Saturday, December 23, 2006

# 180: The Diversity of Christmas

This post will tell the history—the good and the not-so-good—of the most popular holiday in America. First, the history: The main quote is from the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia. Christmas: “Scholars believe that it is derived in part from rites held by pre-Christian Germanic and Celtic tribesmen to celebrate the winter solstice. Christian festivals, generally observed by Christians since the 4th century, incorporate pagan customs, such as the use of holly, mistletoe, Yule logs, and wassail bowls [used for much drinking]. The Christmas tree, an evergreen trimmed with lights and other decorations, was derived from the so-called Paradise tree, symbolizing Eden of German mystery plays. The use of a Christmas tree began early in the 17th century in Strasbourg, France, spreading from there to Germany and then into northern Europe. In 1841, Albert, Prince Consort of Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, introduced the Christmas-tree custom to Great Britain; from there, it accompanied emigrants to the United States. Meanwhile, Dutch settlers had brought to the new world the custom of celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and they especially celebrated St. Nicholas Eve, when gifts were given to children, of whom the saint was patron. British settlers took over the tradition as part of their Christmas Eve celebration. Santa Claus, the name of the legendary jolly, red-garbed old man, who in the United States is said to make and distribute gifts and greeting cards, is a corruption of the Dutch “Sint Nicolaas”.

The lack of one person in the origin of Christmas was Jesus Christ. He was not mentioned once in all the early history of Christmas. I am not certain when the official name “Christmas” was given to that holiday, but I do know that somewhere along the line, Christ, the nativity scene, and December 25th as the day of the baby Jesus’ birth were later incorporated into the holiday. Going to the Roman Catholic Church on that festive day became a tradition; thus the name “Christ-Mass” was shortened to “Christmas”–the word “Mass” indicated/s that the “Roman Catholic Holy Eucharist” would be served (bread in the form of a round thin wafer, and at times, wine). Also, many Bible scholars seem to agree that the birth of Jesus was sometime in late September in the year 3 or 4 A.D.

The good: What would life be without Christmas for most children in America? They get several weeks off from school, which is looked forward to all year long, and then they get all the presents under the Christmas tree along with other amenities (travel, special privileges, etc.) that come with that holiday. If anyone attempted to take Christmas away from children because of its pagan origin, there would be the most gigantic revolt this country has ever seen, and all by the little folks. And I am certain that parents would also put up a big stink. Without Christmas, adults wouldn’t have a paid holiday—no excuse to drink and get a little tipsy, rewarded by a big head in the morning; no rich food to gain a few unwanted pounds, and then have to diet for the next few months; no good excuse to have a merry time and be your uninhibited self; no maxed-out credit cards or debts; just think the thought of no Christmas with all the hustle and bustle, with no Christmas music or cheer, no stupid presents from friends and relatives. That could give most adults a good reason to start the mother of all demonstrations. What about the merchants? They are the ones who benefit the most from Christmas. In fact, many commercial establishments earn more money—as we go deeper into debt—during the Christmas holiday season than they do the rest of the year. Therefore, regardless of the origin, or who in the early festive era was left out of Christmas, I will unequivocally say that it is here to stay.

The not-so-good: Although Christmas is supposedly a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in the USA, most non-religious people also engage in its personal benefits. First, atheists, who don’t believe in Christ or God , still they buy their children presents, and may even have a Christmas tree, eat a big meal, go on vacation to see relatives, and the like. Most get paid for the holiday without working. As it seems, Christmas could be a big event even for nonbelievers. Second, people who do not categorize themselves as atheists yet wouldn’t step foot in a church might call themselves Christians since they think they live in a “Christian country.” At Christmastime, they engage in most of the same activities as church-going Christians do and reap its benefits and joys. Third, the Jewish community, although they don’t believe Jesus Christ as their promised Messiah, are the biggest benefactors of Christmas in a financial way. Jews own more corporations in America, and maybe the world, than any other religion or race. I believe Mormons come in second, at least as being the richest “Christian” church in America. Therefore, Christmas is a holiday when many in the Jewish community just can’t wait to celebrate by going to the bank the day after Christmas with big bucks in their satchels. Fourth are the non-Christian-religions: people such as Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. who live in America celebrate Christmas by taking advantage of the amenities it offers to Americans; still, they don’t believe in Jesus Christ other than possibly as a prophet or some historical figure. So, what is wrong with that? I am certain they still look forward to Christmas for having the day off, and maybe even a big meal, and of course like others, they enjoy the discount on merchandise the day after Christmas. As one can see, Christmas, though sacrilegious in the eyes of devout Christians, is not that bad for the secular folks. Here is a little-known fact about birthday celebrations in the Bible. Did you know that only two times in the whole Old and New Testament were birthdays celebrated? Both were the occasion for executions. In the New Testament, it was when King Herod was celebrating his birthday; he had John the Baptist beheaded at the request of his stepdaughter. Matthew 14:6-12 and Mark 6:21-25. In the Old Testament, as Pharaoh was celebrating his birthday, he had the chief baker hanged just as Joseph had predicted. Genesis 40:20-22. This is a ghastly history of Biblical birthdays. It seems to indicate, when it comes to birthdays in the Bible, that birthdays should not be a time of joy but of gruesome murders. So I ask, is the celebrating of birthdays a good/holy event, let alone for the birth of our Lord and Savior?

