The True Meaning of Christmas

Many Christians are divided on how the Christmas holiday should be celebrated. Some people celebrate Christmas as Christ’s birth; some feel that it’s wrong to celebrate Christmas at all; and others are somewhere in between. Growing up, I can remember the topic arising and the argument being made that because Christmas is not substantiated biblically, we should reject it. I think many people assume they understand the meaning behind the holiday, without looking up its background for themselves.

Christmas History

I went to my well known (and respected) source,, and was actually surprised at how little I knew about the roots of this holiday. While it is true that it has origins of Catholicism, it is based on many different beliefs that became meshed into one holiday. Over time, these beliefs and traditions have slowly changed, and the holiday no longer carries the same meaning as it once did.

Check this out: around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra’s birthday was the most sacred day of the year. In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. The Bible does not mention the date of his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that His birth may have occurred in the spring, Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by AD 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.

The pilgrims, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s peaked American interest in the holiday? The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.

What that Means Today

Christmas as a religious holiday by the Catholics was in response to a holiday already celebrated by the Romans. Some people look at this holiday as something negative that we are restricted from partaking in, and others look at Christmas as a time when we are supposed to celebrate Christ’s birth, but in reality, neither is the case.

We need to keep in mind that perhaps there’s a reason God didn’t put Jesus’ birth date in the Bible – the date doesn’t matter, because we are supposed to celebrate is His death, burial, and resurrection all the time. God’s word is perfect and complete (2 Timothy 3:16-17); it’s no coincidence that His birth only takes up four chapters of the Bible, but His life and death take up considerably more. That being said, however, it is natural for many of us to think more about Jesus’ birth around Christmas time because reminders surround us. Even though we don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, we should be grateful for His birth every day because if He wasn’t born, then He couldn’t have lived and died for us. We can also use this time of year to invite our friends to church since they may be more open than usual to learning about His love.

We all give our own traditions, beliefs, and principles to everything we do. I have seen those who choose to celebrate the holiday by calling it something other than Christmas. To that, I quote Shakespeare, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Changing the name does not change the way you celebrate it. Be proud that you are taking that day to spend with your family. To appreciate everything God has given you and to glorify Him. It may not be Christ’s birthday. It may be just a day that some man with an idea set aside for family. Either way, celebrate it by spending time with your family and friends. Thank God that we have the resources to make it through the winter. Celebrate that winter has just begun (the first day of winter is usually either the 21st or 22nd of December). Give a gift. Find someone you know who does not know about Christ and share His love with them. I have to tell you, one year I gave my best friend a Bible for Christmas. Although it was not expensive, she was so happy to have it. I really think it is the best gift I could have given her––and I know that He is the best gift she could ever receive.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” James 1:17

Merry Christmas!
Sarah Ancheta

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