The Meaning of Christmas--Its Traditions and Spirituality
The meaning of Christmas
In all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, most people tend to forget the real meaning of Christmas. Despite the pagan origins of some Christmas traditions (Check the articles linked in "the history of Christmas" below), it is fairly widely known that the literal meaning of the word Christmas is "Christ mass," referring to a service held in honor of Christ. Yet, even those of us who hold to the Christian faith often lose sight of the real meaning or else do not take it far enough.
Even though we may give mental and verbal assent to the fact that Christmas is the celebration of the Birth of Christ, we still often fail to grasp the significance of that event both for the world and for our individual lives. That is why I wrote my article "The Christmas Victory" which is now a sermon, and which now forms part of my newest novel by the same name. The article is a result of my discovering something in one of the Christmas scripture texts which I feel had been too long ignored or overlooked by the Christian community at large.
But before you jump to my article you might want to read the Wikipedia and History.com articles on the history of Christmas. Then you'll surely want to read about s the meaning of some of the traditions of Christmas, some of which I excepted from an interview by Ace Collins about his book. Following that, be sure to read the article on avoiding stress and keeping your balance at Christmas, as Christmas stress can really cause us to lose sight of the real meaning of Christmas. And, if you are doing any kind of merchandising around Christmas, be sure to check out the funny but poignant Christmas classic, Stan Freberg's "Green Christmas."
Finally, do check out my article to find out the real real meaning of Christmas (double "real" is intentional). I decided to put my article last, not only because I feel it is the most important, but also because it just seems that everything else leads up to it. You may not agree completely with my article, but do read through it and think through it and give it a chance. I'd appreciate any comments.
James M. Becher
I. The history of Christmas:
First you may want to check out the great article below from History.com for a somewhat detailed look at the history of Christmas throughout time to see how the traditions described below actually came into being and how they fit into the whole picture of the history of Christmas.
- Christmas from History.com
A really complete history of Christmas and it's traditions.
He who has no Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a tree.
II.The meanings of the Great Traditions of Christmas .
.The Candy Cane:
The candy cane was invented in 1670 in Germany as a reward and teaching aid for a children's choir. Later, Bob McCormick added colour, turning it into a world-wide reminder of the real meaning of Christmas
--Here are a few of the symbolic meanings of the candy cane, abbreviated from "The Legend of the Candy Cane."
- firmness=the church's solid foundation on Christ
- white=the purity of Jesus
- red stripes=Jesus’ stripes (blood from whipping)
- shape=shepherd’s crook or ‘J” for Jesus
- peppermint=tastes like hyssop, used in cleansing
- sweetness=the sweetness of Christ
The Great Traditions of Christmas continued...
- Since gold.is precious it speaks of Christ's kingship, but it also represents His Divinity. Green speaks of the eternal life which is ours through faith in Christ, and red represents the blood of Jesus which was shed for our sins,.... .
--More meanings of the Great Traditions of Christmas--(Some are from Ace Collins, summarised from his interview with Eva Marie Everson.)
.The date of Christmas:
[Here's the gist of Ace's answer:] The date of Christmas was set about 350 years ago as December 25 by the church in an effort to do away with the pagan Roman celebration, Saturnela which involved a lot of drinking and sin. But, it didn't work. While the Roman holiday was forgotten, in England and other places, the Christmas partying with the drinking and violence went on for more than 1,000 years
..The practice of giving gifts obviously relates back to the magi, or wise men, giving gifts to Jesus as recorded in the 2nd chapter of Matthew's gospel. .[the gist of more from Ace Collins:] Originally gifts were tied to the tree..and..opened when it was taken down, ... on the feast of Epiphany.... Later..Nikolaos of Myra. a 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor .started secretly putting small gifts into shoes and stockings of needy children. That evolved into Christmas gift giving and Santa Clause. Of course Clement Moore's poem ['The Night Before Christmas'] had something to do with the latter as well. ....
...[summarised from Ace Collins::] 2 wonderful Christian men began the Santa Claus legend through their faith and selflessness , Nicholas, who gave presents to poor children..., and..Good King Wenceslas' who would go through the snow giving out gifts to his poorest subjects.
... X or Chi is the first letter of Christ.in Greek. [So, as Ace puts it:], for more than 1,000 years, the church spelled Christmas with just an X, ..not..to take Christ out of Christmas, but to put Him there where everyone, even those who couldn't read, could understand that [it's His day]. ...
III. Christmas gifts.
But, let's face it: For most of us Christmas means giving gifts (a tradition dating back to the magi who gave gifts to the Christ child) and, especially for the children, Christmas means, getting gifts. They can't wait for Christmas morning to find the gifts under the tree.
-Consider giving the gift of reading this year. Check out this hub:
- The;gift-of-Reading gift guide
Yes, why not give the gift of reading? Yes, give them a good book to read. They may not get as excited about it at first, but they'll thank you in the future.
