Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Reason for the Season: What Gives Us Reason To Celebrate?

Photo image courtesy of Andres Rodriguez via FreeDigitalPhots.net

Pain and suffering: we sure do seem to go through a lot of it to provide our friends and families with the perfect Christmas. A little money here, a lot of money there, a day labored over decking the halls, another day spent baking the cookies that others put in the effort to eat instead of make (guilty of consumption myself, as charged), and all the secrecy and careful wrapping of the one-of-a-kind sweater for the loved one who doesn't love it as greatly as you had hoped. In reflection, I must question: what’s the point? What makes us celebrate, decorate, and heed to these merry traditions year after year? What drives us, and what is meant to be achieved through all this hassle and interruption?

I suppose this question cannot be answered until we answer the question of “why?”. Why do we celebrate at this time in this way? Let us delve in!
The farthest traceable signs of our many modern traditions trail back to the early Winter Solstice, or Yule, as the wiccans, pagans, and druids refer to it. In the Northern Hemisphere, the 21st of December was celebrated as the rebirth of the Sun after its endurance of the shortest day of the year and the longest night. Many began celebration on the eve of the solstice, commencing with feasts of fresh meat that would otherwise be unable to survive the coming winter; enjoying drinks that had reached their fermented peak by winter time; basking in the fire of the Yule log, said to keep the spirits of the dark away in the duration of the log's 12 day burning life; exalting the resilience of the reds and greens of holly, the "All Heal" whites of mistletoe, with leafy crowns and wreaths--symbols of humanity's resilience to the cold; and sacrificing animals in the hopes of surviving the deathly frigidity of the season.

In the centuries to come, the Roman Catholic church, by order of Pope Julius I, decided that December 25th would be the chosen date of the Christian Christmas, though the Bible never depicts a specific day when Christ's birth occurred. It was thought that the placement of this holiday was an effort to make the job of evangelism easier, by making Christmas close enough to the 21st that it would outshine and fully replace the Roman solstice, Saturnalia, and other pagan celebrations of the like.

Now, it's no mystery to many of us where the Santa Claus tradition stems from--Saint Nicholas is the derivative here, a Greek Saint who slipped gold into three maiden's shoes as a dowry, allowing them to marry the men they loved. The actual name "Santa Claus," comes from the Dutch image of the saint, and later, the Westernized Santa was brought upon by the book Knickerbocker's History of New York in 1809 by Washington Irving, depicting a pipe-smoking man on a sleigh who delivered presents to good little kids.

Stop right here, just for a second. Now that you've got this brief jumble of information swimming in your skull, what is there to do with it? Think about the new why: what is there to celebrate now?

Out of immense intrigue, I recently spoke with a Jehovah's Witness friend of mine and asked her what her reasons are for refusing to celebrate. Her reasons were stated thus: since the traditions we enjoy now mainly come from the pagan holiday--the fires, the feasts, the holly, the gifts, etc-- her beliefs see it unclean to celebrate as the pagans do. Furthermore, her beliefs do not see it fit for her to celebrate the birth of Christ on a day that's as far from His birth that it could get. As a matter of fact, many theologians have reason to believe that Christ was born in the summertime, far from the date of our traditional merriment.

Strange: then why do others celebrate?

In the secular society, this season is a time for warmth and harmony, food and reunion, gift giving and self-reassurance. I've observed in the secular world how gift-giving comes about: someone decides to ravish their loved ones in pricey, shimmering presents, not in an effort to spread joy to others, but to feel a sense of satisfaction in ones self. "I did something good today," they say as they give gifts without a thought of God's sacrifice crossing their minds. This view of Christmas brings about the looking-out-for-number-one mentality, the struggle to please others by man's own hands, decking the halls to dazzle but forgetting to deck their hearts with pure compassion for one another.

As Christians, what does this all mean for us? This holiday is meant, for us, to celebrate God's Son coming to this earth to rescue His children: but what do all of our traditions say about our holiday?Does that mean hanging holly and burning a Yule log is a sin? And what does that mean for your young child who finds more solace in the fairy tales of the big man in the red suit rather than the comfort of God's grace? What does that mean for your child who prefers to bask in the attention, privileges, and gifts they receive only at this time of year--for the able-bodied child who desires the attention their disabled siblings receive daily rather than the ever-flowing attention they could be finding in Christ? Does this mean we're wrong to teach kids about Santa and his sack of toys?

Of course not! Not if your hearts rest in the right places! The Lord says in his word, "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another... Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin." (Romans 14:13, 22-23, NIV)

Your kids, each and every one of them, has the right to this childhood memory of magic and wonder, the experience of family time spent by the fireplace and reading stories of sugar plums and dancing nutcrackers. However, above all traditions of this world, it is more important to teach your kids this:


We give gifts because of the treasures the Wise Men delivered to the young Savior, we place a star atop our trees to remind us of the bright Star of David, we wear red to signify His blood that ran for us, green to show the new and prevailing life that Christ lives, and white to show our cleansed souls, saved by His Grace. But Christmas is not just about the symbolism, the colors, or the shining stars: our reason for the season is to celebrate the love story God has written for us, the story of his precious Son, the impossible Messiah, the slain lamb who entered this world in the strangest of ways to save the most broken of creations. "Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel!" a desolate nation cries for his story to unfold! This story is about compassion and sacrifice, the shining hope of his eternal love and the everlasting grace found in the only gift we'll ever need. 

This Christmas, remind the kids about why we, the precious Bride of Christ, celebrate the season--not for the perfect present or the blinking lights--but for the glorious gift of God's perfect grace, wrapped snug in a manger on that first Christmas night.

Pray: Lord, allow myself and others around me to see past the colorful allure and decadent appeal of this world's traditions. I pray that all I may say and do this season, and in the seasons to come, reflects You and Your perfect gift of mercy and boundless love.


~Alexandra Dittrich

Sources:
http://www.ibtimes.com/winter-solstice-2014-3-things-know-about-pagan-yule-celebrations-1763756
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131219-santa-claus-origin-history-christmas-facts-st-nicholas/

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the history lesson and the reminder of why to celebrate Christmas. What a great addition to DifferentDream.com's Tuesday link share.

    ReplyDelete