Pssssst: Read all the way to the end for an important surprise! No cheating.
I suppose everyone’s first memories of Christmas would be quite diverse.
Many, like myself, will surely remember a particular present they received one year as a child. Some will recall Christmas lights being set up, with a Christmas tree filled with ornaments set up in the family room, and halls being decked along the way. Others will recall getting all dressed up to go to church to sing carols with the family. There are many memories that are commonly shared among those who have grown up with Christmas, some of them fonder than others, and it all had to start somewhere.
But Christmas did not begin with us.
I’ve taken quite a long hiatus from writing, thanks in large part to my ever expanding family (three kids take up more time than I could have ever imagined), and in that time I’ve had a lot of time to think about what my next writing project could be.
Before taking a break, I had just completed the final book in The Dream Saga, and began to work on a new novel I had tentatively titled The Escape. But after writing a few chapters, I became hard pressed for writing time, and put it on the shelf, so to speak. When I finally decided to make the necessary time in my schedule to write again, I had to think of what I really wanted to talk about next, which I found to be something I am always happy to talk about, which is my love for Christmas, my Christian faith in general, and all things related to the author and finished of my faith, Jesus Christ.
Now when I say that I love Christmas, I think it is fair to say that I mean it more than most, or at least I express it more verbally than others. I am the sort of person that others are complaining about when they say that Christmas starts too early. I am the kind that will sing Christmas carols in April and watch Christmas movies in July. I start my Christmas shopping somewhere around December 26th and have most of it wrapped up before December hits the next year. I have had a dozen people send me a certain picture from Pinterest of a particular t-shirt that says “I have OCD: Obsessive Christmas Disorder.”
In other words: I really love Christmas.
But sometimes I wonder how much I really know about Christmas. So I have to ask myself questions.
Why do we celebrate Christmas the way that we do? Why do we celebrate Christmas at all? Sure, I know the reason behind the season, but do I know the reasoning behind the season? I find the details behind Christmas to be fascinating, so I am using this opportunity to explore the world of Christmas more than I ever thought I would.
But where do I begin? At the beginning, I thought to myself, but what really marks the beginning of Christmas? What made Christmas the holiday that I love so much today? There’s more to the answer than meets the eye, so let’s see what we can find out.
First of all, I think it is important to get rid of the idea that Christmas is new or local. I would think that should seem obvious to most, yet people still ask if Christmas started in America or England or Germany, most likely because so many traditions are so closely tied to these nations, especially with those countries having such strong ties to Evangelical Christianity and the Protestant Reformation.
But it doesn’t take much research to see that Christmas began long before the legendary version of Santa Claus (or any other name by which he might be known) began unloading toys and other wonderful presents to good boys and girls around the world.
So if not here or there, then where?
Many find a strong link associating the beginning of Christmas to the Roman Empire, where it became a holiday in AD 336 under Emperor Constantine, only a few years before the death of the real Saint Nicholas in AD 343, who was a bishop in modern day Turkey, and is only thought to have struck a heretic in the face once as far as I can tell. And many of those same people, generally cynical ones who want to discount the holiday, would like to link it to one of the Pagan holidays of the time, though modern scholars find this to be very unlikely.
It may seem a strange thing that Christians would wait 300 years after Christ’s death to think about celebrating the date of his birth, but the culture at the time seemed to be more focused on the date of his death, which we of course celebrate as Good Friday, or His resurrection, which we celebrate on Easter (and every Sunday morning).
So, in a sense, the middle of the 4th century seems like a pretty realistic answer, with very few writings about the date of his birth coming before then, and not any known to be of any celebratory note, but as a small matter of notation.
A fair answer is a fair answer.
But that doesn’t mean that it was the first time the birth of Christ was celebrated.
There was, as most Christians know, a time when Jesus was visited by the wise men, known as Magi. (Matthew 2:1) While we give gifts to each other in remembrance of his immaculate conception, they gave the Christ child gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which the significance of those items I’m likely to get into some day.
Before that, there were the shepherds who were told of his birth from a hillside. (Luke 2:16)
Going back further, his birth was celebrated by the prophets, such as in Isaiah 7:14.
If we really want to dig down deep, we have to look back at the book of Genesis (3:15), don’t we? That’s when the Christ was first promised to humanity.
So that should be the answer, right? We can’t go further back than the beginning. But God can!
Yes, Jesus was called the Lamb slain before the creation of the world. (Revelation 13:8)
Jesus was always going to come to earth to save us. He was always going to be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. He was always going to be the Savior, giving righteousness to all who would believe in Him. (Romans 3:22)
Christmas began with Jesus, before anyone knew His name, and it will always go back to Him.
We don’t just celebrate a holiday. We celebrate a Person: Jesus Christ.
Oh! I promised a special surprise for my readers.
I’m a writing a Christmas novel! Most of the details will remain secret for now, but it will be a tale of father and son and Christmas will abound in this story. I plan on releasing the book near Christmastime 2018, so look forward to updates on here and various social media outlets.