Remember When . . .Christmas Was in the Air?

Remember When . . .Christmas Was in the Air?

Since I did a bit of a round-up in this week’s Word of the Week post, I thought I’d continue that trend today. 😀 Here you’ll find a list of all my past Christmas-themed posts throughout the years (or all the ones my search turned up, anyway, LOL). Have you missed one? Now’s the perfect time to catch up!

Christmas should be about Who is in our hearts, not about what’s under the tree…or even what family is around us.
We hear so much about the spirit of Christmas…but what about the Spirit this Christmas season?
A quick look at the very different appearances of Christmas on the pages of A Heart’s Revolution (formerly Love Finds You in Annapolis) and Ring of Secrets
How the Pilgrims and their descendants viewed Christmas
The reasons behind the red and green tradition
The real St. Nick and what he stood for(the inspiration for Giver of Wonders)
Commercial hoax or a real story?
Reflecting on the best gifts God has given 
A guest post on Colonial Quills about the Yule Log tradition
The histories of some of our favorite Christmas songs
A bit about the traditional 12 Days of Christmas, and the history of the Christmas Star
It wasn’t Constantine! LOL Christians had a real, beautiful (if odd by today’s thoughts) reason for naming December 25 as Christmas!
Why are we so upset when the non-Christian world doesn’t understand Christmas?
Behind the scenes as I designed the cover for my one and only Christmas novel

Remember When . . . the Date of Christmas Was Chosen?

Remember When . . . the Date of Christmas Was Chosen?

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard over the years that Constantine is the one who decided Christmas would be celebrated on December 25, because it was already a pagan holiday, and this would make it easier on his people to convert to Christianity. I pretty much believed this for years . . . until I looked it up for myself.
I had to look into this when I began my research for Giver of Wonders. There are two different major holidays celebrated by Rome, which Constantine is accused of trying to integrate into Christmas, or vice versa. One of these holidays actually wasn’t even celebrated until after the days of Constantine, when the date of Christmas was definitely set. So that rules that one out.
The other is Saturnalia, which had been celebrated in Roman culture for centuries. It was a festival of lights (does sound familiar…) and one of gift-giving (also familiar). So is there truth to that accusation? Did Constantine choose that date for Christmas and then integrate our holy day into a pagan festival?
In reality, Constantine didn’t do anything but legalize what was already custom. The church had been observing the birth of Christ on December 25 for many years already by the time the emperor converted, and even by the time that date was canonized by the Council.
Why December 25th then? Those who study history and the Jewish calendar are pretty sure Christ could not have been born in winter. There were shepherds in the hills, after all, which wouldn’t have been the case in December. So what gives?
Well, I don’t know why those in the know ignored some very sound logic when determining the date. But here’s what I do know: they had a reason for selecting December 25 that had nothing to do with any pagan holidays. See, at that time in history, Dec 25 was the winter solstice (did you know the date of the solstice had moved??). That’s why the pagans celebrated on that day–it’s why pretty much every religion had a celebration on that day.
But Christians? Why did we?
Well, it’s because the Christian scholars and priests of that era (educated, it may be worth noting, in Greek and Roman schools–there were no Christian-only schools at the time) believed that the God who created the universe created it with order and symmetry. They believed, for example (as did their Greek and Roman compatriots) that important men had a star appear to herald their birth. (So it would have been odd if the Gospels hadn’t included this for Jesus!) They believed their lives and births were written in the very cosmos–which is pretty cool, really. Right?
Well they also believed that this symmetry extended to the length of their life as well, and that the best and most important men in history lived in a full number of years.
Um . . . huh?
It’s weird. I know. This belief certainly didn’t survive the millennia, LOL. But that’s honestly what they thought. That Jesus, as the greatest man ever, would have lived a whole number of years, no random months and days added on.
So that would mean born and died on the same day, right? And we know he died on Passover–which was, as it happened, the Spring Equinox. So he must have been born on it . . . right?
Wrong. Life was not counted from the date of birth–it was counted from the supposed date of conception. So the belief was that the Holy Spirit must have conceived Jesus in Mary on the Spring Equinox (March 25). Which meant that He would have been born 9 months later.
So our quick math scrolls that calendar ahead 9 months to . . . voila! December 25.
This, my friends, is the honest-to-goodness reason why Christmas was set on December 25, way back in the 200s, well before Constantine took power and converted to Christianity.
Now, did some of the pagan traditions–candlelight and gift-giving–work their way into the day? Perhaps. Though gift-giving on Christmas wasn’t actually that prevalent until centuries later. Gift-giving, in the 3rd and 4th centuries, was actually done on Dec 6–the Feast Day of St. Nicholas (yesterday!), to remember the saint who gave so generously of his wealth, and anonymously. Dec 6 was a day to give and have no one know who gave. But it was close to Christmas. And over the years, the traditions blurred together. Especially, honestly, after the Protestant Revolution, when Luther declared “No more feast days of saints!” The people weren’t willing to give up their St. Nicholas Day . . . so they began saying it was the Christ Child who gave gifts on his birthday instead (Christ-kindl in German, which is where Kris Kringle came from!).
So there we have it. It may not be the actual date on which Jesus was born–probably isn’t–but it was a date selected because the people doing the selecting believed that the greatest Man in history would have been conceived and died on the same day.
Remember When . . . Christmas Traditions

