized all over the world as the day of Christ’s birth. I, for one, revel in the celebration.
What are your Christmas traditions? Religious or secular, they become a strong part of who we are and how we think. Everyone and every family celebrate differently. That’s good, the way it should be in America. In our family, the holiday is celebrated like most Americans with fun, food and gifts. My church hosts a worship service every Christmas Eve. Our family tradition starts with food. First we eat! Prior to the big party, our family always reads the Christmas story, which can be found in the Bible in Matthew, Mark, and Luke; followed by a prayer. The Wilken family always has a sing-along before gifts are opened. We may not all be in tune, but we are all tuned in😊 Finally, gifts are opened. Of all holidays, Christmas for me is wrapped with more tradition than any other. It is beautiful and precious.
How about you? Do you prefer a quiet evening at home or a big event with people, laughter and chaos? Maybe something in between. Either way, enjoy the celebration!
“and the angel said unto them…for unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
Have a merry Christmas!
Sue Wilken is a lifelong resident of Fergus Falls. Her column appears on Thursday.