The very mention of Christmas evokes emotions of joy and celebration within Christians. Whether we are young or old, we cannot think of Christmas without Santa Claus, cribs, stars, a neatly decorated Christmas tree, homemade sweets and loads of fun. Did you ever think about the origin of this festival? Let us take a glance into this through history to see how the season of Christmas and its festivities developed. Have you ever wondered whether Jesus Christ was really born on December 25th? The answer is No! Because no one knows the exact date of the Messiah’s birth. The Holy Bible too does not provide us with any particular date. So, why do Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25th?
The early Christians certainly had many arguments regarding this. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336 A.D during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Constantine. A few years later Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus Christ would be celebrated on December 25th. Among the many different traditions and theories, a very early Christian tradition says that the day when Mary was told that she would have a very special baby, Jesus (called the Annunciation) was on March 25th – and it’s still celebrated today on the 25th March in some countries of the world. Nine months after March 25th is December 25th. December 25 may have been chosen because the birthday of the Pagan Sun God, Mithra was celebrated on this day. The early Christians might have given this festival a new meaning — to celebrate the birth of the Son of God, ‘the unconquered Son’!
What was the Star of Bethlehem and what did the three wise men actually see? Well, to be honest no one really knows. However, there are many theories including comets, super novas’, a conjunction of planets or something entirely supernatural. There are only 12 verses in the Holy Bible about the wise men and the star (Matthew, Chapter 2, Verses 1 to 12). They’re often called the ‘Three Kings’, but the Holy Bible does not mention how many men were there, or that they were kings. They had seen an unusual new star in the sky and knew that it mentioned about the birth of the Messiah, as foretold in Isaiah, Chapter 7, Verse 14. The Holy Bible tells us that they first saw the star in the east and then again when they were in Jerusalem, it went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the Christ child was born. The stars that we see lit up during Christmas are associated with this ‘Star of Bethlehem’.
Christmas would certainly be boring without nativity plays and carols being sung which breathe life into the season. The first Nativity play was performed by the monks in a cave in Italy. St. Francis of Assisi and his followers acted in the first play in 1223 A.D. to remind the local people of the region that Jesus Christ was born for them, as He was born into a poor family like theirs. St. Francis of Assisi narrated the part of each character in the story himself using wooden figures in the play. A few years later, the play had become very popular that real people played the part of the characters in the story. Songs were sung by the people taking part in the play and they soon became what we call as Christmas carols today.
A Christmas party is definitely not complete without the appearance of Santa Claus and the gifts and sweets distributed by him. Now from where did Santa Claus appear? The idea of Santa Claus began with St. Nicholas, a patron saint of children, who was a Bishop. He lived in the 4th century A.D. in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). Nicholas was a rich and kind person. He had a reputation for helping the poor and offering secret gifts to the people who needed them. There are several legends about St. Nicholas which portrays him distributing gifts to people.
So friends, as we celebrate Christmas today, let us focus on the real meaning behind this jingly season and its traditions. Christmas is a time to celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ who was a generous and gratuitous gift from God, the Almighty Father who created heaven and earth. It is a time of great happiness for God who left the confines of His divinity to enter into humanity forever. It also invites us to spread this joy to the people around us, to do for them something that shows your love and appreciation. Following the examples of the three wise men from the east and St. Nicholas, let us learn to be generous towards others, a generosity that is not just limited to material gifts, but also with our time.