There is a large class of people in America that, if asked, would classify themselves as Christians. For example: If people are not atheists since they believe there is a God, yet are not secular or orthodox Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus, they believe they must be Christians since Christianity is the prevalent religion in America. I am certain that this type of Christians-by-name-only won’t be affected by the disturbing information of Christmas being of pagan origin. But the question I ask is how genuine Christians should respond to the fact that their favorite Christian holiday was not originally based on the birth of their Savior. This is an extremely difficult question. Who has the correct answer/s?

First and foremost, I don’t think little children should be told outright that there is no Santa Claus. Let them learn on their own as they get older, because for kids, Christmastime is the most exciting time of the year, to say the least. Older children, as they start to understand the importance of Jesus Christ in their parents’ lives, should be told how Christmas originated, and go easy on their reaction. Remember, they still are kids. Christmas as a holiday for kids is okay. But with the commercialism of Christmas along with all the money spent on that holiday, it could/should be classified as a secular holiday by leaving Jesus out of the holiday. That may sound sacrilegious to some, but I am certain Jesus would approve of having His image removed from that materialistic and gluttonous holiday, without doing away with the holiday altogether. This is a difficult question to grapple with, and there is no absolute answer. There is a religious group (Jehovah’s Witnesses) that did not celebrate Christmas years ago. I am not sure if they still refrain from celebrating it. I am certain it is/was tough on their kids, especially in school, when all the other kids are talking about Christmas and presents. I ask you, the readers, to give me your input as to what is right for kids and adults. I think I know what is best for adults; it is a personal decision for every true believer.

For people who understand what pleases Jesus Christ, and only for that group, here is my thinking on Christmas: Most, if not all, of the money spent on gifts, food, travel, drinks and whatever else is spent on Christmas should be given to those who are without the basic necessities at Christmas, regardless of race, creed, color, or religion. Better yet, that giving would be more memorable, of greater value, and more meaningful if it was done on a personal basis (one-on-one), thus circumventing organized charities. Then, a day or two before Christmas, adults, and especially their children, could go to preselected homes to give toys, money, food, clothing or whatever is needed. This giving experience by children will leave an indelible mark on their memory. Will they do the same as they grow older? There are several ways you can find out who is in need; contact the Welfare Department, the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or get in touch with the local newspaper and ask if they can put a small article in their paper to see if anyone knows of families in need. If the family needs groceries, go with them to a supermarket and buy what they need. If you smell alcohol or tobacco, in their home or on their breath, it is best not to give money. If they need their rent to be paid, make a check out to the landlord; if they need clothing, toys, or grown-up presents, go to several department stores, etc. This could be expensive. To help one or two families may be all one can afford. The following year, you may be better organized and able to do much more. If you are doing this with the right motive, God will bless you more than you can ever imagine, although not necessarily in a monetary way. His blessings are spiritual. When doing this good work, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (don’t tell anyone what you have done, not even the IRS), or it may lose some of its value in the sight of God. Then, on Christmas, stay home and treat it as any ordinary day—though a very special day spiritually—by praising and thanking God for giving you and yours an active desire to help the needy. There is one stipulation: The recipients of these gifts must be told that the gifts are from Jesus Christ Himself and that we are only His helpers doing the delivering. If Christmas was celebrated in that manner by even a few of God’s people, for them, I would call it a Christmas which God would be pleased to glory in. However, He would still be unhappy with the remainder who celebrate Christmas in the ordinary, secular, and self-centered way. Actually, I am certain there are holy people who are already doing that kind of giving, but only for those in need in their own church. But it could easily be expanded to all the poor in the United States and then to the world. To make it truly Christ giving, there must be no administrative cost, only Christian volunteers.