IV. BUT: Let's take care to avoid being stressed out through all the madness of Christmas...
...and lose the meaning of Christmas
With all of the extra things to do at Christmas time, it can easily become a time of stressing rather than blessing.
Here is a great article on keeping our balance at Christmas, taken from my ezine, Inspirational Success Tips. The article is called "Keeping Your Balance at Christmas" and is actually an excpert from Home on Time by Ryan Rush. Here is the introduction summarised, following which I list the main points.
From "Keeping Your Balance at Christmas" by Ryan Rush: ...time can really be ..short ...during the holidays. Families are faced with... distractions and challenges...: Get-togethers, ...,, shopping, and decorating... [& workers] often have increased hours..... Blended families... juggle..schedules... So if the holiday season is looking more like a burden than a blessing, ..., try out these three simple planning remedies:
* Only Say "Yes" if it Really Matters
* Plan for Quiet Moments
* Put Some Creativity into Christmas."
You may also be able to find other helpful resources on the web for avoiding stress at Christmas time.
V. Take care also to avoid getting caught up in the commercialism of Chritmas. - especially if you are a business owner or are selling something like me.
I find I'm preaching to myself here, but, here's a funny but true Christmas classic which drives this point home marvelously. Take a listen.
Stan Freeberg's Green Christmas
It's a brilliant satirical parody of the over-commercialisation of Christmas merchandising, with Scrooge as chairman of the advertising board, and Bob Cratchet as the voice of reason, using traditional Christmas tunes with new and humorous satirical lyrics. You'll find this gem among others as one of the offerings on the below-mentioned Christmas music hub.
--For more funny Christmas songs and some really beautiful ones as well, check out this hub:
- Unique Christmas Music
There are many unique and beautiful Christmas songs of which most people are sadly unaware. I have included here uniquely beautiful Christmas folk songs and uniquely funny Christmas comedy songs.
VI. And, Don't Forget the Real Meaning of Christmas: Jesus Christ.
In the above cited piece of Christmas satire from Stan Freberg, Bob Cratchet is made to say "The people always hope you remember, but you never do." and when Scrooge asks "Remember what?" Cratchet replies 'Whose Birthday it is." So, let us not forget that the real reason for the season is to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one who came into the world to be our Savior. He came to be one of us, to live a perfect life among us, and to eventually die for us in order that he might win for us the victory over sin and death by purchasing for us, with his blood, a place in heaven.
The history of man is filled with wars. but these are but a symptom of the greater spiritual war—because of sin, man is naturally at war with his creator. and this spiritual warfare shows itself in several ways specifically at Christmas time. There’s the battle against depression , as Christmas brings memories of losses or tragedies that happened at that season in years past, or a realisation that our present state of finance is not all we hoped it would be. There’s the battle against stress as we struggle to get things done—cards sent, trees trimmed, presents bought, etc. Then, there’s the battle of the bulge as some find it harder at Christmas time to avoid over indulgence in food or drink. All these battles rage on, and yet, part of the message of the angels to the shepherds on that Christmas night was peace on earth, and peace is the result of victory.
In one African country, when tribes are at war and a child is born to one of the warring parties, that child is taken by the other side as a peace child, signifying that as long as the child lived there would be peace between the tribes. On Christmas, God sent his son to be our peace child--to bring an end to the enmity between us and God. That is the real meaning of Christmas--Jesus Christ, our Saviour. But there's a bit more to it yet. (Read on...)
If Jesus Christ had not come, it would be always winter and never Christmas— C.S.Lewis
VII. Discover the real true meaning of Christmas--the meaning behind the meaning.. Perhaps it's more than what you think.
CONCLUSION: THE CHRISTMAS VICTORY (The real true meaning of Christmas) (A logical and practical interpretation of Is.7:14 in the light of context and language.) By me, James M. Becher
As you celebrate Christmas, sending out cards, putting up the tree with bright lights and decorations and getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of gift-buying, do you stop to ask yourself what is the real meaning of Christmas? If you do, what is your answer? Simply that a babe was born in a manger 2000 years ago? But then, do you ask how does it apply to me? I'm sure some of you would say that of course the babe was our Savior, who would later die for our sins. True, but even this doesn't go quite far enough. In fact, it makes Christmas seem somewhat subordinate to Good Friday.
I believe however that if we would realize the full intent of His coming as given by God in the Holy Scriptures, we would see that we have good reason for making Christmas the major holiday it is and for celebrating to the hilt.
What, you ask, is the full intent of His coming? It is not simply that without his birth there would not have been His death, but rather that His birth was, in itself, a sign and guarantee both of this death and of the salvation it would bring in all its fullness. This fullness includes not only a future eternity, but also a present victory and freedom from fear in our everyday lives.
