At year’s end for centuries, even before the birth of Christ, people in Europe enjoyed a holiday season. An occasion of rejoicing [for] the fact that at year’s end the northern hemisphere was at its farthest point away from the sun and was about to turn back closer to its light and warmth. Days would begin to lengthen. Gradually the long nights would be shorter. As a symbol of returning life the ancient Teutonic tribes decorated their houses with evergreen and the fireplace burned brightly with the yuletide log. Good luck gifts were freely exchanged. It was a time of joy and good cheer.
Over three hundred years after Jesus was born the year’s end holiday season was appropriated to make a religious celebration. It was recognized that Jesus was not born in the winter time, for shepherds do not have their flocks out in the open around Bethlehem in December. The continual weather forecast for December is “Hail. Snow on higher hills, and occasionally on lower levels.” Nevertheless, the date of December 25 was selected by Liberius, bishop of Rome, in 354 A.D., to coincide with the established year’s end holidays. Since that time, bishop’s order has been followed by the Roman Catholic Church, and when the Protestant churches were established, they began following Rome’s lead in making December 25 a sacred day.
God did not make any day of the week or of the year as a holy day for Christians. If anyone does so, it is his own private doing from “his own mind” (Rm. 14:5). And if he does so, he must not push that day on others, for, said Paul, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls (Rm. 14:4). The Christians in Galatia were pushing holy days, and they received a blistering condemnation from Paul: “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal. 4:10-11).
The first day of the week to Christians is not more sacred that any other. Every day is a gift from the Lord, and so every day is the Lord’s day, but Christians do remember the first day of the week as a day of precious memory that Jesus arose on that day (Mk. 16:9), and they call it the “Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10). But they do not regard Sunday as a sabbath or a more holy day than any other. On that day by apostolic teaching they assemble to observe the Lord’s supper and to make financial offerings (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2).
After the Roman Catholic Church had fitted an erroneous birthday of Christ to coincide with the established holiday season, more and more additions became part of the celebration. “St. Nicholas” was a 4th century bishop, who was called “the patron saint of children, sailors, and scholars,” now called “Santa Claus.” In the 11th century someone invented the word “Christmas,” meaning “Christ’s Mass” (Christes Masse). In France the word was “Noel,” meaning pertaining to a birthday.
The burning of candles and the use of bright lights during the December holidays are believed to have come from the Jewish custom in their celebration of the Feast of Dedication, the Hanukkah, the “Feast of Lights,” December 23-30, mentioned in John 10:22.
The use of trees as decorations began in German mystery plays as symbolic of the Garden of Eden. The use of mistletoe came from the English belief of its magical powers: If one’s enemy stood under the mistletoe he would disarm himself.
Manger displays started in Italy, and mincemeat pies began to be baked in oblong shapes to represent the manger. The poinsettia was discovered in Mexico, and came to be called the “Flower of the Holy Night.” The sending of greeting cards originated in England. Today such a custom spreads good cheer the world around.
To thousands, Christmas does not mean a mass for Christ, just as Saturday does not mean a day to worship Saturn, and as Thursday does not mean a day dedicated to the war god, Thor. To thousands, Christmas means only a time for families and good friends to get together, to exchange gifts, and to relax.
All Christians rejoice that the great Father planned that Mary, sitting on a donkey’s back, riding toward Bethlehem, had, in her womb, God in the flesh, being protected by a water bag. But when inns are full, theyarefull.Sleepwhereyoucan.So,inastable,“Goddeep in the flesh became deep in the straw,…waving little arms, hungrily sucking a fist, like any other newborn baby.” This was the super-miracle, for lying in a feeding trough was the creator of the universe (Jn. 1:3), one who would become a brother (Rm. 8:29), a friend (Jn. 15:14), the sin-bearer (2 Cor. 5:21), and the redeemer (1 Pt. 1:18-19).
On any day at any season of the year it is edifying to sing songs about the birth of the Anointed One, the Christ-child. Songs about the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem continue to make millions happy and draw them closer to one another and to the One who came to live among humans and who wants to take them to heaven. The earliest of such carols, from the 4th century, is “Jesus, Light of All the Nations.” Other famous ones are: “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Away in the Manger,” “Joy to the World,” and “Silent Night.”
G.K. Wallace (GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 12-15-1966) asked “What shall we do this Christmas?” He gives 12 answers:
Seek out a forgotten friend and write a love letter.
Dismiss suspicion and learn to trust.
Share a treasure and give a soft answer.
Manifest loyalty in word, in deed, and encourage youth.
Find time to do what needs to be done and keep our promises.
Forgive an enemy and forgo a grudge.
Listen, understand, and apologize, if you are wrong.
Be gentle, be kind, and so act as to deserve confidence.
Learn to laugh and take up arms against malice.
Do not become complacent. Express your gratitude.
Gladden the heart of a child, welcome a stranger, and take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.
Speak your love. Speak it again. Speak it still once again and our Holiday will be a happy day.
–by Hugo McCord (Deceased)