Why We Celebrate Christmas, Part 1
Our family at a recent performance of Handel’s Messiah
Christmas really is the most wonderful time of year! It’s a time filled with busyness, giving & receiving, and lots of eating. But what is it really all about and why are celebrating anyway?
Although Christmas, as is so clearly stated in the name, is about the birth of Christ, it didn’t start out that way, and has become quite commercialized. Why then, do so many Christians celebrate this “pagan” over commercialized holiday?
December 25, began as neither Christ’s actual birthday nor a Christian celebration. It was anything but! Long before Christ was born, a week long celebration, called Saturnalia, was set aside to celebrate lawlessness. It was a “no holds barred” celebration of drunkenness, immorality, destruction of property and ended with the sacrifice of an innocent person who had been chosen as the “Lord of Misrule”.
Around the 4th century A.D., probably during the time of Constantine, Christianity was growing and saw the need to do something about this wretched behavior. Also around this time, a heretical teaching, that Christ did not have a human body, was becoming a problem in the church. This prompted church leaders to “commandeer” December 25, as a day to celebrate Christ’s birth. They were under no delusion that Christ was actually born on this day. The church recognized that many pagans resisted Christianity, in part, because they were unwilling to give up their week of celebrating “lawlessness” and wanted to give the pagans something worthwhile to celebrate. What is more worthy of celebration than the greatest gift ever to be given to mankind – the birth of the Savior of the world? It was also an attempt to dispel the heresy that Christ was only a spirit. If someone is born, they obviously have a physical body. (This was not the only thing used to overcome this false teaching. The greater evidence came from the Bible)
Initially, there was very little success in changing the pagan behavior, but look where we are today. Christmas is generally a time of peace and good cheer by all. This change in spirit is most noticeable right after Thanksgiving. People are more friendly, more likely to smile and say “Merry Christmas”, will more easily put others first, and just have an overall more pleasant disposition. Now, I’m aware there are the “Scrooges” out there who will whip into the parking space you’ve been waiting for, cut you off in traffic and trample a small child for the last coveted toy, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm.
There are a few misguided people who say we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because of it’s origin. But our family looks to the ultimate source of truth, the Bible, when it comes to deciding what we will or won’t do. Was “Christmas” celebrated in the Bible, or even mentioned? No, the word “Christmas” is never used in the Bible, but was the birth of Christ celebrated? You bet! Starting with a host of rejoicing angels announcing this glorious occasion to a group of shepherds, who immediately went to find this child. No doubt there was great joy and celebrating when they arrived. Then there were the wise men that came to find the Christ child bearing gifts about two years later (which we will talk more about tomorrow).
Throughout the Bible, God’s people are told to celebrate holy days, each of which commemorated something wonderful and often miraculous that God had done for them. They were accompanied by feasting, rejoicing and remembering. What could be more miraculous, wonderful or worth remembering than God sending the gift of His Son to Earth, as a baby, to become the Savior of the world? Is Christ’s birth what brought redemption to the world? No, it was His sinless life, death and resurrection – but there can be no death without birth. So, while the birth is not what redeems, it was absolutely necessary for redemption. Only a man could pay the penalty for man’s sin, so God Himself became a man so that we might live. Jesus was born to die for the sins of the world.
Does it take an effort to “keep Christ in Christmas”? Yes, but aren’t most things that are worthwhile the more difficult things to do? No matter how “hard” it may seem to focus on Christ during this holiday season, it’s the right thing to do. Here’ a few ways our family has found to accomplish this.
- Reading about the birth of Christ from Luke 2 and Matthew 1-2
- Trying VERY hard to focus on other people during this time
- Listening to Christmas music, starting right after Thanksgiving
- Enjoying our church’s children’s choir Christmas program (led by our daughters)
- Attending a “special” Christmas event – this year it was a wonderful performance of Handel’s Messiah with 10 of our closest friends
- Purchasing a “Christmas” tree instead of a “holiday” tree (Lowe’s still sells “Christmas trees”)) and “Christmas” blend Starbuck’s (rather than their “holiday blend”) – yes, it’s a small and seemingly insignificant but it makes a difference
- Make an effort to wish people a “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” (and we start saying it right after Thanksgiving)
- Making a conscious effort to be thankful to God for His great gift – in our prayers, in our speech and in how we demonstrate His love to others.
Knowing Christmas represents the giving of the greatest gift of all, why wouldn’t we want to celebrate?