As I was perusing different publications this winter I noticed a strong “keep the Christ in Christmas” voice among certain groups of folks and not just hardcore bible thumpers. Nothing new there but another thing I noticed was a sliver of folks who want to have Christmas secular. Well that made me choke on my giant candy cane (where the hell did I put that? I know I didn’t finish it!). So after hearing some things I had known about Christmas celebrations and decorations I was curious when the heck did Christ get put into Christmas? Well Christ himself likely wasn’t born in winter as a few things hint.
- “when shepherds watched their flocks by night.” In other words, most likely in the spring.(bible.org)
- “A more probable time would be late September, the time of the annual Feast of Tabernacles, when such travel was commonly accepted. Thus, it is rather commonly believed (though not certain) that Jesus’ birth was around the last of September. The conception of Christ, however, may have taken place in late December of the previous year. Our Christmas celebration may well be recognized as an honored observation of the incarnation of ‘the Word made flesh’ (John 1:14).”(Christiananswers.net)
- Another site suggested perhaps Passover as being a likely time for a census to be taken as many traveled home for the celebration.
Then one ponders “well why December then?” The churches first three centuries did not celebrate Christmas.So a few different ideas arise.
- December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”)
- The birthday of Mithras, the Iranian “Sun of Righteousness” whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers.
- The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier.
So the big guys in charge in those days decided to wedge the birth of Christ into this part of the calendar. It is interesting to note that Origen (c.185-c.254) an early church leader disliked the idea of celebrating Jesus birthday because of Pharaoh and Herod were honored this way!
Now comes our Christmas traditions the things we do to Celebrate the birth of our Savior. These pull from many parts of the worlds as Christianity is a worldwide religion but are any Christ centered besides the placing of the Nativity scene in homes and churches. Here are where some of the most popular arise and why they were or are challenged or disapproved by some sects of Christianity.
1.) Now we could do a whole separate story on the Christmas tree one of the most recognizable symbols of the holiday but I will try to stick to a few points.
- The Egyptians were part of a long line of cultures that treasured and worshiped evergreens. When the winter solstice arrive, they brought green date palm leaves into their homes to symbolize life’s triumph over death. (yes I checked turns out palm trees are evergreens!) [Christmas-tree.com]
- Jeremiah 10:2-4: “Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.” (King James Version). That is right the Bible says no to indoor tree decoration!
- The Puritans banned Christmas in New England. Even as late as 1851, a Cleveland minister nearly lost his job because he allowed a tree in his church. Schools in Boston stayed open on Christmas Day through 1870, and sometimes expelled students who stayed home. [Christmas-tree.com] Talk about separation of church and state!
2.)Now for some of the smaller decorations and symbols we will sick with three Holly, The Yule Log and Mistletoe.
- Holly and Ivy were originally used for male and female symbolism in some Pagan religions.
- At first, burning a Yule log was a celebration of the winter solstice. In Scandinavia, Yule ran from several weeks before the winter solstice to a couple weeks after. This was the darkest time of year, and the people celebrated because days would start getting longer after the solstice. There was quite a bit of ritual and ceremony tied to the Yule log, for it marked the sun’s rebirth from its southern reaches. The Yule log gets its name from the Scandinavian tradition, but the ritual burning of a special log during winter solstice took place as far west as Ireland, as far south as Greece, and as far north as Siberia. were originally used for male and female symbolism in some Pagan religions. [noelnoelnoel.com]
- From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. The mistletoe of the sacred oak was especially sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids.Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites.
[Read more at http://www.theholidayspot.com/christmas/history/mistletoe.htm#5mto2l4cm2WLXcLc.99]
So needless to say Christmas was declared a Christian holiday and though out the 1700 years or so has acquired many,many traditions from assorted pagan religions. Actually I have yet to come across anything besides displaying a Nativity that is a TRUE display of the celebration of Christ. For the sake of my wrists I am not going to go into Santa he comes from too many cultures to count and yes there is a Saint Nicholas but he didnt go around handing out gifts as we know Saint Nick. But honestly it could never be a secular holiday of any sorts to many religions are involved to do so if you want a secular holiday go with Festivus no religion involved. Oh and as far as Xmas is concerned it has been used for over 200 years it appears our ancestors were also lazy writers. The “-mas” part is from the Latin-derived Old English word for Mass, while the “X” comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός, translated as “Christ“.