Stan Crader

Author & Lecturer on Writing About Rural America

Christmas: The epitome of Faith, Hope, Love, and Santa

1st Corinthians – 13:13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Hebrews 11:11 -Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

1st Corinthians 14:3-8 – Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

While the actual date of Christ’s birth is a debate that is not likely to ever be settled, the fact that Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth is indisputable. Christmas is second only to New Years as the world’s most celebrated holiday.

The birth of Christ is well documented and few, if any skeptics, doubt that a man named Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Several eye witness accounts of the events leading up to the birth of and the life of Jesus Christ have been handed down through the years. While the various accounts are told from different points of view; they all agree on the salient events that occurred in His short, divine, life.

Jesus never traveled for from home, began evangelizing at the age of 12, took the Roman world by storm by the age of 30, and was crucified at the age of 33. Those who recognized that He was the fulfillment of the ancient Hebrew scripture’s prophecy of a Messiah, and followed His teachings, everlasting life and salvation through faith, became known as Christians. Christmas, a Christian holiday, is now celebrated by Christians and non-Christians.

When asked, “What is Christmas?” Christians will respond that it’s the celebration of Christ’s birth. Others will respond that it’s when friends and family gather, office parties are held, homes and businesses are adorned with festive decorations, and gifts are exchanged. It’s not a mutually exclusive answer; both are correct. Getting into the ‘Christmas Spirit’ generally means something different for Christians than non-Christians. Both frames of mind are good; it’s just that one is more meaningful, enduring, and everlasting.

It’s thought that the timing of the Christmas celebration was chosen to compete with a Roman pagan celebration (Saturnalia Festival) that was occurring during the winter solstice. The pagan celebration included all forms of debauchery and early Church leaders desired to attract people away from such practices, so Christmas was introduced. It’s okay to party, just party the right way and for the right reason.

Significant Christmas traditions have pagan origins. Pagans (Asheira Cult) used to worship trees, well, there are people today who continue to do so. Some, at the time, went so far as to bring trees into their homes for worship. Early converts from Paganism to Christianity continued the practice of bringing a tree into their home during the celebration of Christ’s birth. Christmas trees are fine so long as we don’t worship the tree, and it’s harvested using a Stihl.

Mistletoe is poisonous. And legend has it that Druids used mistletoe to poison their sacrificial victims. And it’s thought that the Christian custom of kissing under mistletoe is derived from some sort of sacrificial deviant sexual activity that occurred during the pagan celebration. Few now know of the Druid legend and give it no thought when surreptitiously placing Mistletoe on door headers. Don’t let this ancient legend stop you from using a mistletoe twig to steal a kiss.

There’s a twisted legend regarding the giving of gifts too. But Christians abide by the Biblical version in which the wise men arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh (Mathew 2: 1-12) Few gifts exchanged today bear the same significance of that of the wise men, but the gift exchange has a most noble beginning.

Santa Claus

Hang on to your reindeer; this is a doozie. Nicholas was born in Turkey in 270 CE, became Bishop of Myra and served on the first Council of Nicaea. He died December 6, 345. During the 11th century, 800 years later, a group of sailors who idolized Nicholas moved his bones from Turkey to Italy. These sailors celebrated Nicholas’ life by exchanging gifts each year on the anniversary of his death, December 6th. This gift giving tradition was eventually adopted by German and Celtic pagans whose primary god (with a little g) was Woden, father of Thor. Remember, it was the Wise Men who started the gift giving tradition.

Woden had a white beard, rode a horse, and flew through the heavens one evening each autumn. Are you beginning to get the picture? Over time, the celebration of Nicholas, a real person, merged with that of Woden, the mythological character, and his flight through the heavens was rescheduled for December. Christians of the time, merged the scriptural gift giving of the Wise Men with pagan gift giving during Woden’s December flight through the heavens, and the result was the celebration of Nicholas’s life through a gift exchange, the timing of which was conveniently changed to December 25, to align with the celebration of Christ’s birth and counter the pagan celebration; it’s complicated. But wait; there’s more.

1500 years after Nicholas’ death and after all of this metamorphous blending of fact and legend, he was named a Saint. By this time, the promulgators of the legend were primarily the Norse, the Turks had become Muslim and forgotten about Nicholas, so St. Nicholas became a Norseman.

In order to make life easier for the mythological Woden, now merged with real-life St. Nicholas, he or they were given a sleigh and the single horse was replaced with a team of reindeer, the beast of burden of countries where it snows nearly year round. The term Santa Claus, the reindeer suffering from rosacea and low self-esteem, one man sneaking into every home in the world via the chimney, and all the other hoopla is a derivative of language barriers, tall tales, and creative imaginations. None of this matters to a toddler on Christmas morning but there you have it; and that’s the short version. I believe in Santa because I saw him on a fire truck in a Christmas parade; he looked a lot like my uncle Charlie. But I’ve never seen a flying reindeer. For more about the mythical fact based legend of Santa watch “Miracle on 34th Street.”

A rose by any other name is still a rose. And Santa by any other name is still a chubby guy full of hope and promise and gingivitis. And Christmas by any other name is still Christmas, celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The Essence of Christmas

Luke 2:10-11 – And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The Spirit of Christmas

Success and pleasure are not the most important things in life. Faith gives us hope and Christ gives us Love. Get in the true spirit of Christmas this year. Ephesians 5:18,20 “Be filled with the Spirit…giving thanks always for all things to God.” For more about the spirit of Christmas watch “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Merry Christmas

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