Did you ever wonder why we bring Christmas trees into our homes and put lights on everything at Christmastime? Or what Santa has to do with Christmas?
Christmas is my favorite time of year because it’s like the whole world gets invited to the same party and so many respond to the invitation to celebrate, stores included! Regardless of the motive of department stores to put beautiful lights outside and decorate their window displays, the end result is this amazing feeling of connectedness we get as a culture. As many of us look with anticipation toward December 25th.
Cultural Versus Spiritual Beginnings
Some of our Christmas traditions are purely cultural but they contribute such an element of beauty to the season. Jesus is about loving God and loving your neighbor. Christmas is the time of year when it seems as though the whole world gets focused on both. Our traditions help get us there. The feelings of warmth they bring, the nostalgia and the opportunity to take a few days away from our work and focus on spending time with friends and family make them special to us.
Does the Bible mention anything about Christmas trees or stockings by the fire or Santa Claus? No. But does hanging stockings by the fireplace or putting up a Christmas tree have anything to do with Jesus? Yes. They have become the outward expression of the way we celebrate his birth. What did Jesus say? He said, they will know you are my followers by your love for one another. The spirit of giving that exists during Christmas is one of faith in action.
As a mom, looking to create my own family traditions, it was important to me to understand the meaning behind them so I could clearly communicate to my son why we celebrate the way we do.
Here is the meaning behind five of our most popular Christmas traditions which I have found over the years. I hope it helps to make your season more meaningful.
The Meaning of Christmas
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Christ means “messiah” or “anointed one” and is the title attributed to Jesus because he is the only one in the history of the world who has fulfilled the Hebrew prophecies surrounding the messiah, promised by God who would save people from their sins.
I won’t go into the prophecies for this post, but Jesus has fulfilled over 300 of them. A study by Dr. Peter Stoner at Pasadena City College calculated that the odds of someone stumbling along in history and fulfilling just 8 prophecies are 1 in 100 Quadrillion. For perspective, 1 Quadrillion sour patch kids stacked on top of and next to each other would take up most of lower Manhattan and dwarf the tallest building in the world. Multiply that picture by 100 and you get the idea of how impossible the chances of fulfilling prophecy are.
If you don’t believe Jesus is the promised Messiah, the probability alone makes it worth investigating.
The corporate celebration of Jesus’ birth first originated as a church service, or “mass” in the Roman Catholic Church. A mass is a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins and subsequent resurrection from the dead translated, to Christ-Mass or Christmas. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25 was 336, under the Roman Emperor Constantine.
The Meaning Behind The Christmas Tree
Martin Luther, the German preacher who was responsible for the great reformation of the Christian church, was thought to have been the first to bring a Christmas tree into a house.
The story goes that one night before Christmas he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. It reminded him of how Jesus left the stars of heaven to come to Earth at Christmas.
To me personally, the Christmas tree, being evergreen, symbolizes the eternal life Jesus brings to us and the triangular shape reminds me of the triune nature of God, as Father, Son and Spirit.
But I grew up as most of us, just loving the smell the tree brought into our home and the anticipation of it being surrounded in gifts on Christmas morning. That cultural tradition is so wonderful because it provides a common ground for many of us who have had that shared experience. It serves a great purpose of bringing people together.
The Meaning Behind Christmas Lights
Jesus referred to himself as the Light of the world. In John 8:12 he spoke to the people and said “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life”.
Jesus also referred to his followers as the light of the world. In Matthew 5:14 Jesus said “you are the light of the world- like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden”.
Bringing light into the darkness is a symbol at Christmastime of how the birth of Jesus brings light to the world. This is why Christians everywhere also decorate their houses with lights at Christmastime.
The Meaning Behind Santa Claus
Santa Claus originates with a man named Nicholas who was born in the 3rd century in the south coast of Turkey. His parents were wealthy and taught him to be a devout follower of Jesus. They both died in an epidemic while Nicolaus was still young and he came into a large inheritance. He proceeded to use his entire inheritance to help the poor and dedicated his life to serving God.
One of the most famous stories of Nicholas was that there was a man who could not afford a dowry for his daughters to marry, so the daughters were at risk of being sold into slavery. Nicholas is said to have dropped a bag of gold down the chimney of the man’s home and it fell into one of the stockings that had been hung by the fire to dry. This story is where we get our tradition of leaving stockings by the fireplace to be filled with presents.
Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra, a town on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Under the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, many Christians were imprisoned for their faith, and Nicholas was among them. Ultimately, he was released when Roman Emperor Constantine came into power.
Nicholas died December 6, 325 and was commemorated as a saint in the Catholic Church. The anniversary of his death became St. Nicholas day, which was celebrated throughout Europe. To this day children in Germany leave a boot outside their door and the Dutch leave out their wooden shoes on December 5th to be filled with presents.
Martin Luther was said to have refocused the bearing of gifts from St. Nicholas to the Christ Child or Christkindl, in German which then became pronounced as Kriss Kringle. Luther associated the stockings with Christmas Day to re-direct the focus on Jesus, which founded the gift giving tradition on December 24th or 25th.
Dutch settlers took the story of Kriss Kringle and St. Nicholas to the USA with them and became “Sinterklaas” or in English, Santa Claus.
The Meaning Behind Christmas Gifts
This brings us to the question of what would compel a man like Nicholas to give away his entire fortune to the poor? It traces back to his faith in Jesus which leads us to why we give gifts at Christmas.
Jesus was not born the way you would expect a King to be born. He wasn’t born into wealth or privilege. He was instead born in a stable because everyone, including his step Father and pregnant mother, had traveled to Bethlehem for the Census at the time of his birth and all of the inns were full.
Despite this humble beginning, there were Magi, wise men from the East, likely Persia, who had been watching the stars and followed the Bethlehem star to Jesus. They brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This was the first instance of gifts being given in association with Jesus’ birth.
Jesus teaches that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and to freely give because we have freely received the gift of eternal life. Giving to others is therefore a general part of the Christian experience and even more so at Christmas as an expression of our love for Jesus and for our neighbor.
What Christmas Means to Me
To me, Christmas is a joyful time of year for the human race. Jesus came for all of us. We can all experience His love, His forgiveness, His peace and His joy when we believe in Him and follow Him.
When the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the Shepherds, they said "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to ALL PEOPLE. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord."
ALL PEOPLE are invited to experience the joy of Christmas. To experience life as it was meant to be from the beginning, in communion with God. Christmas is an incredible story of God becoming human, living a full life on this Earth and experiencing all that we do, yet without sin, so that He could overcome it on our behalf.
It is an amazing fulfillment of God's promise to the Jewish people to save them and that through them all of the nations of the world would be blessed.
However you choose to celebrate it, whether with lights or a tree, with gifts or a Christmas service, may you experience the joy Jesus brings.
Welcome to Honey & Figs! I'm Lisa. I love helping people with practical ways to live more abundant lives based on my own experience. You can click here to find out more about me.
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