Christmas is a time of festivities, from the glittering lights to the beautifully-wrapped presents under the tree. But amid all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it's easy to forget that this day commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.
The History and Meaning of Christmas
Officially named a federal holiday in 1870, Christmas is celebrated annually on January 25th, although some evidence suggests that Jesus' birth may have occurred in the spring. Literally translated as "The Mass (or celebration) of Christ, Christmas is both a "sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon."
According to the account found in the New Testament, about 2,000 years ago, a young woman named Mary and her husband Joseph left their home in Nazareth to travel to Joseph's ancestral home, Bethlehem, to enroll in the census ordered by the Roman emperor, Augustus. Finding no room in inns in the town, they set up primitive lodgings in a stable. There Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Christ-child, in a manger, where she was visited by shepherds and wise men.
At the time of Christ's birth, a host of angels appeared, praising God saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
Christ's birth, which was predicted in the Biblical book of Isaiah, was God coming to earth in the form of human flesh so that He could be crucified to save humanity from the curse of sin and death. Without Christ's birth, the hope of heaven would not exist.
History.com notes that the date of December 25th was originally a Roman holiday called "Saturnalia," a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25.
Variations of this pagan holiday flourished throughout the first few centuries after Jesus Christ, but it probably wasn't until 336 AD that Emperor Constantine officially converted this pagan tradition into the Christian holiday of Christmas, known as the "Feast of the Nativity." By the end of the eighth century, the celebration had spread all the way to Scandinavia.
Christmas Traditions and Celebrations
Today, Dec. 25 remains a day of celebration that serves as a wonderful reminder of Christ's humble beginning as a human child in this world. There are some religious and secular traditions observed on this holiday, including festive decorations, Christmas trees, gift-giving, holiday parties, and many more. Santa Claus -- based on the historical Christian figure St. Nicholas -- is also a traditional Christmas figure, known for his generosity and gift-giving to children.
Many Christians attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, where the story of Jesus' birth is retold, and Christmas hymns and carols are often sung.
Christmas is also considered a day of generosity and giving, a sentiment popularized by English author Charles Dickens through his classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. Many people give to charities or volunteer at local shelters on Christmas day to show good will towards humankind.
Christmas Bible Verses
For Christmas, Christmas ultimately serves as an opportunity to reflect on Jesus Christ and His message of hope for the world. Here are some Bible verses to help us remember the true meaning of Christmas: the love of Christ for His people.
"The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in Him the Gentiles will hope. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:12-13)
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)
"You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." (Acts 10:36)
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:8-14)
"God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)