Remember When . . . Christmas Traditions

I’ve blogged many times over the years about different Christmas traditions throughout history, and how we apply it to our lives.

There are probably more my search just isn’t finding, because I distinctly recall reflecting on the differences in New England versus mid-Atlantic or southern American traditions in Colonial days, and I’m sure that’s in any of those links. 😉

But today I wanted to talk a bit about our traditions. Here are a few that my kids love.

  • Every year, their grandmother takes them out shopping for a new ornament, and they pick out our (real) tree.
  • Making gingerbread cookies. We could make nothing else, and they’d be happy.
  • Decorating. In my life, I think I’ve spent a total of about $20 on Christmas decorations–everything else has been given to us by family. And let me assure you I have PLENTY of decorations. Every year, I resist getting them out (because it’s work, man, LOL), but every year, when I have those evergreen garlands hanging from windows and doorways, I’m utterly charmed.
  • The Christmas train under the tree. No, this isn’t an electric one that chuffs around. It’s just Rowyn’s wooden track, but he and Xoe build it around the tree every year as soon as it’s is up and decorated.
  • Going to church. The Christmas Eve candlelight service is well loved, and Xoe has declared that “Christmas on church day would be the coolest thing ever.”
  • Our countdown chain. We did it the first year as an art project for school, cutting and coloring strips of construction paper and taking one link from the chain each day. Now Xoe also counts down the days until December so she can make it. =)
  • The music! While Rowyn will occasionally groan when I turn a Christmas station on, he also loves the ones we sing in church, especially one of the praise and worship songs called “Born Is the King (It’s Christmas)” (or as he refers to it, “The du-du-du-du-du-du-du-du song.”)
  • The pickle. Even if it was a department store hoax (it’s kinda shocking how many traditions were started by stores!), my kiddos love trying to find the pickle ornament on the tree.

I know there are more, but I won’t bore you. Instead, I’d love to hear about a tradition your family makes sure never to miss!

Then brace yourself, because tomorrow I’m getting thoughtful about why Christmas is depressing for so many people…and how maybe we can adjust our mindset.

Remember When . . . Easter Traditions Began?

Remember When . . . Easter Traditions Began?

So, this past winter I looked up the start of some of our most long-lasting Christmas traditions–namely, Santa Claus. And what I learned made me determined to revive the roots of the tradition, not abandon them altogether as I’d been tempted to do.

The Easter Bunny, on the other hand…I think I’m pulling the plug on him.

I actually made Xoe look up the history of the Easter Bunny last year and write a report on it for school, LOL. She was totally confused by what she found–or rather, by what it has to do with Jesus’s resurrection. Good question, my girl. Good question.

Easter is actually from the Roman goddess of spring, Estre. She was a magician, a trickster, and her most famous trick was when she turned a chicken into a rabbit–but which still laid eggs. The Easter egg, then, was an ancient memorial to this goddess and her magic. The egg laid by a rabbit. The Easter Bunny was the product of this magic. Easter, in ancient mythology, was the celebration of the arrival of spring.

It just so happens that the date coincides with the Jewish Passover, which is, of course, when Jesus was crucified and resurrected. And so, the traditions of the Romans merged with Christianity when it was brought to Rome. But unlike Santa Claus, this was no saint who gave selflessly in honor of Christ, and in whose name other gave so their gifts could be anonymous, as Jesus commanded. No, this is pure paganism.

