Last year I put together a small presentation during our family Christmas dinner. I titled it the History of Christmas. The main focus was on the purpose for some of the items and traditions that have become part of the Christmas celebration.
Have you ever wondered:
- Was there an evergreen tree in Bethlehem when Jesus was born?
- Why do we bring a tree from outside and put it inside our house?
- Why do we take the lights from inside and put them outside every year?
It makes no sense. This post will shed some light on some of the fun Christmas traditions we have all come to know and love.
1. The name “Christmas.”
I always thought Christmas was Latin and meant more (“mas”) Christ. Good rationale, but it does not explain the celebration of Jesus’ birth. The word comes from Communion, which is the Eucharist or Holy Mass. Once a year in Europe there was one special mass or Holy Communion to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It was Christ’s mass. Get it?
2. Why December 25th?
When Constantine ruled Rome, he became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of Rome. Can you believe that? At that time, there was an annual pagan holiday where people celebrated the shortest day of winter and worshiped the sun. This party was crazy. Julius I in AD 350 was the head of the church and he wanted to cover up this pagan holiday, so the church decided to declare the celebration of Christ’s birth to be on Dec. 25th. In actuality, judging from when the census was taken, Jesus was probably born in the fall. I like to think on September 9th (my birthday).
3. Why the Christmas tree?
During a time when Christianity was spreading like wildfire, Northern Germany tribes decorated their homes with tree branches. They worshipped big trees, one of them named the Tree of Thor. To debunk this pagan worship, Christian missionaries chopped down the giant oak tree, yet the pagan gods did not stop them. The missionaries used the pine tree as a symbol of the Great Commission, saying that it pointed up to Jesus and out for God’s command to spread the good news. So they started hanging trees from there ceilings as a reminder of Christ.
4. Santa Claus?
Yes he was a real guy. St. Nicolas lived and served in Europe AD 300. His parents were rich but died when he was only a young man. He inherited their money and began giving it away at night through people’s windows so the corrupt government could not collect it. One story tells of three poor daughters who wanted to get married, but did not have the dowry they needed. One night their socks were drying by the fire and money accidently fell in their stockings. They were able to use the money from St. Nicolas for their dowries. Later this village began celebrating Saint Nicolas day on Dec. 6. It spread throughout Europe. The Dutch called it Sinter Claus day while the Germans called it St. Nicklaus day. American settlers from both countries married each other and combined names. Christmas is a combination of two European holidays: Saint Nick day and Christ's mass.
5. The color Red? Cookies and Milk?
Saint Nicklaus was a bishop and they wore red. Did he love cookies and milk? There is no evidence of this, however who doesn’t?
Originally, Caesar called for a census for tax purposes because he wanted greater riches for himself. This led Joseph to Bethlehem. Ironically, this type of commercialism led to the first Christmas. Since then Christmas has been about Christ. If we are not careful, Christmas can become more about commercialism than about the real meaning of Christmas.
Christmas is a time to celebrate Jesus' birth. A time to remember how He became human, he grew up, lived, and then died. He came to save us. And this saving is not the saving you will receive on any Christmas sale.
Christmas is the arrival of the Immanuel = God with us.
Merry Christmas! Love the Ayers