For children, Christmas stirs the imagination with visions of reindeer, elves and a white-bearded man in a red suit who lives at the North Pole. I agree with author Mary Ellen Chase who wrote, “Christmas is not a date on the calendar. It is a state of mind.” It has the power to usher in memories of our childhood days and, like a time machine, it can even transport us back to the pleasures of our youth. It is a time for celebration, festivals and gift-wrapping new memories with family and friends.
Dictionary.com describes Christmas as “the annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus.” Some historians say the holiday was originally known as “The Feast of the Nativity of Jesus.” The word “nativity” comes from the Latin word Natalis, meaning birthday. The word “Christmas” comes from the Old English “Christ Mass” which was a mass held to celebrate the birth of Christ.
The actual date of his birth is not known, but historians say 4th century Pope Julius I chose Dec. 25 for the celebration as a way to include a Christian element in the long-established mid-winter festivals. The Christmas tradition appears to date back as far as 200 A.D., but did not become widespread until the middle ages. Just a brief glance at history tells us that “Jesus IS the reason for the season.”
Today the Christmas season is permeated by traditions, festivals and events accumulated through the centuries. Many people have expressed concern that the holiday has become largely secularized and dominated by gifts, decorated trees and Santa Claus. However, several of these customs have roots in the Christian tradition.
The origin of Santa Claus is traced to a real 4th century Greek Christian Bishop in Turkey known as St. Nicholas of Myra. The bishop was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, especially impoverished children. St. Nicholas was said to be very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. Following his death on Dec. 6, AD 343, the name St. Nicholas became associated with folklore and legend. Children would hear tales of him galloping on his horse between the rooftops and dropping candy down the chimneys into the children’s shoes. Santa’s red and white suit is said to reflect the original colors of St. Nichols’ traditional bishop’s robes.
The Christmas wreath is said to have originated in Eastern Germany as a custom of the Lutheran Church. They are round to symbolize God’s endless mercy and grace. The wreaths were originally made of evergreens to symbolize God’s eternalness and our immortality. Green is also the church’s color of hope and new life.
The candy cane also has its origin in the Christian tradition. A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would represent the true meaning of Christmas. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. The white symbolizes the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Christ. The hard symbolizes the Solid Rock and firmness of the promises of God. He formed the candy into a J to represent the name of Jesus. It could also represent the staff of the Good Shepherd. The candy maker then stained the white J with stripes of red to represent the sacrifice of Christ and His gift of eternal life.
Christmas started because of the birth of a baby, but to a large extent it has drifted far from its religious roots. Each year brings controversy over whether to use “Merry Christmas” or “happy holidays” as a greeting. In some areas, the Christmas tree has become a “holiday” tree and nativity scenes have been removed from public display by court order. There is clearly an effort to change Christmas into a purely secular holiday with the elimination of all religious symbols.
The story of “The Grinch That Stole Christmas” is being played out in real life as this Christian holiday is attacked from all sides. Yet, despite the onslaught I do not believe the effort will succeed … as long as we keep Christmas in our hearts.
On behalf of Bradley County government, I wish every citizen a safe, healthy and happy Christmas. It is an honor to serve Bradley County and I am again thankful this Christmas for the trust you place in me. I am glad Bradley County is my “home for the holidays.”
From my family to you and your family, Merry Christmas!