Do I have a problem with searching for colorful plastic eggs? No, not really. It’s a scavenger hunt, which is totally fine. But I do wonder why we call it Easter instead of Resurrection Day. (Actually, my piano teacher growing up thoroughly objected to this and always, always called it Resurrection Day.) I do wonder why the Easter Bunny still shows up. I love celebrating the resurrection, and I’m happy to do it with food, with treats, with things that bring Joy–because it should bring joy!

But I’m all done with the word “Easter.” I’m all done with the traditions that have absolutely no tie to what I’m really celebrating. Resurrection Day, even more than Christmas (in my opinion, LOL), is the foundational day of my Christian faith. Without this day, my hope would be naught. Oh, Jesus still would have paid the price for my sin had He not risen–but if He had not defeated death, then I wouldn’t have hope in life eternal with Him.

This Sunday, my friends, is the anniversary of the absolute best day in human history. And I’m tired of calling it by something that cheapens it. This isn’t the day of spring, of the rebirth of the year, of magical bunnies who lay eggs. This is the day of Resurrection–of the rebirth of my soul. The day Jesus defeated sin and the grave.

Way better than a chicken-rabbit. Just sayin’.

Thoughtful About . . . Santa Claus and Giving

Thoughtful About . . . Santa Claus and Giving

I admit it. Readily. I have occasionally had issue with the Santa question. I have friends who never introduced the concept, and part of me always wished I had put my foot down on it too. Because I never really introduced it. I just let it creep in. Whenever my kids would ask, I would say, “Well, what do you think?”
And I was about to pull the plug. Then . . . then I looked it up. I looked up the true history of St. Nicholas, and how he became Santa Claus. And you know what I discovered? That of all the many Christmas gift-giving traditions, this is actually the only one I feel has its roots in the right place.
Nicholas was from a city in the Byzantine empire, born in the late 200s and living through the mid 300s. From his youth, he was always given to matters of God. His parents died when he was young, leaving him a very wealthy boy. But rather than live in style, he was raised by his uncle, a priest, and soon followed in his footsteps. (Sorry–no Mrs. Claus.)
Even as a boy, he was known as the wonder-worker. He healed people of things like withered hands and illnesses with simple prayers. He calmed storms. He worked miracles. And he’s still hugely remembered for those things in Europe, where you’ll be hard pressed to find a town without a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. But do you know what else he’s remembered for?
His anonymous generosity. 
See, he had all this money . . . but a heart for the Lord. So what did he do? Well, whenever he saw the needs of someone in his community, he quietly met them. He threw gold through windows. Down chimneys . . . and on occasion, it’s reported that some of this gold landed in a stocking left to dry over the banked fire.
Sound familiar? For hundreds of years, Christmas stockings always had gold–or a golden fruit, like an orange–in the bottom, to recall this story.
But the beauty of the thing is that Nicholas never claimed to be the gift-giver. More, when someone caught him at it, he would beg them not to disclose the secret, not so long as he lived. Because Christ charged us to give in secret.
After his death on December 6th, however, the stories came out. Story upon story about the generosity and gift-giving of Nicholas, who was soon named a saint and whose feast day was established as December 6th. So a new tradition was born. Whenever an anonymous gift was given, and especially on his feast day, it was said to be given in the name of St. Nick. 
Anonymously–because that’s what Christ charged us to do.
Isn’t that actually what gift-giving should be about?? Not the glory of saying, “Look, I bought you something you’ll love!” but the knowledge that we’re bringing Joy to someone–better still, meeting the need of someone–without expecting anything in return. Even the Joy of seeing their faces when they open it.
That is true giving. And that’s what St. Nicholas represents.
So how did St. Nicholas become Santa Claus? Well, because of the proximity of St. Nicholas’s feast day to Christmas, the two holidays eventually merged. But not right away. For hundreds of years, the gifts were given on December 6, and December 25 was reserved as a day of worshiping the Christ Child.
Then Martin Luther revolutionized the church and tried to do away with the saints’ days altogether. He was the one who said we oughtn’t to expect gifts from St. Nicholas. Instead, we ought to be grateful for the gift of the Christ Child. But in rather typical fashion, people weren’t willing to give up all their old traditions…so they just changed the name and began saying the gifts were from the Christ-kindl (German/Dutch for Christ Child). Which Americans later heard and thought was Kris Kringle. Which is how it became, ironically, another name for Santa. (Also note that Santa Claus is directly from the Dutch words for saint and Nicholas, Claus being a nickname for the latter and “sinta” the word for the former.)

