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

Being Polite

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts…and be ye thankful.” Colossians 3:15 KJV

Being polite is something that seems to be going out of style. I will never forget the first time I went to California and was talking to a lady; she asked me a question and I answered with “yes, ma’am.” I literally thought she was going to drop to the floor. She grabbed my arm and told me it had been a long time since she had heard someone who was as young as I, be polite.

I hadn’t really thought about it since then until I was at the store the other day. The cashier and bag boy were exchanging a very personal conversation in front of me and some other customers. When I asked a question about my total, they were very short with me. As I collected my bags, I received no “thank you” or “have a nice day.”

The same day a woman almost ran her cart into mine. She just huffed and went on. There was no “oh, I’m sorry” or “I didn’t see you – excuse me.” Has all of our self-centeredness somehow made us lose our desire to be polite? As a society, are we just too busy to say a few words of kindness?

I do my very best to make sure I thank people for things they do for me. Not because I have to say it, but because I truly appreciate what they did, and I want them to know it. They were nice to me––shouldn’t I be polite back?

Many times we keep company with people who do not show gratitude or respect. I have a theory about this. If your friend does something for you, and you say “thank you” or show respect to others in front of your friend, they will pick up on your habits. If someone opens a door for you or helps you with your bag, show them gratitude. Perhaps they are having a bad day and your small words could make it better. If you see an older person who needs help, help him/her. And when you do I guarantee if you use “yes, ma’am” or “no, sir” it will make their day. Maybe they are lonely and just want someone to be nice to them.

Being nice can be like an infectious disease. If you see others doing it and everyone is taking joy in it, you want to join in.

One of the hardest times to be polite is when others are being so rude. Our instinct seems to be to immediately snap back. I have done it…we all have. It is very hard to hold our tongue. But, there is this old saying “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. That means that if we are sweet and kind, we can win people over much easier than if we are sour and rude. So, the next time someone says something mean, say something nice. It may make their mood better too!

It is relatively easy to implement these changes. Start small. Since this is November and Thanksgiving is this month, start with “thank you.” Anytime you have the opportunity to thank someone, take it. Every month implement another polite word into your vocabulary. Before you know it, the words of hate and anger and impatience (and all the feelings that go along with them) will have no room anymore.

By Sarah J. Ancheta

Light vs. Darkness

Since Halloween is at the end of this month, I thought it would be appropriate to share the true history with you and also discuss how as Christians and teenagers, we could take part in a celebration with our friends, without conforming to the wickedness that was originally intended for Halloween.

According to, Halloween dates back to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1 and this day marked the beginning of the dark, cold winter––a time of year that was associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead were blurred and the ghosts of the dead could return to earth. They would have bonfires and wear costumes and attempt to tell each others’ fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

In the seventh century, November 1 was designated All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was called All-hallows and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. On Halloween, it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, and, to avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants helped popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition. In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft.

At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season, and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything “frightening” or “grotesque” out of Halloween celebrations. Because of their efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats. A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow.

While I have read many different versions of the history, most of them follow the history given above. Things that are generally associated with Halloween (i.e., witches, soothsayers, vampires, etc.) came into effect with the mesh of all the cultures that came to America.

Whether others celebrate this holiday as witches, warlocks, or vampires, as Christians we must reject these ideas. “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you.” Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (NAS)

Although most of us don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday, many of us have celebrated or are familiar with the celebration of Halloween. Growing up, we would dress up in usually-handmade costumes that we had been planning out for months in advance and would try to find the biggest pillowcase or bag to collect candy in. We never even associated the holiday with evil or witchcraft.

When I became a teenager (and was too old to trick-or-treat), my friends still dressed up on Halloween, but they did it to cause trouble. They would go out late at night and toilet paper and egg houses, smash pumpkins, and generally make a mess around town––their reasoning being that since they were too old to get the “treat” they now get to “trick.”

“Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” Ephesians 5:7-11 (KJV)

This is where today’s teens come in. Perhaps instead of going out “tricking” with your friends this year, why not hold a different kind of party on Halloween? Choose something that is geared to the good rather than evil. Maybe have a costume party where everyone wears something that portrays a positive outlook rather than an evil one. Make foods that are associated with the time of year. Candied apples, roasted pumpkin seeds, and hot apple cider are wonderful in the cool autumn air. Have a hayride and bob for apples. These things you can do without being caught up in the negativity that is usually associated with the Halloween holiday.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that God wants us to walk in the light–– not in darkness!

