By: Tresa Walker
Christmas is such an exciting time of year! It is a time of tradition for family and friends, a time of anticipation for children awaiting special gifts, and a time of singing both silly and inspirational songs reserved specifically for the Christmas season. It is a time of decorating, shopping, and gift giving. It is a time of precious memories, great joy, and most importantly a time to remember the birth of Jesus. Christmas is also a time with a very complex history, a bustling present-day, and a hopeful future.
For centuries before Jesus Christ was born, December was a month when several pagan traditions were practiced. People rejoiced during the winter solstice as the worst of winter was over. The Norse people of Scandinavia celebrated the return of the sun as the days finally grew longer. In Europe, most of the cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed through the winter, and the people enjoyed a supply of fresh meat. In Rome, Saturnalia festivals honored the god of agriculture on December 25th. Christians surprisingly had no celebrations at this time of year. They celebrated the resurrection of Christ at Easter, but had nothing to honor His birth.
As far back as the 4th century, church officials declared December 25th as Christmas although the Bible does not specify the actual date of Christ’s birth. This may have been a way for Christians to escape all of the pagan celebrations at that time. It may have even been an effort of the church to counteract the influence of the pagan festivals. Eventually, it worked. By the Middle Ages, Christmas traditions had spread throughout the world and in effect replaced the pagan celebrations.
When Pilgrims came to North America, they did not celebrate Christmas because they wanted to refrain from all things connected to Britain. After the American Revolution, Christmas celebrations were literally outlawed in Boston from 1659-1681. It did not become a federal holiday in the United States until June 26, 1870. Immigrants later brought many festive traditions with them including the Christmas tree and Saint Nicholas.
Today, unfortunately, Christmas has become very commercialized and busy. Often people are so immersed with the festivities of decorating, shopping, parties, programs, and other activities, that many never pause to reflect on the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, which was the true purpose in creating the Christmas holiday so many years ago. It is imperative that we remember that Jesus is the reason for the season because, without His birth, there would be no salvation. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Christmas is the perfect opportunity for us to pause and teach our children of the miracle surrounding Christ’s birth – how He took on human flesh becoming fully human in order to offer eternal salvation to all. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Families are the most important influencers in the spiritual growth of children because there are many daily opportunities to share Jesus. We have to do more than just live out our faith; we must make time to teach our children about the love of our heavenly Father, the birth of Jesus, the gift of salvation that only comes through His death and resurrection, and the importance of faith. We must intentionally slow down and talk to them daily about God and not assume that they will learn through observation.
Christmas is celebrated around the world by Christians as well as non-Christians on December 25th each year. If Christians are not cautious, all of the commercialism and busyness surrounding Christmas will eventually lead us back to a time of celebrations which lack any consideration of Christ. This would be a solemn future for our families and our nation. Deuteronomy 4:7 says, “For what great nation is there that has a god near to it as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to Him?” We must deliberately preserve our Christian heritage and share our faith now so that future generations will know of the birth of our Savior and the great love of our heavenly Father.
Regardless of the past, present, or future of Christmas celebrations, there is one thing that we can count on: Christ, the one who should always be celebrated, will never change. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”