I’m sure that you probably were asked by several over the past few days, “Did you have a good Christmas?” You may have asked that question of others as well. Just what do we mean by “good Christmas”? What does it take to have a “good Christmas”? We are most often thinking about whether we had family home, had fun opening gifts, received the gifts we wanted, enjoyed some good fellowship with friends or neighbors, had lots of yummy, fattening goodies, had some beautiful snow to make for a “white Christmas,” or any number of other things we consider it necessary to make for a “good Christmas.” If we weren’t able to have any family with us over Christmas (as was our case this year), we will often respond to the question with: “We had a quiet one!”—meaning we spent it by ourselves.
As I was thinking about this yesterday when I had several ask “Did you have a good Christmas?” I couldn’t help but refocus on why we even have Christmas and why we celebrate. After all, it is a celebration of “Christ’s birth.” It is about Him, not about us, except that we are the recipients of God’s love that sent His only begotten Son into the world (Jn. 3:16). The activities of the Christmas season can become so hectic with all the cards to write, gifts to buy, concerts to attend, family and friends to visit, house to decorate, food to bake, and church activities to help with that we not only don’t enjoy it, but we dread it because we have lost sight of what it is really all about.
I’m reminded of one summer when our church softball team planned a surprise birthday party for one of our members for after the game that week. Well, wouldn’t you know it, he didn’t show up that evening! We went ahead with our party, but without the “guest of honor.” We were there to celebrate his birthday and honor him, and had to try to do it without him. It was a rather “empty celebration.” I feel that is much like what happens often with our Christmas celebrations. They are very empty, because they leave out the very Person whose birthday we are celebrating.
The term “Christmas” (Christ’s Mass) is an old English term first used in the 11th century. During the first three centuries of the Christian era, there was considerable opposition in the church to the pagan custom of celebrating birthdays, although a religious celebration of the birth of Christ was included in the Feast of Epiphany (“an appearance or manifestation of Deity) on January 6th around 200 A.D. After the triumph of Constantine, the church at Rome assigned December 25th as the date for the celebration of the feast about 320 A.D. and by the end of the 4th century, nearly the whole world was celebrating Christmas on that day (except for the Eastern Orthodox churches which stuck to January 6th.) December 25th was chosen to celebrate Christ’s birth in an attempt to turn people away from their purely pagan observance of Saturnalia in Rome and the winter solstice in northern Europe which also occurred at this time. As many of these pagans were converted to Christianity, they carried a number of their pagan practices with them into the Christmas celebration. Due to this, there arose opposition to celebrating the feast and from 1642 to 1652, e.g., the Puritans in England condemned the celebration. This feeling was carried over to America by the pilgrims and it wasn’t until the 19th-century wave of Irish and German immigration that enthusiasm for the feast of Christmas began to spread throughout the country. So, our customs of Christmas celebrations come from a mixed background of pagan practices as well as Christian celebrations.
So, since December 25th is not really an accurate date for Christ’s coming to earth, and because of all the paganism associated with the background and customs, and because of all the commercialism, some Christians have always reacted against Christmas celebrations so as to reject them altogether. On the other hand, there is much in our Christmas observance which, though not explicitly found in the Bible, makes it a legitimate and wholesome application of the significance of the incarnation, of God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us (Jn. 1:14). In a society that is becoming increasingly secularized and fragmented, and anti-Christian, it is important to have an annual and universal remembrance of the great historical fact that “By this was the love of God manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (I Jn. 4:9). Even rank unbelievers and cynics seem to sense at Christmas time that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Tim. 1:15) making it a good time for evangelism. It is a time for family reunions, for communicating with old friends, for reconciling differences, for giving gifts to show our love to others. The emphasis on children at Christmas is surely wholesome too, as it reminds us of how Jesus came as a babe—God in a body—and grew up as a normal child, experiencing the entire range of problems and needs. It also reminds us of how He loved children and of how we must become as a child—in faith and trust—to come to Him.
If Christians were to stop celebrating Christmas because of its pagan association from the past or commercialism and reveling in the present, what would be left?—only a pagan Saturnalia. That would be Satan’s desire. But, unfortunately, we Christians, who claim we “celebrate” Christmas in the true “spirit of Christmas,” too often make it all about us and what we need to have a “good Christmas.” We forget what it is really all about. Whether we had family home, whether we received the gifts we wanted—if any at all—whether or not we had lots of parties to attend and goodies to munch on, Christmas is by definition “GOOD,” because it is about the “good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11,12). Every Christmas is a “good” Christmas if our heart is focused on that fact and we are rejoicing in the eternal life that we gained through the cradle and the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
So, “Yes, we had a good Christmas! Did you??