Sunday, December 19, 2010

What Christmas is all about

People have many ideas about Christmas. Of course we all know that it is supposed to be a celebration of Jesus birth, but is that all? Where did the tree, ornaments, and bright lights come from? Although we take them for granted now, they aren’t mentioned in the Bible.

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Believe it or not, it is thought that Christmas trees originated in Germany in the 1600’s. If trees were hard to come by they sometimes built pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles. Later the German settlers in Pennsylvania put up Christmas trees. The first one on record was in the 1830’s.

Even in much of the 19th century, Americans did not put up or even accept Christmas trees as part of the holiday. In fact when one was erected in front of a church in 1851 the locals were shocked and outraged at the “pagan” aspect and asked the good reverend to remove it immediately.

In spite of all that, Christmas trees started catching on, and by the early 20th century they were fairly common, and Americans were decorating them with handmade ornaments. The German-Americans used mostly fruit, nuts, and cookies on their trees; then came colored popcorn. When electricity became common, Christmas lights came into vogue, and remain so to this day.

The Practice of Giving Gifts

We all know the story of the 3 wise men, and how they came to Jesus, supposedly lying in a manger. They gave him gifts and then departed. What most people don’t know is that the three wise men were probably not holy men, as we like to celebrate them as being. They were obviously astrologers; they followed a star. Astrology or the use of any form of divining is highly frowned upon in the Bible. If you read the Bible carefully you will notice that after leaving Jesus, the wise men went to visit King Herod. Shortly thereafter King Herod decreed that all male children of 2 years old or less must die. Hmmmm I wonder where he got the information about a baby that might threaten his kingliness? Probably from the three not so wise men. Also when you read carefully you will see that Jesus was not a newborn baby when the wise men visited, and his family were living in a house at the time instead of a stable. Thus the reason that King Herod decided to kill young boys up to 2 years old instead of newborns only. It seems that the more we research our practices at Christmas, the more we see that the majority of it is simply made up, and often comes from old pagan practices instead of from the Bible. Here is another one for you to consider. Our practice of giving gifts; where did it come from? Oh I know, the wise men gave gifts to the baby Jesus. Notice that they didn’t give gifts to anyone else, nor did the others exchange gifts. In our modern Christmas, Jesus is the only one that does NOT receive any gifts. Incidentally it was the practice in Biblical times for visitors to bring gifts for any notable person.

I love Christmas. I can’t help it. I love the bright lights, the decorated trees, the gift giving, the coming together of families and friends. What I don’t love is where some of the practices come from, and how we have commercialized a day that is supposed to be special from a religious standpoint. To me Christmas is not really the birthday of Jesus, because we don’t know his birthday. I do however, accept the holiday as a celebration of his birth, but I also enjoy the feelings of love and closeness I share with my family.  May your holiday be joyful. Merry Christmas!

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