Thanksgiving is behind us and that means Christmastime is near. Christmas is the grandest and greatest celebration of the year. Unlike other holidays, Christmas has its own decorations, music, foods, traditions, characters, and colors. It is even a worldwide phenomenon, with thousands of cultures across the globe anticipating Christmas Day. How did Christmas become so extravagant and why is it celebrated?
It may seem surprising, but Jesus did not issue a command to celebrate His birthday with holiday carols and hot cocoa. Instead, most modern-day Christmas traditions originated in Europe and parts of the ancient world which were predominantly pagan. During the winter solstice, the Romans honored the god of agriculture during Saturnalia by feasting and exchanging gifts. To appease the wrath of Oden, the Germans adorned their trees with fruit and candles. Other such polytheistic cultures “decked the halls” with greenery during winter because their sun god was ill and needed wreaths and garland to cheer him up.
It appears that early Christians celebrated Christmas to protest such paganism. They “Christianized” the symbols and customs, giving them Christological meanings. They even adopted the Roman holiday commemorating the birthday of the god, Mirtha, which was observed on December 25. Instead of complaining about the pagan festivities of their society, they simply replaced them with new meaning.
According to historical accounts, Christians also out-celebrated pagans because, in their eyes, Jesus was far more deserving of praise than the gods of wood and stone worshipped by their society. They were proclaiming a bold message by celebrating Christmas: only the Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of worship.
Apparently, the angels in heaven agree. Heaven erupted in acclamation and praise when Jesus was born: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God” (Luke 2:13). Once the angel announced that Christ had come (Luke 2:9-12), myriads of angels joined him in the celebration. Heaven’s exuberant joy at Christ’s coming couldn’t possibly be expressed by only one angel—it took millions. So, the early Christians weren’t the first to celebrate Christmas—heaven was.
Heaven had a jubilee that blessed Christmas morn’ because Jesus deserves the highest praise, honor, and glory. And that is why many Christians have observed Christmas for centuries—Jesus is worth celebrating. This season offers a unique opportunity to glorify Jesus and boldly declare that He alone deserves our allegiance, affection, and adoration. Charles Wesley’s famous hymn, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” invites you to joyfully celebrate with the heavenly host:
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King!”
Bible Gleanings is a widely-read weekend devotional column, written for the Murray Ledger & Times in Calloway County, Kentucky.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English Shepherd), and Dot (Bluetick Beagle).