December 24, 2012

Guest Post: Are Christmas Traditions Really Pagan?

Matt and I are not big gift-givers. I can count on one hand the number of gifts we've given each other in the last several years. We're not against them, we definitely love receiving them, it's just not our primary love language.

Once we had Micah we began to think about Christmas and what our traditions were going to be as a family. I didn't grow up believing in Santa but I did grow up with trees and presents, while Matt did grow up believing in Santa. But we were both in agreement from the beginning that we did not have the mental energy to keep up a Santa charade for years to come.

Since we aren't big gift people and we also try to keep a lid on our natural tendency towards materialism we didn't want every Christmas to be about how many presents our kids were getting, and that becoming what Christmas was about for them.

We wanted to establish our own Christmas traditions founded on the true meaning of Christmas. Which obviously has nothing to do with Santa Claus and Christmas trees and presents. Right?

Actually, maybe not.

Today I am so excited to have my first guest writer on my blog. My very own husband, Mateo! Or as the laypeople call him, Matt!

He did some researching of his own and is here to share with us the history behind a few of our modern-day traditions and their basis in Christian history. Without further ado, Mateo!

Merry CHRISTmas
I love Christmas time. It can also be a confusing time of year, especially when you have kids. Many different things come at us all at once - presents, hanging up lights, trees, Santa Claus, and...Christ? If it’s confusing for us to recognize the reason for the season, then I’m sure my 2 year old is confused why kids are getting their pictures taken on Santa’s lap at the mall but also singing, “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere that Jesus Christ is born!” on the way home. BTW, Santa’s smile at the mall this year is AWESOME.

            I recently watched a Christmas DVD created by Phil Vischer that shed some light on Christmas. Here we go...

Some churches celebrate communion (remembrance of the Lord’s Supper with crackers and grape-juice or wine), and some the Eucharist, which means to give thanks. The celebration of the Eucharist is called “Mass”. Once a year churches in Europe would hold a “mass” to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, called Christ's-Mass. That’s how we get the word “Christmas." In ancient Rome, before Jesus was born, big parties were held on December 25th to celebrate the passing of the shortest day of winter and the return of more sunshine. Some would worship the sun. By 350 A.D., the leader of the church, Julius I, declared that December 25th would no longer be a day of celebrating the sun, but Jesus the “son” of God.

Jolly Old St. Nick
Turns out Santa was real. He lived in modern-day Turkey and was actually an influential bishop in the early Christian church. He grew up in a wealthy family and was known for his generosity of giving to those in need. One of the most famous is the story of a poor man whose daughters were unable to get married because their father could not afford to pay the dowries and, in those days, was therefore destined to poverty, prostitution, or slavery. St. Nick anonymously threw three bags of coins through the window, each one to cover the expenses. The bag of coins landed in their stockings that were drying above the fire. That’s why we hang stockings above fireplaces and eat chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. This story is also in reference to the three gold balls you see on the signs at Pawn shops. Word spread about St. Nick throughout Europe and the church made December 6th, St. Nicolaus Day. Kids would set out their stockings and shoes the night before hoping that St. Nick would visit them and bring them gifts. Stories of St. Nicolaus Day came to America from Dutch and German settlers. In Dutch it’s, “Sinter Claase”, in German, “Sant Niklaas." Over time these two names became, “Santa Claus." There you have it, folks. Santa Claus is St. Nicolaus. It can be confusing because in America these are two holidays combined into one, “Christ-mass” and St. Nicolaus Day. On a side note, Bishops wore red robes and hats. St. Nicolaus day was popular in Northern Europe, which was very cold on December 6th, so St. Nick is shown wearing a red robe and hat with white fur lined to help keep him warm while he delivers presents to kids. Sound like someone else we know?

Oh Christmas Tree
So why do we cut down trees and put them up in our house during Christmas? Turns out that in Northern Germany for thousands of years tribes decorated their homes with tree branches and linked certain trees to gods. A giant oak tree was called the “Oak of Thor." If anyone cut it down they believed Thor would strike them dead. A Christian named Boniface brought the good news about Christ to the people. In front of a large crowd Boniface took an ax to the Oak of Thor and cut that sucker down! When the people saw that Boniface wasn't struck dead and realized that Thor didn’t exist, they believed in Jesus instead. According to the story, Boniface pointed to the small fir tree that was near the oak tree and instructed the people that this was to be their new symbol, as they built their homes to let Christ be the center of their households. 


I loved reading this and I hope you did too. I learned that I need not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Many of our traditions are rooted in historical Christianity and can be redeemed from the hustle and bustle of our time. We don't have to feel guilty or ashamed of buying our children gifts and placing them under a Christmas tree or any of the other traditions that we have. They can actually be an avenue to share with our children the stories of giants in the faith who have gone before us, loving Jesus boldly and others lavishly. 

Also, I don't mean to brag (yes, I do) but I got the privilege of hearing Phil Vischer speak this year and afterwards to meet him. Usually I'm not starstruck, but hello, this is Bob we're talking about.

My sign says, "Hi Micah!" in honor of my little guy who's a deep lover of all things Veggie Tales. My exact words to Mr. Vischer were, Other parents may tell you their children love Veggie Tales, but they don't. Not like my son.

Merry "Christ"mas from the McNutt family!

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