In Matthew 1:20-21, Joseph has a dream in which he is told by an angel of God not to be afraid to take Mary for his wife because "that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost, and she shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins." (To be continued after the recommended product link below:)
Celebrate His birth with these unique original songs:
The first song in the CD listed below celebrates this angelic announcement to Joseph (mentioned above) in a unique way. The CD also contains several other unique original songs by John Michael Talbot as well as some unique arrangements of traditional songs, including "O' come, O'come Emmanuel," which celebrates his taking on our form as "God with us" to deliver us as mentioned further down in this article. I have this CD and really enjoy playing it every Christmas season. It is truly unique, but I did not include it my hub on "Unique Christmas Music, " because there I concentrated only on folk music and humorous songs. This CD (below) is in a class all by itself.
The Christmas Victory continued: (Matthew and Isaiah:
The very name "Jesus" means "Savior," or more literally, "Deliverer." It is the transliteration of the Old Testament name, "Joshua." Thus, Joseph would no doubt have realised that, Just as Joshua led his people into victory in the land of Canaan, so Mary's son would be the one to lead us to victory in the land of our Spiritual heritage.
In verse 21, Matthew explains "Now All this took place that what is spoken by the LORD through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME EMMANUEL, WHICH TRANSLATED MEANS 'GOD WITH US.' Before we look at the quote, we must notice the word "fulfilled." In the original Greek, its literal meaning is "filled up" or "completed" or "completely filled." Also let me mention at this point, to avoid misunderstanding later, that the word for "virgin" in Matthew allows for NO other translation. Verse 23 is a direct quote from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) of Is.7:14, which uses the Greek word specifically indicating one who is a virgin. Please keep the meaning of these three Greek words in mind:
"Jesus" = Deliverer,"
"fulfilled= "completely filled up,"
"virgin" = "virgin."
There is no question that in Matthew the word "virgin" can only mean "virgin." When we come to original Hebrew Isaiah.7:14, however, the case is different. The Hebrew language, being much broader in its word usage than Greek, allows for several related meanings to be attached to one word within a general context or circle of meaning. The Hebrew word "alma," which was translated as "virgin" by the King James translators in Is.7:14 has a broad meaning of "a young woman of marriageable age, one of whose characteristics may or may not be that she is a virgin." (See I Chr.15:20, Psalms.68:25, Prov.30:19, Song 1:3 & 6::8) Thus, the translators of the RSV translated it as "young woman." They were roundly criticised, although this is a perfectly allowable translation, and one that fits more readily into the context. The immediate context would be the 7th and 8th chapters.
Forget Christmas for a moment--forget Matthew's quotation of verse 14 and try to picture yourself back in the time of Ahaz and Isaiah. In the beginning of Chapter 7, we see that we are involved with a situation of actual physical warfare. Ahaz, king of Judah is facing two enemies, Rezin, king of Syria and Pekah, king of Israel, and he's scared to death. Thus, the LORD sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz not to fear, because these two kings would be defeated. Sensing Ahaz's doubt, the LORD asked Ahaz to as Him for a sign, but Ahaz, in a false piety, refused. So the LORD said that He would give Ahaz a sign. Thus, we come to verse 14.
If we translate "alma" as "young woman" and continue reading through verse 16, we see clearly what the sign to Ahaz was. The LORD is saying that a child will be born, and before the child is of age, the land whose two kings Ahaz dreads will be forsaken. If we continue on into Chapter 8, we see that a child is indeed born. Isaiah had a son, whose name means "hast-ye-haste-ye-to-the-spoil," and a similar statement is made in verse 4 to that of 7:16, tying Isiah's son in with the prophecy of physical victory made to Ahaz. The child is even called "Emmanuel," which means "God with us" in verse 8. A Jewish boy is considered old enough to know right from wrong at 12 years old and the land was forsaken just twelve years later.
