the early church there was no celebration of the birth of Jesus, such
as now remembered at Christmas. However, for thousands of years, the
winter solstice has been celebrated around this time when the sun is at
its lowest. This falls on the 22 December (giving us our shortest day)
but it may have been another couple of days before any discernable
change was noticed - around 25 December?
Some time later but still hundreds of years ago, St. Nicholas (the patron saint of Russia, children, merchants, sailors and pawnbrokers) gave gifts to poor girls. This led to a custom of others giving gifts to children on the eve of a feast day in remembrance of him on 6 December.
Christmas, as we know it, most likely resulted as an amalgamation of these two events, with the emphasis now being placed on a remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ. The exchange of gifts symbolises the free giving of his life for each of us. Other Christmas traditions are even more recent: Carols started in the 1400's, pantomimes in the 1600's and Christmas cards and trees were not actively used until the 1800's.
But how much of this can we find in the Bible and does it matter anyway?
It is most likely that Jesus wasn't born on Christmas day - in fact not even in December. Luke 2 v 8 tells us that the shepherds were sleeping in the fields with their flocks at the time of Jesus' birth:
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."
Even the Middle East in December is too cold for that!
Jesus died at the age of 33 and a half at the time of Passover, which is around Easter in March / April. This would imply that he was born around September / October.
In the Bible there are warnings against following worldly traditions:
Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (Jeremiah 10:1-4)
But if this seasonal time gives the opportunity for people to think about the birth of Jesus then can it be a bad thing?
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, 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 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2 v 9 - 14)
The scriptures highlight the importance of giving to others:
But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6,7)
should be aware that this giving can also be of our time - it's all too
easy to get caught up in the over commercialism of events.
Whilst Christmas then allows us the opportunity to focus upon the birth
of Jesus and good will to others - it's important to remember that
these thoughts should be in our minds at all times. It is through the
gift of Jesus Christ giving his life that we can each have a great hope.
If you would like to know more about the hope that Jesus' life gives us then please apply for our FREE Learn to Read the Bible Effectively Course.