Christmas – the most popular holiday of all! As the year draws to an end, billions of people around the world, look forward to a special day – a season – that’s filled with Christmas trees, colourful lights, carol-singing, tree decorating, garlands, wreaths and mistletoe, Santa Claus, gift-giving and parties. It’s a time when family and friends come together to celebrate and enjoy the good things they have.
But how much do you know about this super-fun holiday? What’s the real meaning of Christmas? And, why do we have all these Christmas traditions? Well, it’s time to find out in our ten facts about Christmas.
1. Christmas is a Christian festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ every year on 25 December.
2. No one actually knows the exact date Jesus was born. The Bible doesn’t mention the 25 December or tell us when Jesus birthday was. And so, the earliest Christians didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth.
3. 25 December is the day that Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, chose to mark Christ’s birthday, and the first Christmas celebration was in Rome on 25 December AD 336.
4. Constantine chose the 25 December because it coincided with ancient pagan festivals including the birthday of the sun god Sol Invictus and Mithra.
5. Shortly after Constantine’s decision Pope Julius1 declared December 25 as the official date of the birth of Jesus on behalf of the Church of Rome.
6. The name Christmas comes from “The Mass of Christ” or “Christ’s Mass.” And that’s how we got the name Christmas, shortened from ‘Christ’s Mass’
7. Many of the popular Christmas traditions today like Christmas trees, lights, partying, wreaths, mistletoe, and gift-giving, find their roots in these pagan festivals and sun worship.
8. Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas who was a Christian bishop who lived in the fourth century. He inherited a great deal of wealth and gave it away as gifts to help the needy. His legend spread and his name became Sint-Nicolaas, and then Sinter Klaas for short. Which is just a hope skip and a jump to Santa Claus.
9. The idea of Santa Claus and his sleigh being pulled by reindeer through the night sky
to deliver gifts to children on Christmas eve began in 1821 in a children’s book written in America. Two years later the idea of Santa with 8 reindeer pulling his sled became popular and then just over a hundred years later in 1939, Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer was added in a book written by Robert May.
10. The first recorded Christmas Card was sent to the James 1, King of England in 1611. But the popular idea of sending Christmas cards started in 1843 and grew into a multi- billion-dollar industry with billions of Christmas Cards bought each year. The first Christmas stamp was released in Canada in 1898.
So, there they are – our 10 facts about Christmas. Now, because of its roots in pagan festivals Christmas has been a contentious issue for many sincere Bible-believing Christians. Some believe that the pagan association with Christmas has long gone and has now been replaced with Christian traditions and beliefs that remind us that Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth for all people.
And so they say that what’s important now is not the origin of the festival, but rather the Christian meaning, belief and purpose that we apply to Christmas today. They say that the Gospel not only transcends culture, it also transforms it. So, the stain of paganism has been removed and replaced with a Christian meaning.
However, other Christians believe that all our religious beliefs and practices should be based on the Bible only and that we should strongly avoid anything that’s associated with paganism. At different times in history these views have actually changed the way that Christmas was celebrated.
For example, in the early 17th century when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England, they actually cancelled Christmas. In 1644, an Act of Parliament effectively banned the festival and in June 1647, the Long Parliament passed an ordinance confirming the abolition of the feast of Christmas. This lasted for 13 years.
It also happened in Scotland. When the Parliament in Scotland was dominated by Presbyterians, they passed a series of acts outlawing the observance of Christmas for 53 years between 1637 and 1690. In fact, Christmas Day did not become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958.
Many of the Pilgrims and Puritans who went to America from England in 1620 took these beliefs with them. They too believed that Christmas was tainted with paganism and as a result Christmas wasn’t a holiday in early America. For 22 years from 1659 to 1681 the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston, and anyone who broke the law was fined.
Clearly, Christmas has been a matter of contention between Christians for a long time. So, how should we deal with the issue now? Should Bible-believing Christians celebrate Christmas today? Perhaps we can learn something from the great Reformers and their attitude to Christmas.
Martin Luther was pro-Christmas. He took advantage of the Christmas season to share the Good News about the birth of Jesus. However, his fellow reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, was anti-Christmas. He taught that in religious matters we should only do things that are taught in the Bible. He opposed any religious belief or practice that was tainted by paganism.
John Calvin, another great reformer of the time, held a middle of the road position. He was neither for nor against Christmas. He believed that everyone should be informed about the matter, and then after considering the issue carefully, make up their own mind about whether or not to celebrate Christmas. And importantly, he said we shouldn’t slander, condemn or judge anyone who takes a different view to us.
Could John Calvin’s position be the most mature, sensible, compassionate and Christlike position? And is it closest in spirit to the wise principles outlined in the Bible for dealing with contentious issues that are not clearly defined and delineated in the Bible? If so, then, regarding Christmas, Christians should take into consideration the roots of Christmas and the negatives and positives of celebrating it.
They should be intelligent and informed on the matter, and fully convinced in their own minds. From there, they can decide for themselves what they think God wants them to do during the season of Christmas. And importantly, they should respect the views of those who differ from them.
The Bible does not tell us when Jesus Christ’s birthday is. And perhaps the reason for this is because God wants us to celebrate the Good News of Jesus birth and its implications, every day in our hearts, including the 25th December. So, here’s what’s really important: whenever you celebrate Christ’s birth, remember that you’re celebrating a real event that actually happened about 2000 years ago, that God sent His Son into the world as a gift for every one of us.
And so, the very best gift we can give our families is the Good News of Jesus and let them know that Jesus loves them and that He can bring peace and happiness into our lives. If you would like to know more about Jesus Christ and this incredible gift, then I’d like to recommend the free gift we have for you today. It’s the booklet, The Best Gift of All. Please go to our website to request the free booklet today.