Now you have a clear picture of what verse 14 meant to Ahaz. "But," you ask, "How does all of this relate to Matthew's quotation of verse 14, and the use by Matthew of a word which could only mean 'virgin'?" I believe the answer lies in typological interpretation. Do you remember the other word used in Matthew, which is translated "fulfilled"? Remember we said that it literally means "completely filled up." The prophecy was only partially fulfilled in Ahaz's time. The complete fulfilment would come later on. Thus, Isaiah's son, whose very name has the ring of victory in it, was BOTH A SIGN TO AHAZ AND A TYPE OF THE ONE TO COME, WHO WOULD BE TO US A SIGN OF SPIRITUAL VICTORY. In 8:18, Isaiah says that he and his children are for signs and wonders in Israel, and the word used here for "sign" is also translated as "type." (A type is a real person place thing or event in the Old Testament, which also represents, by way of looking forward to, a corresponding Spiritual reality, [called the "anti-type"] in the New Testament.) This typological interpretation allows for the full meaning of "alma" to come into play. Ahaz heard it as "young woman" and saw it fulfilled as such in his time with the birth of Isaiah's son. But, looking back, we can see that this was not all that God intended. God had more in mind than the birth of Isaiah's son. He was also looking down the corridors of time to when He would send His son, through a virgin. Thus the prophecy was completely filled up by the birth of the anti-type, Jesus, as recorded in Matthew. Hopefully, we can now see more of the reason that Jesus came and why we can celebrate his birth to the full. (continued after photo:)
...The Christmas Victory continued...(God with us):
Ahaz feared two enemies. We also have two enemies, which we need now no longer fear. I mentioned Is.8:18. This verse is quoted in the New Testament in Hebrews.2:13 in reference to the incarnation of Christ and His identification with the believers, and verses 14 & 15 show that he came to set us free from the fear of death, and that in order to do so, He had to become one of us. Paul also speaks of this victory over death in ICor.15:55-57. This ties in with the green of the evergreen tree representing eternal life. It also looks forward to His second advent, the expectation of which we should also be celebrating at this season and which Paul referred to verse 51-54 of the I Cor. passage. Jesus had to come and take upon Him our human nature-to truly become our Emmanuel (God with us) . Although He was God, in order to save us, he had to become man.
In order to defeat death, Jesus also had to defeat is the 2nd enemy--sin, mentioned in verses 17 & 18 of Hebrews 2. In vs. 17 he sets us free from the penalty of sin by taking it upon himself and thus wins the victory by waging peace. Thus included in the Angels message to the Shepherds was "Peace on earth." But real peace starts with inward peace and that starts with peace with God which results in the peace of God.
In vs. 18, we see that He also sets us free from the power of sin by being tempted like us. He had to become man--take our nature upon Him and be tempted like us in order to be qualified to help us when we are tempted. Paul Harvey always used to tell this story about a man and some birds around Christmas time. It became a tradition, as we always used to look forward to hearing it, and it fits perfectly, for if we try to be good and resist temptation in our own human efforts we are like those birds, flapping around furiously in the snow and getting nowhere until we put our trust in the one who became one of us to lead us to victory.
This. then, is the real meaning of Christmas-that Jesus came to be our sign of victory-to show us that we need no longer fear the enemies of sin and death. It is evident as well in Chapter 9 of Isaiah, where the specific promise of the birth of Christ-the son to be given in verse 6-is couched in the language of warfare and victory (vs.4 & 5). It is further confirmed by the prophecy of the angel to Mary in Luke 1:33, and in the Magnificant of Mary and the Benidictus of Zacharias (Luke 1:46-55 & a68-79), especially vs.69, 71, &74-75. These especially present the idea that Jesus delivers us for fear-free service to God, and through serving Him, to serve others. Read these wonderful portions of scripture and rejoice in the fact that victory can be yours through faith in Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at this time of year.
"Hast-ye-haste-ye-to-the-spoil!" May the bright lights beautifully trimmed trees and other decorations, fancily wrapped gifts and especially the babes in the manger scenes we see this season serve to remind us of the glorious victory which can be ours, once we have accepted the free gift of His salvation to us.
See how I combine the sermon and the bird story in my unique historical novel by the same title as the sermon:
- Unique historical novel: "The Christmas Victory"
My 5th published book is a unique historical novel, called "THE CHRISTMAS VICTORY, A Gem of a Sermon All Wrapped Up in A Historicak Novel." It's about H.W. Longfellow, his son and and Mark Twain.
--Experience more of the real meaning of Christmas daily:
As I pointed out in my message (above) Jesus had to come and take upon Him our human nature. Although He was God, He had to become man. This resource (below) will help you to really enter into daily the fullness of what that entails: This is the meaning of the Incarnation. This is the meaning of Christmas. When we cut through all of the sentiment and marketing to the spiritual richness and vitality of Christmas, we not only discover who God is, but who we are as human beings. When we become adults, and the wide-eyed wonder of childhood has passed, we need to replace what was once magical with something much more meaningful. Now is the time to put first things first, and seek silence, if only for a few precious minutes a day. Now, ever more intently, we are to watch and listen for God.
The resource listed below, named after the title of Jesus given in the 8th chapter of the prophesy of Isaiah, is not a book to be read through but an experience to be realized daily. It is the perfect tool for those who want to enter into the way the early Christians experienced the Christmas season--from Advent to Epiphany.
It is truly a smorgasbord of Scripture, reflection, prayer and history, with daily meditations for the complete seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, enhanced by carefully selected classic and contemporary art masterpieces.
Check your understanding and knowledge: Click to take my Christmas symbols quiz.
- Quiz: Christmas symbols and significance
Now that you've been through this hub have seen some of the meanings of the Christmas traditions, why not test your Christmas knowledge, your yuletide mettle, your holiday trivia by taking my Christmas quiz? Click the above link.