“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.” These are the words of Alexander Smith. To understand the wonder of Christmas, we must first understand the story.
Let’s start with the facts, straight from Wikipedia. I will intermingle some of my favourite Christmas videos to keep you inspired.
History of Christmas
Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it is preceded by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many countries, is celebrated religiously by a majority of Christians, as well as culturally by many non-Christians, and forms an integral part of the holiday season organised around it.
The traditional Christmas narrative recounted in the New Testament, known as the Nativity of Jesus, says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in accordance with messianic prophecies. When Joseph and Mary arrived in the city, the inn had no room and so they were offered a stable where the Christ Child was soon born, with angels proclaiming this news to shepherds who then spread the word.
There are different hypotheses regarding the date of Jesus’ birth and in the early fourth century, the church fixed the date as December 25. This corresponds to the traditional date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar. It is exactly nine months after Annunciation on March 25, also the date of the spring equinox… For Christians, believing that God came into the world in the form of man to atone for the sins of humanity, rather than knowing Jesus’ exact birth date, is considered to be the primary purpose in celebrating Christmas. (Watch children explain this story in a thoroughly original way in this video.)
The celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving; completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath; Christmas music and carolling; viewing a Nativity play; an exchange of Christmas cards; church services; a special meal; and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly…
Giving & Exchanging Gifts
In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season…
The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the modern Christmas celebration, making it the most profitable time of year for retailers and businesses throughout the world. On Christmas, people exchange gifts based on the Christian tradition associated with Saint Nicholas, and the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which were given to the baby Jesus by the Magi.
(With 55 Million views, the Best Christmas Song ever must be close.)
The practice of gift-giving in the Roman celebration of Saturnalia may have influenced Christian customs, but on the other hand the Christian “core dogma of the Incarnation, however, solidly established the giving and receiving of gifts as the structural principle of that recurrent yet unique event”, because it was the Biblical Magi, “together with all their fellow men, who received the gift of God through man’s renewed participation in the divine life.”
The wonder of Christmas is embedded in the giving of gifts. As Wikipedia points out, it was the wise men who started the habit at Jesus’ birth. Saint Nicholas (AD 270-343) popularised the custom and Santa Claus became the modern interpretation of this historic figure who gave gifts to children.
TV producer Jonathan Meath said,
“Santa is really the only cultural icon we have who is male, does not carry a gun and is all about peace, joy, giving and caring for other people. That’s part of the magic for me, especially in a culture where we have become so commercialised and hooked into manufactured icons. Santa is much more organic, integral, connected to the past and therefore connected to the future.”
Meath is right. So much of the celebration of Christmas connects us to both the past and the future. The real wonder of Christmas is that God chose to invade earth humbly as a baby and not a conquering king.
The strangeness continues when 24 hours before his own crucifixion, Jesus knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet. He even washed the feet of his betrayer in an ultimate act of love. The wonder continued when he cried out from the cross, “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing.”
Christ was born in a borrowed stable and lauded by shepherds, who were akin to street sweepers on the vocational hierarchy of the day. What was even more unusual was that it was foreigners from a strange land who brought gifts for the baby king, thus proving the words of Jesus in the Gospel, “Prophets are honoured by everyone, except the people of their hometown and their relatives and their own family.” The bible story that is in many ways the foundation for Christmas and Saint Nicholas is the one about Jesus’ love for the children.
When the disciples chased the children and their mothers away, it was one of the few times that Jesus got really annoyed. It says in the Gospel of Mark that when Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons children love Christmas so much. I know I did as a child and I still do today. To understand the wonder of Christmas, we have to look through a child’s eyes. Better still, through a child’s heart. As Roy L. Smith said,
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.”
Enjoy this Christmas season with your children and your family. Share the wonder of Christmas with them. The story is amazing and the gift is better still.
Yours for more Wonder,
First published at Dads4Kids. Photo by Elina Fairytale.