One hundred years ago, Christmas was not the commercial enterprise it is today. While there are many who frown upon the overt commercialism of the holiday, there are few of these critics who would choose not to participate in the giving of gifts and the celebrations in song and parties. Today, most retailers rely on holiday shopping as a make or break fiscal moment in their year. Good Christmas sales can mean the company profits and stays in business. A bad season and it could spell chapter 7 or 11 in bankruptcy court or the "going out of business" signs in the windows. A lot rides on this holiday sleigh ride.
I was wondering recently how this all-important season of the year came about. History tells us that pagan Romans celebrated Sol, the sun god in late December, the time when we observe the winter solstice when the sun begins its slow return to full power and glory in the northern hemisphere.
About 2,023 years ago, Jewish shepherds announced the arrival of the Jewish Messiah. Religious priests and astrologers from Babylon (modern Iraq) visited this child about two years later and honored him with expensive gifts of gold and incense. This child grew, declared himself to be the Son of God and the promised Jewish Messiah. He was rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, crucified by the Roman authorities, and, according to the Holy Bible, he rose from the dead three days later and ascended to Heaven 40 days after that. This Jewish Messiah was the founder of modern Christianity. "Christ" has the same meaning as "Messiah."
About 300 years later, the Roman emperor Constantine saw a vision that he interpreted as a sign from God commanding him to make Christianity the official religion of his empire. To accomplish that, he asked his pagan roman priests to work with the Christian leaders to formulate a broad-spectrum hybrid religion we call the Roman Church or Catholicism today. Supposedly, the pagan worship of Sol around the end of December was affixed to a newly presumed date of Christ's birth (historians place Christ's birth in October). Christ, as the Sun of Righteousness, was declared by the newly authored Roman church to have been born on December 25. The pagans were mollified and the Christians had a date to celebrate their Savior's birth. Voila! An instant religious tradition was created that was partially accurate and mostly accommodation for diverse religious entities.
As I read and studied this history, I realized that Christmas really would have little if any significance over the past 1700 years had Christ not been born. The giving of gifts really goes back to the wise men bringing gifts to Joseph and Mary on Christ's behalf. Their gifts were displays of recognition, respect, and honor.
Then in the 1500s, there was a Christian pastor in Great Britain who began giving gifts to the poor, the orphans, and the needy during the cold winter during what we commonly call Christmas season. His name was Nicholas. The Catholic church "sainted" him years later, thus the name, Saint Nicholas, or Saint Nick.
In the 1800s, a protestant minister, wanting to write a fun story for his children that would emphasize the joy of giving combined with a little mystery and wonder, wrote, "The Night Before Christmas." The story became very popular and perhaps as much as any other single element solidified Santa Claus as the iconic image of Christmas.
So, a pagan astrological observance, a supernatural birth of the world's Savior celebrated by wise men bringing gifts, the giving spirit of a saint, and a magical fable built around that saint sharing gifts from his big sack all combined to bring us the Christmas season as most of us have known it since our childhood with its festive themes, happy music, abundant celebrations, gift-exchanging along with the accompanying snowmen, elves, reindeer and manger scenes.
Well, with all of that, what does Christmas really mean to you? Here is what I am thinking at the start of this season:
1. I'm glad that however the day/season got to us, we have it.
2. I'm glad that regardless of what day or month Christ was born, that He truly was born and became our Savior.
3. In spite of some of the silliness surrounding Santa and elves and flying reindeer, I am glad for saints like Nicholas and millions of others who understand the true meaning of giving and bringing joy and happiness to others.
4. I love and enjoy the songs, the decorations, the whole spirit that makes this the most wonderful time of the year.
5. I wish that all of those who profit from Christmas would acknowledge that there would be no Christmas financial boost or gift-giving without the birth of Christ. He truly is the reason behind the season.
Finally, I realize that Christmas is really all about giving to those I love and appreciate as well as to those who are not as fortunate as I am. And if Christmas is giving, I can celebrate Christmas 365 days a year. Anytime I choose to give out of love and respect or compassion I show the spirit of Christmas.
Merry Christmas, My Friends