By Sarah J. Ancheta

[poll id=”23″] [poll id=”24″]

Handling Disagreements

One of the things I have realized since high school is that it always seemed as though girls were in the most arguments. Usually, it seemed to be over petty things. I can’t even begin to tell you the subjects of the many disagreements I had with my friends. And it seems as if the primary instigator of arguments in high school has to do in some way with boys.

As teenage girls, we have a lot going on within ourselves. With hormones and physical changes, plus juggling school and homework, it can all be a bit overwhelming. But let me assure you, ladies, any guy worth having is not going to be flattered by you fighting over him. He may be flattered that you like him, but physically or verbally fighting with someone you are suppose to be friends with is only going to make him question your character. I have to say, I don’t recall ever fighting with my friend over a boy. Now, we argued over whether or not the guy was right for us, but never about which one of us liked him first, or about whether we were taking the other friend’s “man.”

Another huge issue is physical violence. I am sure most of us have heard about the videos posted on the internet of girls fighting. Why would they fight? Why would they stoop to violence? Sometimes the reason given was simply that they didn’t like the other person. There will be plenty of people in life that we will not like and will not get along with. But that is no reason to hit anyone. Walk away. Don’t waste your time or energy on someone who “pushes your buttons.” Remember, Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and those who persecute us. Them hitting you first is not a reason to fight. As Christians we need to be godly people and be willing to walk away. Matthew 5:38-39 tells us: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Remember, there is a line between fighting and self defense. Usually if you walk away, the most someone is going to do is call you names. But, if you fight with them, one or both of you could end up hurt. As Christians, we should be different from the rest of the world. Fighting and arguing only makes us blend in with the world.

Even during an argument, a true friend would not hit you. That is part of the respect gained by the friendship. I don’t have to worry about being hit in response to anything I say to my friend, because I know she would never hit me, even if it was something she didn’t like. I am the same way with her. In high school, we occasionally said things we didn’t mean about the other. But that never led us to hitting each other.

Many times fights are escalated because instead of talking to the person involved, we talk to other people about the issue. This happened many times with my friend. I can see now how wrong we were. We both usually felt like if we talked it out with others, then we would not say something we didn’t mean to the other. But, in the end, the story usually got turned into gossip and words were put into each of our mouths. I can assure you, the best thing to do when you argue with your friend is to talk to her about it first. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother” (Matthew 18:15). We should also never fail to ask for the forgiveness of those whom we have hurt. This is an important step in clearing up arguments and disagreements and should not be overlooked.

There are many ways to handle different disagreements. Usually the solution depends on the exact situation. If you feel as though you and your friend need help working out a disagreement, ask a parent, counselor, or teacher. Sometimes an outside party can see a solution to the problem that you are both overlooking. Don’t let it get out of hand. It is always good to remember that as Christians, we should always strive to be an example in any situation. By studying God’s word and letting His light shine through us, we can show others what a true friendship should be.

By Sarah J. Ancheta

Cliques and Gossip

Heading back to school after the summer can be hard. Dealing with new friendships and the stresses that go along with beginning a new school year and our changing routine can make it rough. Two major problems that usually seem to develop around this time with friends are cliques and gossip. These are things that we as Christians need to be careful not to get caught up in.

Living Outside the “In” Crowd

Although we don’t always intend to, we often have a tendency to divide ourselves into groups. In high school, these groups are known as cliques. Webster’s dictionary describes cliques as “small, exclusive circles of people.” These circles are usually formed with people we like and know well. We are comfortable with them.

A close group of friends is not necessarily a bad thing. As humans, it is natural for us to have friendships and want to spend time with people with whom we relate. However, cliques can make it difficult to create friendships with people who are outside that circle. Cliques are often based on stereotypes, and exclude people who do not “fit in.”

Looking back at high school, I remember the cliques that were based on social class and whether or not the tag or label on your shirt was a certain brand. Why does what is on the inside of our shirt determine our popularity? While it is important to keep company with people who lift us up and support our beliefs and values, it is also important to be kind to everyone, whether our other friends like that person or not. Just because someone is not what we would consider “cool” does not mean that their soul is not worth the same as ours.

