Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Origin of Christmas vs. Blended Traditions

The Origin of Christmas vs. Blended Traditions
                                                                (Part 2)
"Every good present and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father who made the sun, moon, and stars..." James 1:17 (GOD'S WORD Translation)

Welcome back! Now today we are going to answer the question that we posed during the last Truth for the Journey: "The Wonders of Christmas." The question that we asked was this, "Where is the Christ of Christ-Mass?" To answer this adequately we must look into the origin of Christmas. To do so I will use some material from one of my own books, which takes a positive in-depth look at the "evolution" that Christmas as a great religious holiday has undergone. It has radically altered since its inception up until now; as we would recognise it today. Most of us love Christmas - even those of us who claim not to stand on ceremony too much, even we secretly love elements of Christmas too (especially the gifts!) but do we really know much about this important public Holiday - especially since most of us participate - every single year!

Let me add before I go any further, you might not be aware that in the USA "Christ" and the name of "Jesus" is such a threat these days (especially in the public arena) that we are no longer meant to say "Happy Christmas" but instead say, "Happy Holiday!" In my opinion this is political correctness gone a little too far! Yet as we look into the traditions behind Christmas - you might be slightly fascinated by some of the following facts:

FACT: First let's begin with "Saint Nicholas" & the "Christmas Stocking!" Needless to say, Saint Nicholas was not really a fat man who climbed down chimneys at night, but he was a popular Priest (from fourth century Turkey - who eventually became a Bishop). He was a godly man who was a generous "giver" and remains an inspiration to us all today. However in memory of his many acts of charitable deeds and generosity, the day of his death [December 6th A.D.343] became customarily known as St. Nicholas Day; on the eve of which, gifts were exchanged in his remembrance. This tradition grew popular and spread throughout Greece (where Nicholas means "victorious" or "hero of the people!"), into Russia (where he was called "Nikolai, the Wonder-Worker,") and then into the rest of Europe.

Ordained as a young teenager, Nicholas entered the priesthood at 19 years of age. Included amongst the many accounts of his life and ministry, is the report that "twin brothers were raised from the dead!" It was written about him that one could hardly keep count of the virtue and goodness that he spread around himself.

One particular story of St. Nicholas' goodness was when he gave to a poor man, so that his three daughters could be married. The man was so poor that his daughters had no dowries, and in his desperation, was going to sell them into white slavery. To prevent this from happening, Nicholas threw a bag of gold pieces through the man's window at night; he did things this way to preserve his own "anonymity" and to ensure that God received the glory - not man! [The funny part of this story - is that this particular gift from Nicholas just happened to randomly land inside some "stockings" that the young girls had hung up by the fire that night to dry!] So it's quite easy to see from this, just where such traditions - that we have held dear for so long - have originated from and just how such stories have shaped our concept of Christmas; evolving layer by layer over time.

As the story continues; apparently one by one the daughter's dowries were met and paid; they were no longer outcasts and thus made them "eligible" for marriage. However, (as the legend tells it...) by the time Nicholas had done this consecutively for each daughter, including the third; the father caught him in the act! However Nicholas made the girl's father "swear-on-an-oath" that he would never "reveal" the truth behind who was responsible for such gifts of kindness - as long as Nicholas was still alive.

Consider just how much this story of a generous old man of God and the cartoon character we now call "Santa Claus" have been totally mixed up, twisted and distorted (including an "elf-workshop" at the North Pole!) Yes it's laughable, but how many generations of parents have unintentionally deceived their children, with stories that they believed without question and without any background knowledge?

FACT: The worship of dead "saints" was actually denounced during the "Protestant Reformation" of the 1500's - since then "St. Nicholas Day" has not been observed in England. Therefore the role of gift bearer was transferred to a mythical character named "Father Christmas" patterned after the pagan Roman god "Saturn" (aka "god of peace and plenty"). Father Christmas was a large man clothed in SCARLET or DEEP GREEN robes - lined with fur! The day of "gift-giving" in England was changed from December 6 to December 25 to coincide with the date that the church had chosen to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

In Holland and Belgium: the traditional day of December 6th was still celebratedbut there "Sinter-Klaas" rode through the streets on a white horse rewarding good children with treats and toys but giving rods to bad children!

In Germany: the saint was referred to as "Nicholas-Dressed-in-Fur" who also left sweets for good children and rods for the naughty ones!

In Scotland: it was John Knox who put an end to Christmas celebrations in 1552 which was not revived again until television reintroduced St. Nicholas in the 1950's.

FACT: Christopher Columbus brought the first celebration of St Nicholas Day to the New World when he landed in the West Indies December 6, 1492 and named the harbour: "Port of St Nicholas" in honour of the patron saint of sailors. All of these traditions blended with immigration to the New World; as the English and Dutch came and intermarried "Father Christmas" and "Sinter Klaas" blended into one figure. Dutch Americans eventually adopted December 25th as their day of celebration and by the end of the civil war, "St Nicholas" the bishop, was generally known in the US as "Santa Claus."

FACT: A mixture of poets and cartoonists between the 1800's and 1900's continued to define this character in word pictures and drawings. America particularly - was a melting pot for old world cultures and characters from the Dutch "Sinter Klaas" and the Lutheran "Kris Kringle" giving gifts for children. You might be interested to know that Father Christmas' team of reindeer - were borrowed from a Russian legend!  The tragedy of course is that the "genuine work and ministry" of a man of God - such as Nicholas (who had such fullness of God that even the dead were raised!), has had his testimony distorted so much so, that the memory of this powerful man of God is hidden in tales - of a fat-bellied-pipe-smoking-pie-eater! Yet as we have discovered, the "true" story of St Nicholas, is actually a beautiful picture of SELFLESS-GIVING, which Christmas is all about - rather than the stress and hype that Santa now represents.

