Christmas is so full of wonder, meaning and tradition. But, where did all these things that we now call “Christmas” come from? Let’s briefly sketch the origin and development of what we now celebrate as Christ’s birth.
Christmas is the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25 in the Western Church. The traditional date of December 25 goes back as far as A.D. 273. Two pagan festivals honoring the sun were also celebrated on that day and it is possible that December 25 was chosen to counteract the influence of paganism. To this day some people feel uncomfortable with Christmas because they think it is somehow tainted by the pagan festivals held on that day. But Christians have long believed that the gospel not only transcends culture, it also transforms it. In A.D. 320 one theologian answered this criticism by noting, “We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of the Son of God who made it.”
Candles are a picture that Christ is the Light of the world (John 8).
Holly speaks of the thorns in His crown (Matthew 27:29).
Red is a color of Christmas that speaks of Christ’s blood and death.
Gifts are a reminder of the gifts of the Magi to baby Jesus. Each of them speak to a component of His incarnation: Majesty in life, Bitterest Agony in Death and He as Gods Perfect gift to us (Matthew 2).
Mistletoe was an ancient symbol from the Roman times. It was under Mistletoe that old enmities and broken friendship were restored. So Christ was the One who took away the enmity and gave us Peace with God (Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1).
Bells are associated with ringing out news. Christ is the good news, the best news of all.
In 1822 Clement Moore wrote a poem for children that has never been forgotten. It was entitled, “Twas the Night before Christmas…”!
Santa Claus is a Dutch word that is actually Sinter Claus, Saint Nicholas in English. Saint Nicholas was the supposed early Bishop of a church in Asia Minor [the modern country of Turkey]. He became aware of some desperate needs in his congregation, and a family having to sell their children into slavery, so one night he came and left money on their doorstep. It was gold in a stocking.
Christmas Cards started in 1844. An English artist named William Dobson, drew up some pictures in England for use at this season. They found local use there and soon spread to America. In 1846 Cole and Horsley saw the commercial potential of this growing tradition and started the production of what is now over a $1,000,000,000.00 industry, that sees 4 billion cards sent each year in America alone.