It seems that in high school everything is a popularity contest. But whose standard is that popularity based upon? The popular one is usually not the one who hangs out with someone who is considered un-cool. If Jesus were a student at your school, what would he be considered? A kid who conforms so that he can be part of a clique, or the one who is nice to everyone, helping the poor un-cool kid who just tripped and dropped his books, keeping his faith and still showing others kindness? In his time, Jesus was looked upon as un-cool. Mark 2:15-17 tells of Jesus sitting down to eat. And, as he did so, publicans (tax collectors) and sinners came and ate with him. The Pharisees and scribes did not like this. In those days, those were not the types of people you were to associate yourself with. And Jesus responded to their criticism, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus broke away from the “in” crowd to spread his message.

I cannot say that it is bad to be part of a clique. It is important, however, to be part of a clique that accepts people; not for their clothes or wealth or abilities, but for their value to God.


I will admit that gossip is something I have struggled with before. As women, we seem to have this desire to know everything about everyone. A lot of times, I don’t even realize I am doing it. As I get older, I realize that most of the gossip that I have spread had no effect on my life whatsoever, and it only wasted time I could have spent on something else. And even though the one I was gossiping about may never have heard about it or been hurt by my comments, it hurt them in the eyes of others. The gossip was unsubstantiated claims; I often didn’t know where it came from or who it would end up hurting.  “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1Timothy 5:13).

High school was an endless array of who said what about who and why. And usually, what you hear in high school as far as gossip goes is either a lie or a half truth. Have any of you ever played the game where people line up and something is whispered to the first person in the line, who then passes it on, spreading it all the way down the line to the very end? What is said aloud by the last person is never the same thing that was given by the first. That is because along the way people misunderstood what was said to them, and they made up something that sounded like it might fit into the sentence.

That scenario is what usually happens to rumors. No two people hear exactly the same thing, or understand it in the same way. So, when each person changes a word or the way something was said, before you know it, the story is nothing like what really happened.

Many times, we will hear gossip right in front of us. It is important that we take a stand to stop the spread of this. Although usually the person saying it may be one of your friends, we need to let them know that what they are doing is not okay. Perhaps you can point out to them that unless they were there, know the whole story, and the story will effect one of you, then he/she should not be telling it. Usually once you show them that until they have all the facts it is not good to speak, they will stop. If your simple objection does not work, maybe you could ask them how they would feel if it was them that others were talking about. Let them know that by talking about others, we lower ourselves.

Gossip can cause loss of trust, loss of friends, and it can damage our reputation. Who would want to have a friend who cannot keep a secret? Proverbs 11:13 states, “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”

There are several ways to control our gossiping. What I have learned to do is ask myself five important questions: “Is the information true?” If I do not know firsthand, then I have no right to speak about it. “Is the information going to hurt someone?” “If it hurts someone, who will it hurt?” “If it were about me, would I want others to know?” and, most importantly, “Does the information have any effect on my life or the life of the person I am telling it to?” If the gossip is not going to affect the person’s life of whom I am telling, then what is the point of them knowing? There is no reason for them to know if they are not affected by it. Like I said, I have struggled with gossip myself. Many women have. But, it is important that we remind ourselves that gossip can hurt our friends and loved ones and even ourselves. This school year, let what you don’t say make a statement about who you are!

By Sarah J. Ancheta

Freedom in Jesus’ Friendship

Most of us look for many things in a friend. We want someone who is trustworthy and loyal. We look for someone who has our back through thick and thin. I am sure each of us could write a long list of characteristics we want in a friend. But, how often do we think about what we need to give to our friends.

When I think of friends in the Bible, the first story that comes to mind is that of David and Jonathan. “And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1). Can you imagine loving anyone as you love your own soul? And David felt the same about Jonathan. Upon hearing of Jonathan’s death, David calls Jonathan his brother (2 Samuel 1:26).

I have had the same best friend for over fifteen years. I consider her a sister. We grew up together. If one of us was in trouble, the other one was too! Our families are friends, and even though we no longer live in the same town, she knows if she needs something, she can call my parents or almost anyone in my family and they would be there in a minute. But, as much as I consider her a sister due to the length and closeness of our friendship, I do not love her like my own soul. Is it really possible to love someone like that?

