DHD: Six Christmas Traditions
I’m still in the Christmas spirit! I hope you are too!
This week’s DHD focuses on six popular symbols, facts or traditions affiliated with Christmas. Think about it. There are endless elements that are involved with Christmas. It literally is the most elaborate holiday of the year, and there’s so many enjoyable entities. And I’m a fan of them all – at least most of them, if not all (Egg nog, yuck!).
I can’t mention all Christmas customs, but here’s six significant ones.
- Candy Canes
Legend has it that an Indiana candy maker in the 19th century invented the candy cane to be used as a Christian witnessing tool. The white represented Mother Mary’s virginity. The red stripes reference the blood of Christ, and of course, if you turn the candy cane upside down, it looked like a “J” to represent the name of Jesus.
Well, unfortunately there’s some holes in the story. For one, nobody can come up with the name of the candy maker, just that he was from Indiana. Also there is discrepancy on the time frame because another report claims the candy cane did not get its shape of a cane until the 20th century, and the reason for making it look like a cane was so that it could hook onto Christmas tree limbs.
I say, so what? Whether the candy cane intentionally was made to share the Gospel or not, one can still use it to refer to the greatest message given to mankind. If Paul can use an altar of an unknown God to share with the people of Athens about the true God who made the world and everything in it (Acts 17:23-24), God through the Holy Spirit could make Himself known to someone hearing the Gospel message through the use of a piece of candy.
- Nativity Sets
Saint Francis of Assisi is credited to be the first one to create a nativity scene in 1223, and it was a live version. He was inspired to create a nativity scene after visiting the Holy Land and exploring Jesus’ birthplace.
I think Nativity Sets are fascinating. It’s one of the symbolic images everyone in the Christian faith, including Evangelicals and Catholics, reveres and enjoys.
There is some controversy involving Wise Men being represented in Nativity Scenes, because history depicts they were not at the birth of Jesus, but there’s much clarity lacking with these men from the East who studied the stars. I suppose it’s a common Nativity acceptance because the Bible, specifically the Gospel according to Matthew, mentions the Wise Men as part of the Christmas story.
But whether it’s accurate or not, what we should consider when looking at a Nativity Scene, as it represents the Christmas story, is both highly educated men from far away and lowly shepherds in fields nearby had the opportunity to worship the Christ child. And we, along with many others around the world, regardless of race, status, culture or other societal descriptions, have the opportunity to worship Him today.
- December 25
So many tales are told about the origin of December 25 being Christmas Day. Many claim it merged with pagan holidays of ancient Rome. Actually, Christmas was not celebrated at all until the fourth century by order of Emperor Constantine.
Think about it, though. None of the early Christians had observances for honoring the birth of Jesus. Rather, it was His death and resurrection that the ordinances of baptism and Lord’s Supper (or communion) reflect.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m all for celebrating Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. And logically, we can’t celebrate His resurrection if Jesus were never born. Which brings us back to why December 25 is the chosen day for celebrating Christmas.
Maybe it did have a pagan origin. Maybe Jesus was actually born another time of the year. I’m fine with how Christmas is observed, and as Christianity Today’s Elesha Coffman referenced in an article she wrote in 2008 on why Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25, “As a theologian observed in 320, ‘We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it.’”
- Christmas Carols
I love Christmas music! Love. It.
I made a comment about week ago on Facebook that I think this is the richest time to listen to Christmas music. There are those who can listen to Christmas music all year long, which is fine. But the time after Thanksgiving through Christmas Day, even until New Year’s Day is like the “March Madness” for Christmas music.
But how did Christmas Carols originate? “Carol” is just another term for song or hymn, but Christmas Carols have been sung since the earliest Christmas celebrations of the fourth century.
St. Francis of Assisi also had a big influence in singing Christmas Carols during 13th century Europe. But songs that would be recognized today did not appear on the scene until the 16th century. Carols such as “Good Christian Men Rejoice” and “Good King Wenceslas” are two of the earliest that would be familiar to contemporary ears.
An interesting fact is Christmas Carols were not sung in church services until after the Reformation, with much influence credited to Martin Luther, who was a major advocate for celebrating Christmas.
Many of the popular Christmas Carols were written in the 19th century, such as “Joy to the World,” “The First Noel,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and my favorite “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” written by John Wesley.
- Christmas Trees
This is another tradition that has historic affiliation with pagan rituals. Romans decorated their homes with evergreen trees in the winter time. Early on, there were condemning accusations by Christian leaders to other Christians participating in having a tree in their house.
Eventually, the rebuking subsided by the Middle Ages, and Christians once again found a way to share the Gospel through an original heathen practice. Early Christian missionaries would say how the Incarnation (the Son of God becoming man) declared Christ’s lordship over all creation, even evergreen trees, and just like people could be converted, so could pagan rituals.
As mentioned, Martin Luther was a big fan of Christmas, including Christmas trees. It was said he enjoyed decorating his tree with candles.
Baptist Press featured a story this week about the 16th century leaders of the Protestant Reformation disagreeing on celebrating Christmas. I found this piece to be quite fascinating, and my appreciation for Luther grew even more after reading it.
- Santa Claus
The stories involving Santa Claus are many. I won’t get into them. Instead, I will refer you to a great piece by Ted Olson of Christianity Today. It is titled “The Real Saint Nicholas.” By the way there are other Christmas stories linked to this one that share other fascinating Christmas facts.
So the person who is said to be the original Santa Claus is real, but the common descriptions of Santa Claus don’t materialize until much later. The story known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Moore is attributed to coming up with what Santa looks like and having a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.
Of course, there’s also the debate of how to discuss Santa Claus to children, of whether he is real or not. Each household is different, and my perspective is have a respect for those who may not view the same as you do. There’s much greater fish to fry.
However, what I would encourage is holding a higher regard for celebrating Jesus. He is the reason for the season.
All other traditions have innocent intentions and can be fun to observe, but they all pale in comparison, especially when we fully grasp that the Son of God came to earth to fulfill a promise and pay a ransom only He could pay on our behalf. There is nothing greater to celebrate.
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