- Thursday, December 21, 2023

In “Why the Nativity?,” take a detailed look at the people and events surrounding the Christmas story and why each of them was chosen for their specific purpose. This year, celebrate this special season by revisiting the story of the first Christmas and worshiping Him for His great gift to us.

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What is the meaning of Christmas?

Christmas marks the moment that Christ entered the world with the sole mission of reconciling humanity to himself. It is a dividing point in history.

In our post-Christian culture, Jesus is no longer the reason for Christmas. Instead, the reasons have become family, food, fun, and festivity. There’s nothing wrong with those, of course. But those aren’t the reasons for the season.

They don’t hold the true meaning of the day’s importance.

There is only one primary meaning for celebrating Christmas — Christ and His incarnation. The fact that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). When we ponder the meaning of Christmas, our thoughts should go to Jesus’ incarnation, His death for our sins, His resurrection, His reconciling us to the Father, and His promise of eternal life.

What is the story of the Nativity and the birth of Jesus?

The story of the Nativity is the greatest story ever told. It’s the entrance of Jesus Christ — a triune member of the Trinity — into humanity to reconcile the broken relationship between God and man. The details of Christ’s birth are recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament of the Bible.

However, the Old Testament is not silent on the subject. There are more than 300 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament. While the Gospel of Matthew provides the genealogy of Jesus and the visit from the Magi, it’s the Gospel of Luke that provides the details most associated with the Nativity scene.

Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25?

For many parts of the world, Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25, but this is not the case everywhere, and it has not always been the case. The first documented celebration of Christ’s birthday on December 25 was in A.D. 336; before that time celebrations were typically held for Epiphany rather than Christ’s birth.

There are no known records that specify the exact day on which Jesus was born. Historians and theologians continue to discuss and debate the validity of a December birth, and changes in ancient vs. modern calendars add to the confusion.

However, what can be traced is the historical records of various celebrations that occurred throughout the known world around December 25. Most of these celebrations were pagan in origin and coincided with the winter solstice. While not a huge day in modern times, the ancient world celebrated this day because it marked the longest day without light and meant that the light of the sun would slowly start to return and shorten the darkness of night.

These pagan festivals coincided with the traditional Jewish festival of lights, and as Rome turned Christian, the idea of celebrating Christ’s birth began to take hold. Early Church leaders, those living only a century or so after Christ, believed that Gabriel visited Mary in March to announce Christ’s conception. Given that timeframe, He would have been born in December.

Because of Rome’s already existing celebrations on December 25, that date took hold. Though the celebrations and traditions associated with Christmas have certainly changed, Christ has not, and neither has the day we celebrate His entrance into humanity.

From shepherds to candy canes: How a favorite holiday candy evolved

The exact origins of the candy cane as a Christmas tradition are not definitively documented, and there are a few theories regarding its history. Historically, the candy cane is believed to have originated in Europe, possibly in Germany, in the 17th century. Early versions were likely straight and white, and it wasn’t until the 19th century in the United States that the distinctive curved shape and red stripes became more common.

One popular opinion is that the candy cane’s shape represents the letter J for Jesus, and its white colors symbolize purity, while the red stripes are said to represent the blood of Christ. An equally common belief is that the candy cane’s curved shape is fashioned after the staff of the shepherds who visited the infant Jesus.

The association of the candy cane with Christmas grew over time, and by the 20th century, it had become firmly established as a popular holiday treat. Today, the candy cane is a widely recognized symbol of Christmas and is often used as a decoration on Christmas trees or as a sweet treat during the holiday season.

Across the world, the candy cane has become a festive and beloved part of Christmas traditions for millions. Next time you adorn your tree with a candy cane or snack on one as a sweet treat, ponder all the possible meanings this beloved Christmas symbol represents.

What are the origins of Santa Claus?

The modern version of Santa Claus has developed over centuries, and the stories surrounding his origins and activities vary slightly from country to country. However, his story can be traced back to a real saint who lived in modern-day Turkey in the fourth century.

