Christmas—Is It A Tradition To Celebrate Or Not? 12/17/21
The word, “tradition”, is Latin meaning, to deliver. According to Websters 1828 dictionary, a tradition is the “transmission of any opinions, or practice from forefathers to descendants by oral communication, without written memorials”. “Traditions can be good or bad, true or false. Most of our early notions are received by tradition from our parents”; so, the question frequently asked by Christians is, “Is Christmas merely a tradition of men, or a day the body of Christ should celebrate?”
Since Imperial Rome times (31 BC–AD 476), December 25th has been dedicated as the winter solace; or, the longest night of the year. Present day technology allows institutions, like NASA, to determine the precise day of what they call the “astronomical winter”, or winter solace; but, the ancient people chose Dec 25th to celebrate with great mirth and merry making, even honoring their pagan gods.
In AD 285, the Roman empire split formulating two empires—eastern and western. In AD 330, Constantine claimed the capital of the eastern half of his empire on the old city of Byzantium, renaming it Constantinople—or New Rome. Historians debate the exact dates, but named this era, Byzantine. According to Dan Graves, a writer for christianity.com, the church's first indication of using the 25th of December relating to Christ birth was recorded, “in an old list of Roman bishops, compiled in AD 354”. The following words appeared for AD 336, "25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae"—December 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea. This occurs some 300 years after Christ's birth. Some speculate that in order to stop Christians from the merry making of the pagan celebrations, early church clergy opted to adopt the December date as a Christian celebration of Christ birth. Another speculation is, that since the church chose to celebrate Christ conception on March 25th, it was acceptable to celebrate His birth nine months later. It was during this Byzantine Era that Christianity began to spread along the great trading routes taking with them the tradition of celebrating December 25th as Christ's birthday.
This seems an appropriate time to clear up some modern-day myths. Where was Jesus born? It was not in Palestine. It is written, “Now...Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea...-Mt 2:1”. The Scriptures also tell us the chief priests and scribes knew where Christ should be born from the Tanach (Old Testament). When King Herod of Judea asked them, it is recorded that they replied, “In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, and thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel”-Mt 2:5,6. To address another myth, Jesus did not speak Arabic. Jesus, being of Jewish heritage, spoke Hebrew. The Scriptures do not expound on whether He may have also communicated in other languages, although being filled with the Holy Ghost, not to mention He created all things (ref Col 1:16,17), He certainly would have the ability to communicate in any language spoken—remember Acts 2:1-11? But, Jesus said, He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel-ref Mt 15:24—therefore, He spoke to them in Hebrew, not in Arabic. The fact being, the Arabic language goes back to (some say) the third century, while others refer to the fourth century. This is at the least 300 years after Christ.
With the coming of the Middle Ages, feudalism was the way of life for most. The lord of the land gave you units of his land, or fiefs, along with a promise of military and legal protection. You, as the vassal, would work the land, or tend the livestock, or whatever the law of the land required, or whatever agreement you made with the lord. You were free to come and go as you please; however, when it came to your religion, the law dictated how you were to worship God. Most of Europe was Roman Catholic.
With the majority of the people being vassals, or peasants, the seasons were very important. There was much work to be done until the winter soil did not permit the working of the field. While the end of November brought the observance of Advent, a time of preparing yourself for the coming of Christ with prayer, fasting, and repentance, it ended with a required church attendance Christmas Day. However, what most everyone really looked forward to was December 25 and the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas. This was a time of feasting, merriment and strong drink at the lord's manner. It is thought that during this time, gift giving became an endearing tradition.
The holy days of Christmas during the Elizabethan Era (Queen Elizabeth I 1558-1603) enabled stores to close for the holiday. This era saw the laws of the land relax regarding the attendance of church due to the Reformation (also called Protestant Reformation). In short, the Reformation was a time when Catholic clergy questioned the papal authority and traditions within the Roman Catholic Church. Learned men who were instructed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew began reading the Word of God (the Holy Scriptures). This era brought about the more modern branches of Christianity and for Europe, especially England, it brought great changes regarding their country's religion—the common folk began reading the Holy Scriptures for themselves.
