What Christmas Is Not
Maybe it’s the date, December 25, that gives Christmas meaning …
However, if there is anything that we know for sure, it’s that Christ wasn’t born on December 25. Shepherds were abiding in the field keeping watch over the flocks by night (see Luke 2). Shepherds didn’t do that in December. They came out in the springtime. So, Jesus was probably born in March or April.
The celebration of Christmas on December 25 comes from an old Roman holiday that celebrated the pagan observance of the birthday of the “sun.” Christians wanted to “Christianize” the date, so in 336 AD, Constantine declared December 25 to be an official Roman-Christian holiday.
Maybe it’s the name that gives Christmas meaning …
“Christmas” is the shortened form of “Christ-Mass.” This specific Roman Catholic mass was established in 1038 AD. It has nothing to do with Scripture.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1224 AD that St. Francis of Assisi began to popularize the worship of baby Jesus in a manger as a way to counter a new cult centered on the worship of Mary.
If it isn’t the date or the name, maybe Santa Claus gives Christmas meaning …
No, that’s not the real meaning of Christmas! The concept of Santa Claus came into existence through a fourth-century bishop named St. Nicholas who was credited with bringing two children back to life after they’d been cut to pieces. It was natural for people to look at St. Nicholas as a giver of gifts who is particularly important to children.
St. Nicholas is very popular in Holland. In fact, celebrating St. Nicholas, or “Santa,” came to the United States by way of Holland. Dutch children expected Santa to visit on December fifth. It was customary to place wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Santa would fill the shoes with goodies. Of course, we quick-thinking and very capable Americans realized that you can get a lot more in a stocking than in a wooden shoe!
Christmas isn’t Santa Claus or the date or the name.
Maybe it’s the spirit of giving which gives meaning to Christmas …
However, in American culture, Christmas is no longer all about the spirit of giving. It’s the spirit of indulgence.
This year, over $40 billion dollars will be spent on six billion presents in the United States alone. Incidentally, the presents will be wrapped in $8 million worth of wrapping paper!
One Christmas day, seven-year-old Laura was given the honor of distributing the family gifts from around the tree. After all the gifts were delivered, Laura kept looking all around the branches under the tree.
Her father asked, “What are you looking for?”
Laura replied, “I thought Christmas was Jesus’s birthday, and I was just wondering where His presents were. I guess everyone forgot Him this year.”
Now, let’s talk about what Christmas DOES mean.
My wife, Julie, decided to spend the holidays this year on a Christmas-movie binge. She is now approaching her 30th movie. I had no idea there were so many! She asked me, “Do you realize what’s missing in most all of these movies?”
“No,” I responded.
“There are princes and princesses, elves and Christmas trees, Christmas lights and fruitcakes, reindeer and Santa Claus. But there is scarcely a manger in sight.”
The meaning of Christmas is found in two verses from Matthew chapter one. Both verses were instructions for Joseph from the angel Gabriel about what to name the son of God:
Take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name “Jesus”, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:22-23)
In these two names, we find the real meaning of Christmas.