Christmas is quite an extravaganza. But it wasn’t even officially observed until 353 A.D. when Pope Julius I declared that December 25 should be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus.
The practice of decorations for the winter solstice has a long history predating Christianity by hundreds of years, as people brought branches from evergreens indoors. However, Christians didn’t incorporate decorations until the 15th century, when, in London, it became the custom at Christmas for every Christian house to be, “decked with holly”. In North America in 1832, Charles Follen was responsible for being the first to place lit candles on a Christmas tree. (He is also responsible for many house fires)
The early church did not celebrate Christmas at all. Church fathers of the first centuries made no mention of any celebration of the birth of Christ in their list of feasts. The reason was that they were concerned that celebrating Christ’s miraculous conception and birth might overshadow the fact of His glorious resurrection.
Their concerns were not unfounded. Christmas is much more accepted, highlighted and celebrated (not always in a Christian fashion) than Easter, by both Christians and non-Christians.
It is also noteworthy that while the Christmas event is huge, there is an increasing number who want to push “Christ” out of it by changing its name and subsequently the nature of the celebration.
An article in a 1994 edition of “The Minister’s Manual” tells the story of a special Christmas show at the Hayden Planetarium in New York. A giant lollipop tree was projected onto the planetarium dome, surrounded by brightly colored toys which danced about to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” At the climax, a huge figure of Santa Claus faded out and the screen was suddenly filled with the star of Bethlehem in the midst of a replication of the Israeli sky-scape as it would have been the night of Christ’s birth. Whether the producers of this effect knew it or not, they had dramatically presented the real Christmas message that we all need to be reminded of.
If you want to discover the true, historical meaning of Christmas, to fade out the lollipops and dancing toys and let the star of Bethlehem shine through, I have a recommendation for you. Take the time to read the biblical account of the birth of Christ. It is found in Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 1:5-2:52 and will only take about five times as long to read as this article. It starts like this – “This is how Jesus Christ was born. A young woman named Mary was engaged to Joseph…” (Matthew 1:18).
But you’d better hurry – there are only 17 reading days left until Christmas.
— Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church