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Faith: Exploring the significance and history of Christmas Day

The Rev. Bain White
Faith

As we are quickly approaching Christmas, and will be in the fourth week of Advent as of this Sunday, I thought that it might be appropriate to examine Christmas and its meaning to us at this time. 

Specifically, I would like to address the meaning that each of us attaches to this most important day.  One term that I hear very often in church and in our secular life is “that is the way we have always done it.”

So, bearing in mind my statement above about Christmas being a most important day, has it always been that way? Actually, it took centuries to refer to Dec. 25 as being Christmas Day, the birthday of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, fully divine and fully human. Clement of Alexandria suggested May 20, and the first time that Dec. 25 was on a calendar as the birthdate of Jesus Christ wasn’t until the Philocalian Calendar in 336 AD. 



Scholars have a great many reasons for Dec. 25 being selected, but you will find no concise agreement as to whether it was in reference to the Annunciation or to the Natalis Solis Invicti and the celebration of the birth of “the Sun of Righteousness.”

Even St. Augustine thought that March 25 was the most accurate depiction of the birth of Jesus, since scholars of that time believed that the day of conception and the day of crucifixion had to be the same day. No matter how the day is determined, after the time of Constantine the day was fixed on Dec. 25.  As if this isn’t difficult enough already, there are exceptions to the day of Dec. 25, most notably in the Armenian Church and in those churches that combine Epiphany with Christmas Day.



What about the traditions that we celebrate on Christmas Day? Aren’t they universal in aspect, and “that is the way we have always done it?”

Christmas trees have always been a part of the Christmas celebration in England, right? No, Prince Albert, the Prince Consort from Germany, had a huge influence on that tradition being incorporated in England. Bearing in mind the age of readership, what about Santa Claus? We have always had Santa Claus, right?

In whatever language you speak, Santa Claus always refers to St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra in Lycia.  The Dutch refer to Sante Klaas, which we have changed into Santa Claus, and it is only relatively recently that he is depicted as a large man dressed in red with white fur decorations on his suit.

Just as with many traditions, Christmas traditions have depended mostly on the customs in that area of the world. When we lived in Hawaii in the early 70s, Christmas trees were shipped via boat from the mainland and arrived as disheveled as one could imagine after the long boat ride, so we put up paper cutouts of Christmas trees to fill the void.

How do we tie all of this together with “that’s the way we have always done it?” There is only one consistency that is present with the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.

We come together as Christians of every denomination, type and kind to celebrate that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV). 

We celebrate and anticipate His arrival, not only in the past, but again in the future when He shall be our Judge and Savior. We gather as friends, as relatives, living through traditions that have been passed down to us, going to church to sing carols and participate as members of the faith community, loving God and our neighbors and filled with the love from God Almighty for us that we are heirs of that love.

If you are desiring to learn more about the Lord God Almighty and His love for us, please consider attending the church of your choice this Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and bring the entire family with you to share in that love.

The Rev. Bain White
Courtesy photo

The Rev. Bain White is the priest/pastor at St. Mark’s Church of Grace in Craig. He may be reached at office@stmarksepiscopal-lcog.org.


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