Christmas Curiosities

The seasonal winds have piled up holiday customs at the end of the year like snowdrifts in a cul-de-sac. At the center of this whirlwind is the baby Jesus. Historical facts about the “blessed event” don’t seem to be as important as the sentiments stirred by the customs that have grown up around it over the millennia. For example . . .

Date of Christmas – The Bible doesn’t give a date for the birth of Jesus and the early church didn’t bother to celebrate it for centuries. December 25th was picked by Pope Julius I in the fourth century but it was argued about for hundreds of years and didn’t become a legal holiday in the U.S. until 1870. (Thank you President Grant.)

Three Wise Men – The Gospel of Matthew doesn’t say how many regal visitors from the east there were; it just highlights three of the gifts they brought.

Christmas Carols – There was no singing at Bethlehem. Luke 2 simply says the heavenly host appeared, “praising God and saying . . .” Nevertheless, Christmas songs have been sung down through the ages—but Christmas carols didn’t catch on in churches until the late 1800s.

Nativity Scenes – St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the original Christmas crèche in the town of Grecio in 1223. He used live animals and people.

Christmas Trees – This custom is thought to have begun in Germany in the 1700s but some think Martin Luther started it two centuries earlier in his children’s nursery.

Christmas Cards – The first commercial cards were produced by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843. Louis Prang introduced the Christmas card in America 30 years later.

And speaking of Christmas in America . . .

Santa Claus – Mr. HoHoHo himself is an American creation from a blend of American, Dutch and English traditions. Santa made his first appearance here in 1810 but his myth reaches back to Saint Nicholas, aka Nicholas of Myra, born in Lycia (Turkey) in 270. Nick is the patron saint of pawnbrokers.

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer – Adman Robert May created Rudolph for retail giant Montgomery Ward in 1939.

Frosty the Snowman – Frosty began as a character in a song Gene Autry recorded in 1950. The tune was a followed-up to Autry’s hit recording of the previous year, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

What does all this have to do with Jesus? Not a whole lot. Does that mean Christians should shun Christmas as many had done in the past? I don’t think so.

Jesus attended weddings, funerals, large parties and private dinners. He observed the holidays of his people and even started a few of his own. He did not begrudge folks a good time, nor was he a killjoy when there was something to rejoice about.

December 25 is as good a time as any to celebrate the incarnation. Just don’t lose the tot amidst all the trimmings.

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