Donald Trump says “Merry Christmas”
“Donald Trump says ‘Merry Christmas,’ Obama wishes ‘Happy Holidays’” the Washington Times headline announces. Christmas is once again in the spotlight. President-elect Donald Trump has been very intentional about saying “Merry Christmas” the past couple of weeks on his “Thank You” tour. Just speaking these two “politically incorrect” words draws cheers from thousands of his supporters at every event. Many of Mr. Trump’s supporters are professing Christians who feel that Christmas has been under attack, but did you know that some Christians do not even celebrate this holiday? Did you realize that Christmas was once banned in America? What is it about this famous holiday that has stirred up so much controversy through the ages?
The Origin of Christmas
The first record of a celebration of Jesus’ birth on December 25 is found in the Philocalian Calendar, a Roman document dated 354 A.D. (Miles 20). Christmas in the 4th century was far different than it is today. In fact, many people link the origins of Christmas to a pagan holiday!
The history of Christmas is debatable, but many historians point to two major pagan holidays that were celebrated on December 25. Every year around the winter solstice, the ancient Romans held a festival to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture. Celebrated on December 17-25, Saturnalia was a week of lawless and hedonistic activity marked by a disrupted social order, wild singing in the streets, rioting, feasting, widespread intoxication, and general merriment by all. Secondly, it also appears that the ancient Romans also celebrated December 25 as the birthday of Mithra, the Persian god of light.
With the rise of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, the Catholic Church leaders likely adopted one of these holidays hoping to bring the pagans into the church with it. It’s easy to imagine how they “Christianized” this time by declaring December 25 as the birthday of Jesus Christ. Not surprisingly, “Christmas” immediately became a very popular holiday with thousands of people celebrating Jesus’ birthday in very ungodly ways. For the most part, the church was successful in removing the more violent parts of the celebration (which may have even included human sacrifice), but the general lawlessness and indulgence stubbornly remained and even defined this holiday.
As the Roman Empire spread, it took its religion and practices with it as well. Soon Christmas was celebrated in nearly every area of the world and as the centuries rolled on, many nations adapted their own traditions and customs to this holiday.
Christmas in America
Fast forward several hundred years. With the Reformation sweeping across Europe, Christmas and its pagan practices began to come into question. In 1645, Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan movement took over England and cancelled Christmas in an effort to combat the rampant debauchery associated with this holiday. This set the backdrop for Christmas in America. Many of the Puritan pilgrims that braved the ocean and settled in the New England area held even more orthodox views than Cromwell. Celebrating Christmas was frowned upon and even banned in Boston from 1659 – 1681 with a 5 shilling fine for anybody caught showing Christmas spirit.
It’s worthy to note that not all early American settlers were opposed to Christmas. In fact, the some of the Anglican pilgrims that settled in the Jamestown area developed a reputation for festive, hospitable, and even lavishly decorated Christmas celebrations.
All bans on Christmas were lifted by 1682 but many colonists retained their animosity towards the holiday. After the Revolutionary War, many English traditions were cast aside and Christmas lost even more of its appeal. But America was a young country, and as more and more immigrants brought their customs and traditions with them across the ocean, Christmas began to make a comeback.
In 1819, famous author Washington Irving published a series of short stories about an English family and their celebration of Christmas called The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. In these stories, Irving painted what he considered to be the ideal Christmas – a holiday of peace and joy that brought people of all social and economic backgrounds together. Several decades later, Charles Dickens published his classic A Christmas Carol which also helped to portray Christmas as a time of giving and hope. Americans began embracing these ideas and the American Christmas began to take form.
As the holiday began to be more widely celebrated, old traditions were remembered and came back into practice. Since so many different backgrounds were represented in this new country, traditions were diverse and included Santa Claus, decorating fir trees, singing carols in the streets, giving gifts to children, and many others.
In more recent years, mass advertising, media, and materialism have changed the American Christmas once again. The Christmas season now seems to be defined by a frenzy of shopping as Americans spend an estimated 465 billion dollars in their pursuit of the perfect gifts! (Made in America Christmas).
With this history in mind, it’s easy to see how Christmas has been the cause of dissension. The Scriptures highlight the birth of Christ but it was probably not on December 25. Jesus commanded us to remember and celebrate his death, but not his birth. Should a Christian take part in this commercially hijacked holiday that likely has pagan roots?
I believe that everyone will need to come to their own conclusion to this question. However, it’s likely that 99% of you who read this article will be celebrating Christmas today so here’s my advice. No matter how you choose to observe December 25…
Stop and reflect
What really happened in that small town of Bethlehem around two millennia ago? Jesus Christ was born on earth as a baby. The Almighty God chose to take on flesh and to come down to our broken, cursed world. He chose this, even though he knew he would be rejected, tortured, and killed. He chose this to offer us redemption from our sins. He chose this because of His incomprehensible love for us.
Celebrate that this year.
|Troy Stauffer’s home lies just outside of Hershey, PA (the sweetest place on earth) but he is currently living in Indiana, serving as the men’s resident adviser of Elnora Bible Institute. He is 22 years old, the eldest child with four brothers and one sister. Here are a few of his favorite things: sports, ice cream, gas below $2/gallon, being with friends, videography, strategy games, water scenery, electronics, math, a perfect trial balance, singing, playing piano, music in general, and most of all Jesus Christ.|
“Christmas History in America.” The History of Christmas. Web.
http://www.thehistoryofchristmas.com/ch/in_america.htm. Accessed Dec. 2016.
Keathley, J. Hampton. “Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?” Bible.org, 5 Dec. 2004. Web.
https://bible.org/article/should-christians-celebrate-christmas. Accessed Dec. 2016.
Kelemen, Lawrence. “The History of Christmas.” SimpleToRemember.com. Judaism Online.
http://www.simpletoremember.com/vitals/Christmas_TheRealStory.htm Accessed Dec. 2016
“Made in America Christmas- Are you in?” ABC News. Web.
http://abcnews.go.com/WN/mailform?id=14998335 Accessed Dec. 2016.
Miles, Clement A. Christmas Customs and Traditions, Their History and Significance. Dover
Publications, New York, 2011.