December 25, was officially sanctioned as Christmas Day by Bishop Liberius of Rome in 354 AD. However, the roots of the way we celebrate Christmas are relatively new when placed on a historical continuum. Most of what we would call traditional celebrations can be traced to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol; Clement Clark Moore's An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, which tells of a chubby character who flies from housetop to housetop in a tiny sled pulled by eight reindeer; and Washington Irving's The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. Some believe that Irving invented these "traditions" as a way of promoting a less raucous celebration of the holiday. Hmm, that might be an idea worth reconsidering!
Our culture seems to have taken Christmas and turned it into something that neither the good Bishop nor any of the authors above would recognize. I was in a grocery store on Oct. 30. My wife had called and asked me to pick up some Halloween candy on the way home. I asked a store clerk, "Where is the Halloween candy?" She said, "Right next to the Baby Jesus on aisle 13." Sure enough there was the Baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary and eight tiny reindeer all seemingly waiting for the chance to dig into a pile of M&Ms and Snickers. I guess the new holiday slogan in America is "Happy Merry Thanksgivoween!1"
Before we let the culture take it all away from us, it is interesting to note that the one theme that seems to come up over and over again in both the biblical accounts and the traditional stories of Christmas, is an overwhelming concern for the poor. Read through the prophets of the Old Testament like Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah and you'll find a similar concern. Turn to Ezekiel for example and ask him, "Why was Sodom destroyed?" You might expect a titillating story full of wild behavior. Instead, Ezekiel will tell you, "They had excess of food and prosperous ease but they did not aid the poor and needy and the widows."
You know something? If we ever learn to put that teaching into practice and share with God's children all over the world, angels might appear again and sing, "Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth to all."
Grace and Peace to you,
1 Someone else coined this phrase but I cannot find the reference!