Tuesday, December 22, 2015

History of Christmas

Matthew 1:18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit”

As Christmas is nearing, I would like to discuss the history behind the Christmas holiday.  When people think of Christmas, they think of winter, snow, a Christmas tree sprung out with decorations and lights glowing with presents underneath, people singing Christmas carols, exchanging gifts, good cheer and good will to our fellow man.  Children think of Santa Claus riding in his sleigh of reindeer coming down the chimney with bag full of gifts. However, most people think of December 25 being the birth of Jesus Christ in a barn in a town of Bethlehem.  However, I wonder how many people know how the holiday of Christmas really got started, and about the truth surrounding Jesus birth, that he wasn’t really born December 25 as perceived.  These things will be answered. 

It what surprise many Christians that some Christians don’t celebrate Christmas at all because of its supposed Pagan roots.  I couldn’t imagine at all the holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ to have pagan origins but there is some truth to it. During the Ancient times, centuries before Christ was born, European pagans celebrated during the winter solstice when the shortest days and longest night of the year when the sunlight is extended. A festival is held to worship the birth of the sun between December 21-25.  The Scandinavian norses celebrated Yule in which a festival was held in honor of the return of the sun, and fathers and sons would bring in logs and set them on fire feasting until the logs burned out. This celebration lasted from December 21 until January.  In Rome, pagans celebrated a holiday known as Saturnalia in honor of the God Saturn between December 17-25. 

Some Roman soldiers also celebrated December 25th as the birth of Mithra, a Persian sun god.  During this time, courts, schools and businesses were closed, slaves would become masters and peasants would rule the city. People could run around and damage property or inflict injury without the fears of being punished.  A festival was held that included drinking, gambling, gift-giving, role-playing etc.  Human sacrifices also took place on the 25th, when a victim was selected to represent the Lord of Misrule as the Romans believed murdering the victim, they were destroying the forces of darkness.  During the early days of Christianity, Easter was only celebrated as a main holiday.  It wasn’t until the 4th century that the birth of Jesus Christ was celebrated as a holiday. 

The problem was the bible never mentions the month or day of Jesus birth.  In fact, new scholars now conclude that Jesus birthday was not in December at all but likely in September because due to certain facts. That the shepherds were outside in the fields with their flock when Jesus was born yet shepherds wouldn’t be out during the winter season because it would have been too cold. Also the fact that Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem to register in the census, but that wouldn’t take place in the winter season either.  Also, in the bible it states that the Virgin Mary’s cousin Elizabeth whom Mary was visiting was already in her sixth month of pregnancy of John the Baptist when Mary conceived which was likely in December making September likely the time she gave birth.  Pope Julius I declared December 25th, the birthday of Jesus Christ around 350 AD as a way to absorb it with the pagan holidays, rituals and customs. It was originally called the Feast of Nativity and spread out all over throughout the continents over the centuries. In 529 AD, Emperor Justianian declared the holiday a civic one.

The word Christmas came from the old English word Cristesmaesse coined in 1038 and later Cristes Messe in 1131 meaning the Mass of Christ.  By the medieval era, Christmas contained some of its pagan customs too an extant. People would go to church then celebrate afterwards by engaging in drunken raucous. Also a beggar would be crowned as the Lord of Misrule with the others as his subjects.  The poor would go the home of the rich demanding food and drink and if the owners refused, they would cause mischief upon the owners. The wealthy folks would pay their dept to society by entertaining the poor.  By the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell and his puritan followers decided to ban Christmas altogether until Charles II took the throne and restored it.  When the pilgrims arrived in America colonies, Christmas wasn’t celebrated and even outlawed in some parts of the country including Boston during the later part of the 17th century. 

Even after the revolutionary war, Christmas still wasn't widely celebrated as a holiday in fact, Congress held its first session on Christmas Day in 1789.  Christmas would become a federal holiday in 1870.  By this time Americans even adapted the current traditions of Christmas such as the custom of the Christmas tree that was started in Germany during the 16th century.  Other customs included giving gifts or putting presents under the Christmas tree, stockings, mistletoes, etc. For children, the legend of Santa Claus also known as Father Christmas in the United Kingdom riding on his sleigh of reindeer climbing down the chimney to bring toys for them emerged. 

Today Christmas is holiday celebrated all in many countries around world as secular holiday where people decorate their Christmas tree, go shopping for presents, host fancy dinners and exchange presents, sing Christmas carols etc.  However, real meaning of Christmas is so much more as it is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Another important factor is love.  Christ love for all God’s children and we as children of God should follow Christ example by extending love, kindness and goodwill to all our fellow men and women.  It doesn’t matter if what kind of gift you buy how expensive or not it matters is in the heart, and mostly remembering Jesus Christ came into this world where he gave  to many people the biggest gift was Him dying for all our sins on the cross.

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