Christmas is a powerful and yet often misunderstood holiday.
Here, in China, where Christmas is a “Western” holiday, there’s considerable confusion over what Christmas is. I’ve seen a store display that explains in Chinese and broken English what Christmas is to the uninitiated – a Western holiday often characterized by gift giving, designed to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Last year, we saw a Santa Claus figure – in a fluorescent orange outfit.
Even this year, we had some fun talking to children about Western Christmas traditions. These kids, about 8 or 9 years old, were dumbfounded when they discovered that many Western children their age think that a fat man in a red suit climbs down their chimney to give them presents this time of year. “That’s so stupid!” they exclaimed.
In Canada, I doubt the same confusion exists about Santa Claus, but undoubtedly some of the same confusion exists over the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas has been an area of contention some years – I remember a little while back the call was going up from every politically correct quarter to get people to stop committing the unforgivable sin of wishing someone a Merry Christmas. Or in Christian circles, some people dispute the date of Jesus’ birth – December 25 can’t be right. Perhaps it was March, or June, or September. Or others smugly point out that Christmas is simply an adaptation of the pagan festival of the sun, Saturnalia.
Yet December 25, a day that actually falls close to but outside of the week of Saturnalia festivals, is as good a day as any to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. (There’s a whole discussion of the arguments for and against this date at this website.) Regardless of how it was originally chosen, it’s been fixed in tradition and the public calendars of the world. December 25 is Christmas, and it’s not Christmas because of Santa Clause or Christmas because of its proximity to Saturnalia. It’s Christmas because just over 2000 years ago, in a little cave-barn, outside of a small town called Bethleham, the most famous man who ever lived was born. We literally reckon history by the date of his birth (even if we got that date slightly wrong and have since re-branded our dating system.) And this man was famous because he grew up and made the most outlandish claims.
If that were it, the story might stop there and there might be no further Christmases. Yet everyone who knew Him testified to these things too – that He was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead, but on the third day he rose again and appeared to His disciples. Because of Him, all who love Him have no fear of death and to this day continue to celebrate Christmas as the day that God became man to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. Santa may be more prominent in the commercial spirit of the holiday, but Jesus is the heart and soul of the holiday.
God rest ye merry gentlemen and ladies, and let nothing ye disturb. For Christ our Saviour was born this very season. Merry Christmas to all!