Christmas is more a cultural phenomenon than a Christian holy day. It is not a God-ordained feast day, such as Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles, which he commanded Israel to keep. In fact, we do not even know the exact day of Jesus’ birth. It has been a matter of debate and speculation for centuries. The closest indication of a time period that I know of from scripture is found in Luke 2: 1, 2. Pinpoint that decree of Caesar Augustus and you have a general timeframe, but still without a definitive date.
I found an interesting “History of Christmas” on the History channel (google: Bet You Didn’t Know: Christmas). It only took a few minutes to watch/read through. Some of these historical facts I had heard before, but a few were new to me. What it pointed out was the cultural rather than Christian or biblical historical roots of my favorite holiday.
What we celebrate as Christmas was unknown to Christians until the third century. Historians think it began as a “Christian icing” overlaying the pagan feast of Saturnalia, to divert people from the drunken feasting done during the shortest days of the year, as they anticipated the return of the sun and longer days. In fact, such year-end celebrating, likened to that of the Mardi Gras we know today, has been going on for centuries under various names. Now folk party under the name Christmas, though there is in it neither Christ nor Mass, the special church service which gives us the name we know and love.
Santa Claus’ family roots can be traced to St. Nicholas of Myra, who was known for his kindness in giving gifts, especially to those in need. He is known in the Netherlands as Sinterklaas and his day is celebrated separately from Christmas. Our common image of Santa Claus was made popular by a Coca Cola ad in the 1930s.
Evergreen trees came into the picture in England in the 1800s, imported from the German tradition, and the Christmas holiday itself finally made its way acceptably to the American States in the mid-1800s, along with the tradition of sending Christmas cards.
Gift giving has evolved as well, becoming more and more commercialized, and less about the gifts the wise men gave Jesus’s parents, since the days of the Industrial Revolution.
What I have enjoyed since childhood is a 150+ year old American twist on the international Christmas celebration. Americans began to emphasize a family-oriented holiday celebration. Thank you Americans!
I have fond memories of Christmas. My parents taught us it was Jesus’ birthday and those days were filled with church Christmas programs, extended family get-togethers, food and gift exchanges. Since I grew up in central Michigan, I always associate Christmas with snow and outdoors fun in the cold.
That little historical jaunt into the history of Christmas made me relax a bit about the whole Christmas deal. My husband and I have tried to use Christmas as an opportunity to emphasize the wonder and meaning of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ; a time for reflection on and worship of him. We’ve made it a point to give Jesus a birthday present along with the other gift giving we do.
The truth of the matter is, however individuals or families choose to celebrate, or not to celebrate, Christmas is really a matter of little consequence. God didn’t command us to observe Christmas. It is a human construct. Therefore, we have great leeway in how we observe it. Spiritually, it is neither “here nor there,” so to speak.
What is of utmost importance, however, is how we live out the other 364 days of the year. God does have a lot to say about that in his Word. If we are not living in obedience to him and his Word every day, we deceive ourselves. Christ can never be the center of our Christmas if he is not the center of our lives the rest of the year.
Have a wonderful Christmas holiday, however you observe it, honoring him whose birth we celebrate—on Christmas and every day of the year.