The Celebration of Christmas
Sometimes the word Christmas is abbreviated to Xmas. X is the equivalent of ‘ch’ and represents the word Christ in Greek. Christmas, the birthday of Jesus Christ, is all about love love of God for humankind. It is God the Father’s gift of the life and death of His Son in order that we may be able to enter into eternal joy. Many people are misled into believing that Christmas has its origins in paganism. This is not correct. Christmas is not older than Christ.
If Christ had not come there would be no Christmas. However, many of the customs surrounding Christmas Day do have their roots in pagan origins. In fact, it was because the people of ancient Rome were so entrenched in revelry and the celebrations associated with the festival of Saturn, held from December 17-25, and known as the Saturnalia, that the early Church thought it wiser to go along with harmless customs and allow them to be caught up with the Christmas joy that was beginning to make itself felt. Another explanation for the December 25 date could be that the early Church accepted that date as a follow-on to March 25, the day when, in the pre-Christian world, celebrations of spring and fertility took place. This would mark the Annunciation and nine months later, Christmas. It is thought that the first keeping of Christmas was that which Pope Evaristus, the fifth Pope and a native of Bethlehem, celebrated in the third year of his pontificate. Also, Pope Telesphorus is known to have kept it as a solemn day in 137 AD.
Even so, the early Christians did not celebrate the Day in such a big way as we do now. They were not concerned with the birth and childhood of Christ. What mattered to them was the message. Which he taught and the life of kindness and goodness He had led, His resurrection and above all, the hope He gave them. In any case, the common folk did not celebrate birthdays in the BC and the early AD periods. There was little understanding of the unique value of every person, but, as might be expected, birthday honours were accorded to the Caesars, the Herods and other ‘divine’ heads of governments. It was not until 313 AD, when Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome, issued the Edict of Milan giving freedom and civil rights to Christians for the first time that the Church was at liberty to openly celebrate the day of Christ’s birth.
This, Pope Liberius did in 354 AD, setting December 25 as the birthday of Jesus Christ. The first mention of it is in the almanac of 354 AD, and reads: Natus Christus in Betleem Juedeae (Christ born in Bethlehem in Judea). With the growing realization of the importance of the birth of Christ, the spiritual joy of the early Christians began to give way to more open rejoicing. Centuries passed and Europe became Christian. Britain was converted by St Augustine of Canterbury and his missionaries in 592 AD. Germany became Christian in the early part of the ninth century and Norway in the tenth. The bell tolled for Mass, people danced their ring dances and the poor begged for a slice of the feast in honour of the birth of Christ.
And so the season of Christmas developed Jesus was Jewish: however, His Jewishness was subordinate to God in Him. St Paul in his letter to the Galatians wrote: “So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).That is why the different peoples of the world dress the Gospel story in their own way, for, innate in us is the love of our own nation and culture. To the Indians the Holy Family is depicted as Indians, Papua New Guineans see the Holy Family like themselves and Koreans see them as Koreans and so on. Alice Emma Scibiorski, The Riches and Charms of Christmas.