And you thought you knew about Christmas

christmasOne from the archives… Enjoy!
This CoffeeBreak is compiled from excerpts from
                 Stories Behind The Great Traditions of Christmas (Zondervan).

Up until about 350 years ago, the only universally celebrated Christian holiday was Easter. Christ’s birth was an important part in the Bible but since no date is given, Christians chose different days to remember, with early January being the most common. Ultimately the Roman Catholic Church settled on December 25 in an attempt to erase Saturnalia, a Roman celebration centered on worship of Saturn and involving a lot of drinking, partying and sexual immorality. Church leaders felt that if Christmas were celebrated at that time, the depraved behavior would change. They were partially right. People forgot the Roman holiday, but continued the same kinds of partying on Christmas.

For centuries the time of Christ’s Mass was a season of drinking and violence so many Christians stopped celebrating Christmas entirely. Believe it or not, for  Americans, the national holiday of Christmas, the joyful day of Peace on Earth, is only about 160 years old. The Puritans who settled New England banned Christmas by law in 1659! The prohibition was repealed after a couple of decades, but Christmas celebrations continued to be frowned on in New England until the middle of the 1800’s. That was true of much of the United States.  Even Congress met on Christmas Day until the mid-1800’s.

A Christian, an educator and a father named W. Clement Moore, first published, “T’was The Night Before Christmas.”  This poem established Santa Claus as an important part of the American Christmas, making the date much more secular. His poem opened the door that brought about the beginnings of the kind of celebrations we practice. The popularity of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” one of his works written to protest the brutality visited on the poor in 18th century England, and the introduction of the Christmas tree tradition brought to England and America by Prince Albert from Germany, made the the holiday we know.

Moore’s poem made gifting giving a much more important part of Christmas.  For English and American Christians, who for centuries had little positive to embrace at Christmas, it was Santa Claus who saved the holiday and brought Jesus back into the spotlight.

Santa Claus? Two wonderful Christian men really began the Santa Claus legend through their selfless actions and their faith. The first was Nicholas, a priest who gave presents to poor peasant children in the third century, even before the church actually recognized the holiday. The second was a devout duke in Borivoy, who became the leader of Bohemia at a very early age. Each Christmas Eve, Wenceslaus would go through the snow giving out gifts to his poorest subjects. We now remember him through the old carol he inspired, “Good King Wenceslaus.”  From those roots we have Saint ‘Claus, or Santa Claus!

Christmas ‘colors’ –
The gold is easy; this is the color of royalty and the most
precious metal on earth. It was also one of the gifts to Jesus from the wise
The red and green can really be traced to several different important
traditions.  Did you know that holly and ivy, wreaths, Christmas trees, and
mistletoe, were all pagan symbols used in various nature rites during the long European winters?
The green was a reminder that new life would return. It represented life that went on through the difficult times of winter, just like faith that could not die in the difficult times of life.  Gradually Christians adopted these symbols as part of their celebrations.
The red reminded Christians that Christ’s blood was shed on the cross for sins, the real reason for His coming to earth in the first place.

X in Xmas? Few know that using X as a sign for Christ predates even our initial celebrations of Christmas. X or “Chi” is the first letter of Christ’s name in Greek. Many early followers of Christ were Greek and would place an X over their doors or wear something on their persons with this letter to reflect their faith as a disciple of Christ. For more than 1,000 years, the church spelled out Christmas with just an X. It was not done to take Christ out of Christmas, but to put Him there where everyone, even those who could not read, could understand that this day of worship was for the Son of God.

While the Bible says nothing about December 25, blinking lights, decorated trees, or a rotund jolly man dressed in a red suit – it does tell us about God’s Gift ‘wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.‘ Angels announced the birth as reason for great praise and as a sign of peace and the arrival of God’s favor for all of humanity. A world without Jesus Christ is beyond imagination. His birth and life changed history, and His death and resurrection changes our destiny, promising us eternal life.

Here’s a word from the Word on which to meditate today- “…Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

(Philippians 2:5-8, 10-11, NIV)

“Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

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