By June 1647, the English Parliament, predominantly Puritans (people who broke away from the Church of England and followed the Holy Scriptures. They regarded festivals and feasts as frivolous, wasteful, and decadent), ruled that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ would no longer be observed as a festival. There were to be no more decorative flourishes of holly and ivy, no more carols and no more merriment. Businesses would operate as normal and not closed for the holidays. Although this law remained in effect for about 14 years, it was largely ignored in certain parts of England and later the law amended for all England.
In the new lands of America, the Puritan government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (different from the Pilgrims) also banned Christmas in 1659. About now you may think the definition of a Puritan is someone who suspects someone is having a good time somewhere and must be stopped; however, Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines them as, “dissenters from the Church of England”. They were merely people who were trying to please God by following His word. There were no holidays because all days were holy days, in other words, all days should honor God. The Puritans felt that these celebrations distracted from religious discipline and may induce some to idolatry. Over time, the strict observance to the Holy Scriptures began to melt away and those early laws were dis-annulled. Christmas is now celebrated, not only in England and America, but in 160 countries around the world. Most have religious overtones, but some countries particularly enjoy the merriment and gift giving.
Christmas as we know it, is largely representative of the Victorian Era (1837-1901). Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha were instrumental in guiding their nation, if not the world into traditions that have lasted to present times. These include Christmas trees in the home and town squares, carols sung around the piano, the sending of Christmas cards to family and friends, plus the delicacies at Christmas dinner.
So, after all of this history, the question still remains, should Christians celebrate Christmas? Actually, the real question is, what are you, as a Christian celebrating? Are you rejoicing over the birth of the Saviour of the world? Remember, the heavenly host praised God, saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men-ref Lk 2:13-14. God the Father sent His only Son to be a mediator between God and men-ref 1 Tim 2:5-6. That is reason to rejoice. We no longer need to try to get to heaven by our own works. We no longer need to fear death. We no longer need to fear hell and destruction, or rejection from God. Jesus Christ was made flesh, and dwelt among us-ref Jn 1:14. He experienced the hardships we have to go through. Then He submitted Himself to the torture of the cross to pay for, not His own sins—for God made Him (Jesus) to be sin for us. Jesus knew no sin. You ask, why did He do it? That we might be made the righteousness of God in Jesus-ref 2 Corinthians 5:21. We don't have to worry about our own righteousness, for all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags-ref Is 64:6. As the song tells us:
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"
This is reason to celebrate December 25th as the birthday of Jesus. Not with getting drunk or going out with friends for a few drinks—but with reverence and Godly fear. No, it probably is not the real date of Jesus birth, but, if through the ages this day has been chosen to give honor to the King of Kings and Lord of Lord in truth—then, what reason do we have not to celebrate. If you do not know the Lord Jesus, then you are probably just celebrating the day as a pleasure day—that is the difference. If you would like to know more about receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, click this link.
May you all have a wonderful Christmas Season, remembering the true meaning of the day.
Sources: webstersdictionary1828.com-Tradition; Milwaukee Public Museum; Spier, Carol. Celebrating Christmas: The Life, Times, & Music Series. (New York: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers, 1992), 11-15., space.com, christianity.com, Sherrard, Philip, and The Editors of TIME-LIFE Books. Great Ages of Man: A History of the World's Culture: Byzantium. (New York, TIME Incorporated, 1966), 16., Fremantle, Anne, and The Editors of TIME-LIFE Books. Great Ages of Man: A History of the World's Culture: Age of Faith. (New York, TIME Incorporated, 1965), 28., worldhistory.org-Byzantine_Empire, jerusalemperspective.com, edarabia.com, jpost.com-Netanyahu Compares Bennett Lapid Coalition To Syria Iran Politics, historyofislam.com, worldhistory.org-Feudalism, learnreligions.com, britannica.com, webstersdictionary1828.com-Puritan, history.co.uk, worldhistory.org-Christmas Through the Ages, newengland.com, history.com, songlyrics.com.
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