What is Christmas? It is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But how would you feel if you were born on February 15 but no one celebrated your birthday until September? Well, that is exactly what happened to Jesus. He was actually born in the spring, no one really knows the actual date but the Bible itself hints at this plus historians know that the census Joseph and Mary were participating in happened in the spring. But the early Christian church had a problem, well, actually it had a lot of problems but with regard to the birth of Jesus they would have had to place his birth around the time of Easter. And how would that work? Celebrating the birth and death of Jesus in the same month, maybe even the same week? Their resolution was to take over the old Roman holiday of Saturnalia which was on December 25. This was done to displace one of the many pagan holidays with Christian holidays.
But Christmas as a holiday was really an invention of the 17th Century Christians. But not all Christians! The Puritans of America considered the holiday as blasphemous and did not participate. And even with those who did celebrate it, it was ill-defined. An English tradition called wassailing was imported to America. In late 18th Century Boston bands of boys would go around the city banging on doors and demanding food. Needless to say, the gentry of Boston thought Christmas just a nuisance. And even in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was simply uttering the feelings of many Englishmen of the day, that Christmas was just an excuse for workers to get a day off. Similar sentiments were held in America.
But as the 19th Century rolled on, the first Christmas Card was invented, a minister wrote The Night Before Christmas for his children and the sentiment of good will and giving was born. The first American Christmas carol was written by Phillips Brooks of Andover Massachusetts in the 17th Century. That carol is Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. But most carols were written in the late 19th Century and 20th Century. The words of these carols usually speak of the nature of Christmas.
That said, I suggest that even though Christmas was born in the Christian tradition, it is no longer a strictly religious holiday celebrated only by Christians. Many people who do not believe in Jesus as a messiah or deity, celebrate the date none-the-less. Many in the American Jewish community will have both the menorah and Christmas tree in their homes. And if not the tree, then Christmas ornaments. It should be noted that the idea of bringing greens into the household is also an old Roman tradition that went with Saturnalia.
For those who are not Christian they can still celebrate the spirit of Christmas. The old idea and ideal of peace and good will should easily transcend all beliefs to be embraced by people of any religion or of no religion at all. The idea of selfless giving at this time of year can be practiced by anyone. It is my hope that this year when Americans consider the people of Islam they look upon them using the spirit of Christmas, good will to all. And this spirit should be extended to everyone of any belief.