I would like to think that if faced with a life-or-death situation, I would be the hero. I would put my life on the line to save a friend. People in our country do it everyday in various lines of work for people who are not even acquaintances, let alone friends. But, without being in that situation, it is very hard to say if I would be able to follow through. Would I die for my friend? “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Proverbs 18:24 states, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” What type of friend are we to Jesus? Do we dare think that we owe him nothing for His sacrifice? Or, does the sacrifice of His life open up a freedom for us that no law offered by our country could give?

When Jesus was on the earth, He walked on water, fed the multitudes, calmed the storm, healed the sick—and died for us. Jesus died for us. He loved us like he loved his own soul. He died for us, who often don’t even consider Him a friend. He died so that we could live. He knows we are not perfect. If we were, He wouldn’t have needed to die for our sins. He is a friend who offers us forgiveness. When we obey God, through His son, we receive forgiveness. What other friend could offer us that? Better yet, we now know the greatest thing we can offer our friends here on earth–Jesus. Let your friends see Him through you. In everything you do, let them know that He is your friend first and that His friendship helps you to be a better friend to them.

The song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Scriven comes to mind. (It is one of my favorites.)

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and grief to bear.
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Dear God,
As we go about our daily lives, help us to share the freedom offered by Your forgiveness with others. Help us to show our friends here on earth that You alone are the ultimate friend who gave His Son that we could live. Help us to let Your light shine through us so that we can be better friends to others. Above all else Lord, we thank You for Your friendship and love.
In Jesus’ name we pray,

By Sarah J. Ancheta

Breaking Bonds

At some time in our lives most of us have had a bad friend. A friend who, for some reason or another, we believed supported us and our ideals. In reality, that friend just wanted someone who would make it seem like they were not alone in their bad behavior. These friends cause us to question our moral values and to stray from our personal relationship with God.

Many times our friends influence our decisions. In high school, it seems as though they influence most of our decisions. Everyone wants their friends to like and support what they do or how they act. But what if our friend is pressuring us to act in a way we know is inappropriate as a Christian? How do we remove that influence from our lives?

Even for people who are not Christians, peer pressure is the number one reason given for doing something they know is wrong. So when you tell people you are a Christian, it is as if you are automatically a target for even more peer pressure. Many people want to see a Christian stumble so that it will make what they do seem okay.

In order to prevent ourselves from stumbling we have to remove bad influences from our lives. Sometimes this means giving up a friendship that we have had for a long time. Summer may be the easiest time to start this process. Since school is out and you will not be seeing those people everyday, you may choose to use your summer to start your social life all over again.

The first step is to keep busy. There is this well-said saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” I used to hear it everyday when I was growing up. I hated doing chores and wanted nothing more than to hang out with my friends. But, when asked what we would be doing, I couldn’t give an answer, because we didn’t really know yet. Then I would hear the saying and cringe. I just wanted to fit in. Didn’t my mom understand that? Of course she did. That is why I was not allowed to go unless I could answer the question. She knew that if we really had nothing to do, then that nothing would turn into nothing good.

Volunteer at your local nursing home, hospital, or a shelter for the summer. It looks great on school transcripts and resumes, and you get a good feeling when you help others voluntarily. Aside from that, you will also have a good excuse for why you cannot hang out with that friend who brings you down. You could get a job for the summer, visit people at church, or get involved in your youth group. Do anything to keep yourself from getting involved with someone who is going to pull you away from God. James 4:4 tells us, “…whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”

You may also need to seek the help of family. This includes your Christian family. Sometimes removing a bad influence takes more than just you. Sometimes our guard can drop and we can be tempted to return to our old ways. This is where family comes in. They will show you support and remind you why you were changing your life around.

Removing negative influences takes time. Filling your time with other things is good, but doing it for a week or two is not going to stop that influence from creeping back up. The full summer would give you enough of a break that you may be able to stay away from the problem for good. When you go back to school, you may still have to face that “friend.” But now when you face them, you may have a different perspective and not be so willing to follow them. Maybe this time, you can lead.

By Sarah Ancheta