Why celebrate Christmas? Are you not sick and tired of the crass commercialisation of this festival? All the marketing of goods that say “buy me!” All the stressful shopping, all the food and drink, the glitzy lights, the expenditure and debt. What do we mean when we say “Happy Christmas”? Is it over indulgence and unhappy hangover?
What does this have to do with “Christ’s mass” – the Christian celebration (“mass”) of the historic birth of the “Christ” (Messiah-King)? Jesus was born as God’s promised King to save the world. Jesus (Hebrew Yeshuah) means “The Lord saves” from sin and consequential judgment. All who trust him by coming under his Kingship are saved.
How can we recover and celebrate THAT historic event, THAT message? Was Jesus really born on 25 December? When and how did contemporary Christmas originate?
Jesus’ first followers spread the good news of his birth and life, death and resurrection, by presenting their message in the cultural forms they came into contact with. E.g. they re-interpreted pagan festivals by infusing the symbols with Christian meaning to convey the good news of Jesus. There is no historic/biblical record of the date of Jesus’ birth. No one knows. The earliest record of Christmas is in the Philocalian Calendar of 354, citing its celebration on 25 December 336 in Rome. Scholars say it was the Christianization of the Roman festival of The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun: at the winter solstice (25 December) the sun began to show an increase in light. Motivated by evangelism (and political power!) the Church in Rome re-interpreted it as The Feast of the Nativity of the Sun of Righteousness: the birthday of God’s Light that drives back the darkness of sin and evil. This particular “Christ’s mass”, with the four weeks of advent added later, gained acceptance in the Christian west (Eastern Orthodox celebrate on 6 January).
And the customs/trappings of Christmas? The merry making and exchange of gifts came from the Roman Saturnalia Festival (17-24 December). Christians used it to celebrate Christ’s birth as God’s ultimate gift of himself to the world. The greenery and lights came from the Kelands of January and its solar associations (1 January, the Roman new year). Christians used these symbols to say Christ’s birth brings light and new life. Santa Claus and his reindeers derive from Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (4th century). Little is known of him except that he brought gifts on his sled to children on his feast day, 6 December. He became the patron saint of Russia, of children and of sailors. So giving gifts to children and feeding people in need became associated with Christmas. Continue reading Why Celebrate Christmas?