The true story of St Nicholas represents the giving heart of our Father God, who incidentally does NOT carry rods to punish children (or adults!) but rather gives good gifts to ALL who will receive them, as we see here in James 1:17 "EVERY GOOD GIFT AND EVERY PERFECT GIFT IS FROM ABOVE, AND COMETH DOWN FROM THE FATHER OF LIGHTS... " (KJV) We know that the greatest gift the Father gave us was "Jesus" - who is our Hope, Victory and Redemption. He is the true meaning of Christmas. Notably the word "Christmas" occurs nowhere in the Bible! But is an old English word that basically means; "Christ's Mass" which refers to the celebration of the Lord's Supper, i.e. the Mass. The earliest occurrence of the word on record is 1038 A.D. Christians at this time considered the Mass (Lord's Supper) to be the most important part of the celebration of Christ's birth, hence it came to be called Christmas.

SO CONSIDER THIS: as Christians we must seek to put "Christ" back into "Christ-mass!" Even though Christmas is not a biblical holiday per se - as there is no bible reference at all - we must take this opportunity to "openly celebrate" our triumphant Saviour, and King! We are not Catholic and nor are we secular - who have lucratively cashed-in on Christmas for generations - but we are believers. We must avoid its paganism and even it catholic elements; and use it only in context of "worship" and "evangelism" - without adopting its pagan symbolism. (If we do so, then Halloween must be acceptable also!) So Pastors everywhere this Christmas must ensure that they are preaching truth and not myth! In addition we are celebrating Jesus as a "Mighty One" - not as a "Baby-in-a-Manger!" Which leads us to our next point of interest: "The Nativity & The Christmas Tree!"

FACT: It should not come as any surprise that Christmas has evolved from a mixture of Paganism and Christianity. Take for example the "Nativity" this was a term that was derived from the Roman and Greek worlds - when sun worship took place, "Mithraism". This winter festival was called "The Nativity" or "The Nativity of the sun." It is believed that this festival was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and combined with Christianity because it was so popular and was held during the same time of year! The Roman winter festival was named "Saturnalia" which involved the practice of exchanging presents. There is nothing wrong with that of course but to link it to the gifts that the wise men gave to Jesus would be false. By the time they gave those gifts to Jesus he was no longer in his manger but in his house! (See Matthew 2:9-11) which was some considerable time after his birth; where they gave gifts to "Him" and not to "each other!"

FACT: The Christmas tree - as we recognise it today only dates back a few centuries, whereas the idea concerning "SACRED TREES" is very ancient.

For example:

● An old Babylonian fable symbolised the "Evergreen" tree with the resurrection of Nimrod!
● Among the Druids the "Oak" was sacred,
● For the Egyptians it was the "Palm"
● For the Romans it was the "Fir" which was decorated with red berries during Saturnalia.
● The Scandinavians however worshiped a god called "Odin" who was believed to bestow special gifts at yuletide to those who approached his Sacred Fir Tree!
● There are also at least ten Biblical references to the "Green Tree" (emphasis on green is toward the evergreen that stays green all year round) which is associated with idolatry and false worship (see 1 Kings 14:23 etc).

All things mentioned above considered, now compare what Jeremiah said in chapter 10:3-4 with today's custom of decorating a tree at Christmas time. "For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not..."

While it is evident that the people of Jeremiah's day were actually making an idol out of the tree, I am not suggesting for a minute that people who place Christmas trees in their homes or churches are actually worshiping those trees! No! But such customs do however provide vivid examples of how influential "MIXTURES," have occurred over time.

NOW HOWEVER LET ME ADD THE BALANCE: BOYCOTTING CHRISTMAS WOULD NOT BE WISE! Communism with its roots in atheism opposes all forms of religious expression and we don't want to be seen in the same light; this would not be clever! So fanatical opposition to Christmas is not a suggested plan of action; however what we do need is proper balance to "avoid" the extreme. The Bible is clear that without knowledge we perish; ignorance is never bliss - long term! Rather as Christians we need to use this established day on our yearly calendar, as an opportunity to witness and reveal Christ to the world.

Final Conclusion: Christmas is all about the expression of giving... specifically the Father-heart-of-God - who so "loved that He gave..." Jesus as seen in John 3:16. Consider this: His divine nature was expressed through the life of a humble priest who left his mark on successive generations and had a lasting impact throughout the world. Although the stories were distorted and blended through the mix of cultural differences, artistic licence and commercialism - STILL THE HEART BEHIND CHRISTMAS IS ONE OF GIVING AND GENEROSITY. THIS MUST NOT BE LOST SIGHT OF IN THE TINSEL OF THE SECULAR WORLD. Yes Christmas is a time to be merry, to share joy, to love and be loved, in the spirit of giving; which is the very nature of God - who generously GAVE Christ to us all; HE IS TRUE HOPE AND GOOD NEWS FOR THE WORLD. 
Thank you Father for your gift of eternal life this Christmas... Use me to reveal your nature to my loved ones. Let it be revealed in my face and the way that I posture myself towards them. You are a light to this world. Let others see Christ through my lifestyle this Christmas. Be evident beyond the tinsel and the festivities; be evident through me. Amen.
Father it is your nature to give and I want to be more like you. Today I confess that I too am a giver. I give my time, energy, resources and love. I commit everyday to give what is in my power to give; even if it is just a word to edify or a smile to comfort. "I confess that as long as I am alive I will cause others to thrive and as long as I am living I will be constantly found giving!" Hallelujah


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