The ‘Christ’ Part of Christmas

“Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees,
tinsel and reindeers, but there must be no mention
of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders
how a teacher would answer if a student asked
why it was called Christmas.”

-Ronald Reagan

I would say that it is that time of year again, but it has been, in the world’s eyes, since November 1st. For some reason, people find it necessary to be thinking about the holiday of Christmas for nearly two months time leading up to the actual day and then think about the next holiday come the 26th. People seem to keep getting more and more excited for the holiday as it approaches until reaching the climax of excitement on Christmas morning as they feast their eyes upon the plethora of goodies left by jolly old St. Nick. After that, they seem to drop down completely from that excitement; they are no longer excited for Christmas, and they just look forward to whatever is next, whether it be New Years or if they just look forward to Valentines Day.

Cutting down trees, putting them in their house and putting lights and ornaments on them. Putting lights on the outside of their house. Waiting until Christmas morning to receive a plethora of gifts from their family and from a chubby, jolly old bearded man who comes down the chimney. Hanging oversized socks on the mantle of the fireplace. Getting into fights with people over things at stores to give them to other people. These all seem like very strange traditions to blindly follow. Don’t get me wrong: these are things in which I participate (minus the getting into fights). They just seem like very odd traditions for one to follow for no reason whatsoever except for the fact that it’s Christmas. Christmas has truly developed into a cultural holiday, during which people lose sight of the reason for the season. Some of the traditions I can trace back to their original purpose, while others remain questionable. [Most of these I’m looking up.] It’s good to keep in mind why we do certain things.

Santa Claus

The idea of Santa Claus, though gradually embellished through the centuries,Santa-List-Meme originally came from St. Nicholas. There are certain legends about St. Nicholas. The most well known involves him throwing money down a chimney in order to help provide for a family. The family (including a poor father and three daughters) could not afford a dowry, so the girls would not have been able to get married. Being humble as he was, Nicholas did not want to be seen, so he threw the money down the chimney (or, as in other versions, in through the window). St. Nicholas, and then Santa Claus, became a symbol of selfless giving. That became the main idea of giving gifts (which also came from the pagan holiday from which Christmas piggy-backed): the selfless exchanging of gifts. The reception of gifts was merely a perk that resulted from others’ selfless giving. However, Christmas developed into a holiday during which people got to get things. [Another legend regarding St. Nicholas, less known, involves the Council of Nicaea. St. Nicholas, a strong opponent of the heresy of Arianism, went and punched Arius in the ear because he could not stand listening to the heretic any longer. For punching a bishop, he was thrown into jail and no longer had the faculties of being a bishop. However, while in jail, Jesus and Mary appeared to him and returned his vestments and faculties to him. When he was visited in the morning, he was given back his ‘power’ as a bishop.]

Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree developed as a Christianized pagan tradition. Christians (obviously) discouraged the pagan tree worship that occurred. The story goes that St. Boniface cut down a tree that was dedicated to Thor and pointed out a fir tree. He said that the fir tree was a more worthy symbol of reverence, because it pointed to Heaven and, being triangular, was a symbol of the Trinity. The Christmas tree started as a symbol and decoration that would always remind people the reason for the season. This is a tradition I had to look up. No one seems to know about the origin of this tradition. Once we put these traditions in proper perspective, we are able to understand why we do certain things. Plato believed that he unexamined life is not worth living. When we are younger, it is one thing to blindly follow things, because we cannot understand the reasons. But as we get older, we need to be able to look into things and figure out why we believe or do certain things. Placing gifts under the tree allows us to see that we all do it selflessly for God’s greater glory, as it points up to Heaven.

Decorative Plants

There are certain traditions of placing ivy, holly with its thorns and berries, etc. as decorations during Christmastime. The heart-shaped leaves of ivy was originally established as a symbol of the coming birth of Jesus Christ. Holly was viewed as a protection against pagans and witches. The thorns and berries of the holly came to represent the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ and the blood he shed. Poinsettias, with colors of red and green, acted as a good decoration for the Christmas season. Mistletoe, as understood as a symbol of romance and fertility, became a commonly used decoration under which people would kiss. [The tradition is not completely understood, though.]

Lights

The use of lights developed from the tradition of placing candles in windows and on the Christmas tree. The candles demonstrated the fact that Christians believed that Christ was the light of the world. The light of the world was coming into the world. Christians would place lights in their windows during Advent to show that they were anticipating the coming Light.

The Colors of the Season

The traditional colors of Christmas are red, green, and gold. Red was used to symbolize the blood that Christ shed at His crucifixion. Green was used to symbolize eternal life, which was especially seen in the evergreen tree which did not shed its leaves in the winter. Gold was the first color ever associated with Christmas, being the gift of the Magi and a symbol of royalty with Christ as King.

These are just a few of the traditions we follow to celebrate the Christmas season. If you notice, these traditions find their origins in the Christian faith. The very word of ‘Christmas’ means Christ’s Mass. Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s coming into the world. Unlike what some people think, Christians in general, including the Catholic Church, do not believe that Christ was actually born on December 25th; we do not know the exact date on which Christ was born. December 25th is merely the day on which we celebrate His birth. Lacking the knowledge of Christ’s actual birthday, the Church found a commonly celebrated pagan holiday (the Feast of the Unconquered Sun) and placed Christmas (the Unconquered Son) in the midst of that, in order to encourage its celebration.

X-MasNowadays, a common method of trying to remove ‘Christ’ from Christmas includes referring to it as ‘X-Mas.’ However, people often don’t know the origins of the term. The Greek word for Christ is ‘Χριστός,’ with the first letter being chi (X). As Christmas was used throughout the centuries, ‘X-Mas’ became a shortened way of referring to Christmas. So when people try to take Christ out of Christmas by referring to the holiday as ‘X-Mas,’ all that they are doing is accepting the Christian development of celebrations of the holiday. The only true way that someone can take the Christ out of Christmas is by celebrating the pagan holiday of the Unconquered Sun. However, they would no longer be celebrating Christmas. Christ is truly the reason for the season. No one can truly neglect Christ while celebrating the holy-day (holiday) of Christmas.

Christmas Mass in Christmasis ultimately a solemnity as celebrated in the Catholic Church. Solemnities are celebrated starting the evening before – hence the recognition of Christmas Eve. The chief way of celebrating solemnities is by joining in a celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist at Mass (ChristMAS, the MASS of Christ). By participating in Christ’s sacrifice at the Mass, we, as Catholics, recognize Christ’s reason for coming to us in the Incarnation: to give Himself in sacrifice on the Cross in order to redeem all people. One cannot neglect to realize the true reason for the season: a celebration of the Incarnation, the Nativity, of our Lord Jesus Christ. By removing either ‘Christ’ or ‘Mass’ from Christmas, one neglects the reason for which they celebrate the holiday. Everyone seems to make such a big deal about the holiday, but, at the same time, they forget WHY they make a big deal. Presents, gifts, things seem to have become the only reason for this season. However, when one neglects the Incarnational purpose of celebrating Christmas, they miss out on the best gift that anyone could ever receive: Jesus Christ Himself.

“How many observe Christ’s birthday!
How few, His precepts!”

-Benjamin Franklin

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Duc In Altum

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