To have genuine compassion and empathy for the poor, I believe it would be beneficial—though undesired—to have/make an opportunity to live in God-inspired poverty oneself. This Bible verse comes to mind from Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God/Heaven.” Now I am sure some are saying that I must be off my rocker.

As a child, I was raised in the poorest of poor conditions. Let me elaborate: My mom and dad were from the Old Country. They came to this country without a cent to their name. My mom was not allowed to go to school since she was too valuable on the farm, and therefore could not learn how to speak or read a word of English. My father could speak only a few words of English. He was a cripple, and was therefore limited as to what type of work he could do. My sister and I were born in that type of environment. The sad part is, it wasn’t bad enough to be poor, not being able to speak English, but ignorance about what life in America was about made it even worse. Therefore, now that I am an adult, I know firsthand the pain and suffering of being poor and ignorant. Possibly adults can understand why they are poor, but try to explain poverty to a child.

Let me tell you of two incidents from my childhood which are vivid in my mind. My mother sat me on an old trunk to put some winter clothes on me. As she was dressing me, I asked her, as best I could (of course, I was not speaking English), “Mama, whata Santie Clausie givea me for Christmis?” She didn’t know how to respond. She reached for a small ceramic container which was sitting near the trunk. It was made up of a black girl and boy; they looked like they were drawing water from a well. Again, not knowing what to say, she gave that ceramic piece to me and said, “This is all I have to give you; we have no money.” I must have thought to myself, How could I play with that? I didn’t want that ceramic figurine because it had been in our house for a long time, and it didn’t seem like a Christmas present to me. I am certain the pain she had for the little boy she loved more than the world was much greater than my broken heart.

Here is another heart-breaking story about Christmas: I am not certain if it was the same year as the above incident. My sister and I were going to bed in an uninsulated, drafty attic–that was the only place we had to sleep. It was Christmas Eve; I was two years younger than my sister. In order to prepare for Santa, my sister got one of my mother's old stockings and neatly draped it over the back of an old chair and put it near her bed. I told her there was no Santa Claus. She argued with me, saying there was. When morning came, you’ll never guess what happened. Her Christmas stocking was still empty. If I remember rightly, she cried and cried. I am not sure if I cried along with her, but I am sure making up for it now. They say men aren’t supposed to shed tears; crying is reserved only for sissies. Well then, I guess I must be a sissy. Case in point: These stories are not mine only; they belong to every poor child that doesn’t get at least one nice present at Christmastime. Therefore, one can understand why only poor children truly know the inexpressible sorrow of being without at Christmastime, with no happy endings in sight. As you can possibly tell, when Christmas is combined with poverty-stricken families, especially with young children, I become a bit effusive.

In conclusion, as we examined Christmas from many angles, it is good, in one way or another, for all except those in desperate financial need. We as Christians can change that, if even a little this year, and hopefully more in years to come. With Jesus Christ doing the giving through our efforts, that generosity may/will bring some of the unloved poor into the reality that Christianity may be for them also. Remember, God loves the poor. We should also love the poor by allowing Jesus Christ to do His giving through us.


Anonymous said...

The bible is clear that we as christians are not to put up a tree, and hang gold and silver from it. Jer. 10-1-7

JC said...

Anonymous, Thanks for your Scriptures, I believe in those verses they are referring to something like ancient totem poles; they used them as idols to worship as their gods. Regardless the principle is the same. We are not to idolize anything or anyone except God Almighty. God bless you and yours. althinker

Anonymous said...

is it possible to be a christian, and not love God, yourself, neighbour or anything else on this stupid planet

JC said...

Anonymous,Thanks for your strange question. The answer is absolutely not. Being a Christian (a disciple of Jesus Christ) is the the highest and the most dificult calling on this ungodly planet. Without Christ controling one's life, everything on this planet is stupid. althinker

Anonymous said...

how is it possible to love God, if you do not have this so called love in you, what is it, where does it come from, how do you get it, or how much does it cost, i accepted Christ 12 years ago, and according to you, i have wasted my time, 12 years of my life trying to please God, and a lot of money in church, this tells me that God does not accept everyone, only the ones he wants. if love is a gift from God, then the Bible is a lie he gives it to certain ones only, this would mean it is immpossible for me to go to heaven, because i do not have this so called love.

JC said...

I gave an answer to this comment in the main section of this website, just before post # 181. My response was too long for the comment section.