So you see what happened? In effort to change a tradition, all we succeeded in doing was losing its meaning. Santa became a symbol of greed to many, when that’s the last thing he ever was in reality. He became a symbol of Christmas-when-you-take-Christ-out-of-it, when his life was dedicated to putting Christ in everything.

When I read all this history, I was inspired (hello, future novel!), and I was also saddened. Because one of the most honorable traditions surrounding gift-giving is the one so often hated by the Church. Oh, we’re happy to give gifts…but we don’t want to lie to our kids. (And let’s face it–we don’t want to share the glory when we find that perfect something for them.)
Well, I’m not going to lie to my kids. Instead, I’m going to teach them who St. Nicholas was. More, why he did the things he did. And I’m going to hammer home that the beauty of the thing is the anonymity. Who leaves those presents? Well, that’s for you and your faith and your logic to decide. But the most important thing as a receiver of said gifts is knowing they’re given from love–not just the love of a friend or the love of a parent or the love of any other family.
These gifts represent the love of God. The love of Christ. Embodied by the anonymous generosity of man…a man like St. Nick.
I’m not going to lie to my kids. I’m going to explain that St. Nick is a real person, who did indeed appear miraculously to many people. That’s it’s not about magic…it’s about miracles. That believing God can do the impossible is part of faith. And that another part is being His hands and feet. Being His vehicle.
Being St. Nick. Not just on Christmas–in fact, we’re going to try to get away from making the day set aside for Christ being Present Day. But we’re going to give gifts. We’re just going to change up how we do it.
My challenge to you this year is to start taking yourself out of gift-giving. Start signing gifts “Anonymous”–or, as the case may be, “St. Nicholas.” Start leaving them for people to find and never know they’re from you.
Let’s start giving for the right reasons. And let’s give some credit to the memory of a man who always, always did. Santa isn’t a symptom of the evils of a commercialized nation–we are. Our attitudes are. Santa, if you dig back to the history, is the memory of a man who knew how to do things right. And I bet if Nicholas of Myra could see how his image has been changed over the years, and even hated by some Christians, he would weep. Because all he ever wanted to do was show Christ’s love to his flock. He would want us, just like I firmly believe God does, to get back to the roots of that.
Will this be hard? Absolutely. Why? Because of expectation. Because we’ll feel cheap if we show up without something in hand and don’t reveal we’ve already given something. But that’s a symptom of the problem, isn’t it? Giving shouldn’t be about our pride.
Let me say that again:
Giving should be about Him.
Not me.
Not you.
If we’re giving in our own name…well, then who’s the gift about? Makes you think, doesn’t it? Or at least, it made me think. Because giving gifts has always been, to me, about (a) the recipient and (b) my Joy in giving it. Not really about God at all. And you know, maybe that’s fine on a birthday.
But on Jesus’s? I don’t think it is. I really don’t. And so I’m going to accept the challenge to myself. I’m going to figure out how to glorify the Lord and honor Christ on His day–on every day. And I’m never going to sell St. Nicholas short again. Because he understood all his life what it’s taken me a lot of years to figure out.
Remember When . . . You Hid the Pickle?

Remember When . . . You Hid the Pickle?

I thought I’d share a short little Christmas tradition today. =)
Every year, my mother-in-law takes my kids shopping for a Christmas ornament. And for the first couple years of this tradition, she would always get them one of the glass pickles you’ve no doubt seen. I’d never seen really paid attention to these before, but the kids thought they were awesome and of course asked for the why of it. My MIL explained that you kind of hide the ornament on the tree, and whoever spots it gets to open the first gift.
Some sites I’m scrolling through this morning claim that the tradition started with a real pickle. Kinda believable, since back in the early days of Christmas trees, food was used as decoration. Fruits and candies especially, but why not a shiny green pickle? (Okay, I hate pickles, so that wouldn’t be a treat for me, LOL.) Interesting possibility though, eh?
But that only partly explained the why, right? I just looked up where this came from and found that it was a Victorian tradition. The story goes that back in the medieval days, a dastardly innkeeper trapped two poor (an apparently bothersome) children in a pickle barrel on Christmas Eve. St. Nick came along and heard them in there so set them free. They ran home and arrived just in time to share their family’s feast. Perhaps with a pickle or two?
Regardless, my daughter’s favorite ornament is her ballerina pickle. =) She loves it so much that it hangs in her room all year round.
What’s your favorite Christmas ornament?