Christmas Is a Holiday . . . and a Holy Day
With the Christmas season upon us, Jim Denison, co-founder of Denison Forum, pastor, author and digital-ministry leader, offers surprising insight on Christmas traditions and Santa Claus.
“What does the Bible say about the jolly old man we see every Christmas in malls and advertisements? The short answer, of course, is nothing,” Denison said. “But there’s more to the story about Santa, just as there is more to the many other traditions associated with Christmas.”
“There is also a contentious debate over the secularization of Christmas, and as a Christian I want to celebrate the birth of Jesus,” Denison said. “I encourage Christians to discover the ties many of our holiday traditions, including Santa, have with the real ‘reason for the season.’”
Denison’s analysis of Christmas comes from biblical, historical and cultural viewpoints and sheds light on the origins of our holiday traditions:
In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York City’s The Sun newspaper. She asked, “Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?” News writer Francis Pharcellus Church soon responded in the newspaper’s editorial section with one of history’s most reprinted newspaper editorials: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
He went on to explain “the existence” of Santa Claus in terms of the love and generosity that Christmas ushers in every December. He encouraged her not to be swayed by the skepticism of the age.
If only the answer were that simple.
As with many holidays, there is history and myth intertwined in the traditions and origins of Christmas. But, for Christians, the most important, valid information comes from God’s word.
There actually was a man known as Nicholas who was born in AD 280 in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. He was bishop of the church in Myra, participated in the First Council of Nicaea, and helped the church find the best language to describe the Incarnation of Jesus.
St. Nicholas was beloved because he spent his life helping the poor and underprivileged. He was the first to initiate programs for mentally challenged children. His love for children led him to visit their homes at night disguised in a red-and-white hooded robe to leave gifts of money, clothing, and food in their windows or around their fireplaces.
After his death, he was made the patron saint of sailors since his church was located in a port city and had an extensive ministry to those who traveled the sea. He was later named the patron saint of Russia. Nicholas was one of history’s most venerated saints, with more than five hundred songs and hymns written in his honor. Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti in 1492 and named the port after him. By the year 1500, more than seven hundred churches in Britain were dedicated to him.
The Dutch especially appreciated his life. They spelled his name Sint Nikolass, which, in America, became Sinterklass, or Santa Claus.
His popularity grew through a poem written by Dr. Clement Clark Moore, a theology and classics professor at Union Seminary in New York. In 1822, he penned the classic, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known today as “The Night Before Christmas.” Artist Thomas Nast illustrated the book, creating the figure we now know as the jolly Santa Claus.
That’s the reality behind the story of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas’ selfless lifestyle was based on his love for God and people.
Candle in the Window
One of the earliest Christmas traditions was lighting candles to symbolize the coming of the Light of God. Christians often still light candles in their places of worship and put them on their windowsills at home.
Martin Luther is credited with decorating the first Christmas tree in the 16th century. For Christians, the tree symbolizes the beauty of the world Jesus brought into being. And it also foreshadows the tree of Calvary upon which he died for us.
The Roman tradition symbolizing victory predates Jesus’ birth. Christmas wreaths symbolize Jesus’ victory over death.
Coming to America from Mexico in the 19th century, the beautiful red leaves of the poinsettia plant, blooming especially during our Christmas season, remind Christians of the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross for us all.
Its origins are from Medieval England where they believed it to have mystical powers of love, but to Christians, the mistletoe represents Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). He alone can bring lasting peace between nations and souls.
These first became popular in the mid-19th century. When receiving or sending a card in the mail, by email or in person this season, Christians can stop to pray for the one on the other end and make the Christ of Christmas more real than any card ever could.
Viewed in the right way, our Christmas traditions can connect us back to the first Christmas. As families celebrate the holidays, they can make them holy days as well, by not losing sight of the real story of Christmas.
Denison and The Denison Forum exists to thoughtfully engage the issues of the day from a biblical perspective. Through The Daily Article and podcast, which globally reach 1.9 million people monthly with subscribers in 226 countries. Dr. Jim Denison guides readers to discern today’s news – biblically. Read more at DenisonForum.org Read more articles by Jim Denison at goodnewsfl.org