Why Is Christmas Such a Big Deal?
In America, Christmas is the most celebrated holiday of the year, with 85% of the population celebrating it in some way, according to Statista. While Christians celebrate the day to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, both Christians and non-Christians may be found enjoying the holiday. Families reunite, decorations are put up around the home and gifts are bought for family and friends. Most families have Christmas traditions, whether it be baking cookies together, touring Christmas light displays or attending a Christmas Eve candlelight service. But why is Christmas such a big deal?
The Fulfillment of Prophecy
As believers in Jesus, the answer seems simple. It’s the day we honor the birth of our Savior, Jesus, an event that fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. Jesus’s birth was also the end to what is sometimes referred to as the “400 years of silence.” There was a full four centuries between the writing of the last book of the Old Testament and the time Jesus was born. During that time, there is no record of prophets or inspired writers in Israel. Psalm 74:9 refers to this dark period for God’s people:
“We do not see our signs;
There is no longer any prophet,
Nor is there anyone among us who knows how long.”
God’s people had been waiting a very long time for their promised Messiah. It must’ve felt like a hopeless time. They may have believed that God had forgotten them as generation after generation passed without the birth of their promised King.
God did fulfill his promise, in His perfect timing. The book of Matthew details many of the Old Testament prophecies Jesus fulfilled. The first one is in Matthew 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” The birth of Jesus brought an end to the centuries of silence. It was also the beginning of a new covenant God would create with man; a better way for Him to have a relationship with us.
The History of Christmas Celebrations
We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, and most agree it was not in December. So why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th? Long before the birth of Jesus, there were celebrations that took place during the winter solstice. Different cultures and religions recognized the shortest day of the year (usually around December 21st or 22nd) as a time to celebrate the end of the darkness and the hope of the sun and light to come in the spring.
From Yule celebrations in Scandinavia to the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, where they worshipped a pagan god, the winter solstice was a time where people ate and drank in excess and celebrated the bounty of what they had at hand and the hope of what was to come. Yet all these celebrations lacked the One true hope that does not disappoint: Jesus, the son of God. It’s believed that the church chose December 25th as the time to celebrate Christ’s birth so that the true light would shine during the darkest days of the year and overpower the customs of pagan traditions.
But just like the birth of Christ met opposition by King Herod, the celebration of Christmas has met resistance, both inside and outside of the church. By the Middle Ages, Christmas had replaced most pagan holidays, but it took on a twisted way of celebrating that had nothing to do with Jesus. Though Christians would attend church on Christmas Day, the church services were followed by drunken, carnival like festivities. The poor would go to the homes of the rich and demand their best food and drink. The rich complied out of both fear of vandalism and a sense of debt to the poor for their good fortune. These celebrations seemed to be far removed from recognizing the birth of Jesus and the love and hope He brought to men.
Thus began a push back and forth between Puritans who believed Christmas should not be celebrated beyond a church service, and others who believed that combining the best of ancient winter solstice celebrations with the observance of Christ’s birth was a good thing.
Centuries later, when America was formed, Christmas was not a celebrated holiday. The pilgrims were very orthodox believers. In Boston, Christmas was even outlawed from the years 1659 to 1681. However, there were parts of America that did celebrate Christmas, such as in the Jamestown settlement. However, the Christmas holiday didn’t really see much American celebration until the 19th century when it was declared a federal holiday. Then with the combination of American popular culture, marketing, and the blending of different customs and cultures, the Christmas traditions we enjoy today were eventually embraced: Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Christmas cards and gift-giving.
The Why—and the Way—of Christmas
Christmas, as a holiday celebration, wasn’t always such a big deal. But as our world has grown and changed, the true meaning of Christmas has staked its ground, spreading its message of hope to those who seek comfort in the darkest time of the year.
It’s the hope behind Christmas that draws even nonbelievers to the holiday. In Luke 1:79, Zacharias prophesied about the coming Savior, that He was coming “to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Jesus came for those who live in the darkness and are on the path of death, to the show them the way of life and peace. The way of peace is not found in the raucous celebrations of Christmases past, or the sometimes over-commercialized events of today. The way of peace is found in living in the way Jesus taught His disciples, by following the Word of God and having a relationship with Him. This light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend or overcome it (John 1:5). Even when Satan tries to twist or pervert it, the true light always prevails.
As believers, Christmas is our opportunity to be messengers of this hope. We give to those less fortunate out the love God has given us, not out of fear or a sense of balancing the scales. We buy gifts for those we care about, not because we hope for something in return, but because we’ve already been given the greatest gift there is in Jesus. We sing Christmas carols because we celebrate as the angels did on the day Christ was born, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). We share meals with family, friends and neighbors, because Jesus reminds us that we are part of His family and we’re to care for one another. We attend candlelight services on Christmas Eve because holding the candle in the dark room reminds us how much impact a little light can make. Christmas is an opportunity for us to play our small part in letting everyone know Jesus came into the world against all odds and overcame evil because of His love for every single one of us.
Christmas is such a big deal because without it, nothing else would really matter.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Drazen Zigic
Melanie Campbell is a member of Oregon Christian Writers and ACFW. Her debut novel, One Woman Falling, won the Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Award and is a finalist for the Selah Award. She lives in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley with her husband, their three children, and several spoiled pets. You can learn more about her writing and sign up for her newsletter by visiting her website at melaniecampbellauthor.org. You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.