A devout Christian, Saint Nicholas of Myra was known for his piety, miraculous works, and secretly giving to those in need. Legend tells the story of Saint Nicholas paying the dowry of three poor sisters so their father could marry them off and not have to sell them into slavery. Stories and legends like this grew after Saint Nicholas’ death and veneration within the church. He is honored by many Christian denominations and is listed among the calendar of saints on December 6, the day he is reputed to have died.

As the church grew and Christianity branched into different denominations, the idea of gift-giving at Christmas grew with it. Saint Nicholas was a prominent saint in Holland, and the Dutch referred to him as Sinter Klaas. In England, the tradition of Father Christmas grew, and gifts were given on December 25 to coincide with Christ’s birthday. When the Dutch settled in New York, they brought with them the celebrations of Sinter Klaas. While this remained a largely cultural celebration in early America, it grew in popularity after Washington Irving publicized “The History of New York.”

Today, there are versions of Santa Claus all over the world, and while the tradition of gift-giving can be traced back to that fourth-century saint, for Christians the true gift giver, and the reason we give gifts at Christmas, is Christ Himself. He gave the greatest gift of all.

Why do we decorate a Christmas tree?

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, How lovely are your branches!

The classic Christmas carol “O Tannenbaum” was written in 1824 by organist and composer Ernst Anschütz. The story of the song’s origin is that it was not originally written as a Christmas carol but was instead a symbolic song showcasing the consistency and faithfulness of fir trees.

But why would one want to sing about a tree or decorate a tree?

Trees have long been a source of symbolism. For Christians, trees go back to the beginning with the Garden of Eden. The garden was a paradise where God walked with man, and in this paradise, He placed trees for life and knowledge. For pagans trees represent the cycles of life on earth. But evergreens have a unique quality in that even in the dead of winter they remain alive and vibrant.

Cultures throughout northern Europe would use evergreens in their winter solstice celebrations as a reminder that the darkness of winter would end and the sun’s light would soon return. The story of the modern-day Christmas tree goes back to Martin Luther. History tells that Luther was walking through the forest one night and was struck by how the light of the stars hit the boughs of the evergreens populating the German forest. He decided to try and recreate this beauty by bringing a tree home and lighting it with candles.

Since then, the tradition has grown and evolved to include various forms of décor and symbolism. The ornaments we place on our trees help create the atmosphere we all love at this time of year and become part of our traditions and legacy. Think about how God put His personal touch on the first Christmas in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.

Why are angels and stars popular tree toppers?

The tradition of placing stars atop Christmas trees has a deep connection to the biblical narrative of the Nativity. A star serves as a symbolic representation of the Star of Bethlehem, which, according to the Bible, guided the Magi to the birthplace of Jesus. This celestial element adds a touch of religious significance to the Christmas tree, evoking the spiritual essence of the holiday.

Similarly, angels have become popular choices as tree toppers due to their role in the Christmas story. Angels are often seen as heavenly messengers, and according to Christian tradition, they played a pivotal role in announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds. This symbolic connection brings a sense of divine proclamation to the Christmas tree, emphasizing the joyous message of the holiday season.

The practice of placing angels at the top of Christmas trees gained prominence because of the belief that angels appeared high in the sky during the first Christmas. By positioning angelic figures at the pinnacle of the tree, people aim to recreate the heavenly scene associated with the Nativity.

Additionally, the tradition received a significant boost when Queen Victoria of England, a trendsetter of her time, popularized the use of angel tree toppers in 1848. This royal endorsement helped solidify the angel as a cherished and enduring symbol atop Christmas trees around the world.

This content was originally part of Why The Nativity? Series.

Dr. David Jeremiah is the founder of Turning Point, an international ministry committed to providing Christians with sound Bible teaching through radio and television, the Internet, live events, and resource materials and books. He is the author of more than 50 books, including “Forward,” “The Book of Signs,” “Where Do We Go From Here?” and “The Great Disappearance: 31 Ways to be Rapture Ready.”

Dr. Jeremiah serves as the senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California. He and his wife, Donna, have four children and 12 grandchildren.

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