Friday, December 19, 2014

On Christmas!


Merry, merry Christmas, everyone!

I hope everyone has a wonderful week. I intend to spend mine having fun with the kiddos and finalizing our plans for making Christmas Day a day of remembrance for Jesus.

With this on my mind this year, I've been quite struck by a few things I've come across. A week or so ago we went on a field trip to a local historical house, which had a World War 1 display up for the holiday. The children got to hear the story of the Christmas Truce, when the British and German troops declared a cease-fire for Christmas and ventured into No Man's Land, exchanging rations and playing soccer and remembering what peace on earth is really about. The fighting began again the next day--and the command was none too pleased when they learned that the soldiers in the foxholes took it upon themselves to do this--but looking back, it's an inspiring story.

And oh, how I love touring this historic house. When you step into the ballroom, you see the grand, 16-foot-high Christmas tree. And learn that in 1914, the tree wouldn't have been decorated until Christmas Eve, and would be closed off so the kids couldn't see it until Christmas Day. But not first thing--oh no! First came church. Then a family brunch. And only then did the family open those doors to the ballroom and reveal the tree and the presents.

I'm really coming to love the simplicity of these sorts of celebrations. The fact that the gifts were few but meaningful, the emphasis of the day on Jesus first, family second, and only afterward the things. I find myself longing to recapture some of that. And wondering at the roots of our traditions.

So being me, I do a little research. ;-) I started in Ancient Rome, where they celebrated a winter holiday called Saturnalia. They would give gifts, light candles, and celebrate for a week...but while this celebration led up to the winter solstice, it's not, as some would suggest, the roots of our Christmas. Nor, as other have suggested, is the Roman festival to the sun god, also celebrated on December 25. For centuries people have suggested this--with outrage--but in fact, the date of Christmas pre-dates the holiday of Sol Invictus. So if anyone was stealing, it was the Roman emperor. ;-)

Why December 25th then? Well. *Grins* As it turns out, it all goes back to March 25. At the time, that was the date of the spring equinox. In Jewish tradition, it was believed to be the date that God created the earth, the date of the Passover, and so the date that Jesus was crucified. According to another Jewish tradition, important men were believed to live in whole years--which is to say, their life began and ended on the same date.

So how did the early church ascertain the date of Jesus's birthday? They assumed that conception took place on March 25--that Jesus's life as a human being began that day--and then counted exactly nine months forward. Hence, December 25.

Let's not argue whether the math is exactly right or the validity of the whole-year supposition. Let's just accept that it's what people round about 300 A.D. believed. That is where the date of Christmas comes from, and the fathers of the early church were fully convinced by this. Me? I don't know, and frankly, I don't think it matters. But I accept the beauty of their reasoning, the simplicity of it, and I embrace their desire to celebrate the birth of our Christ.

In our house, we're determined to keep only the traditions that bring us joy and keep our eyes on the Lord, not the ones that bring stress. Presents will be simple. Baking will be fun. Honestly, if I'm stressing about something--be it gifts or decorating or cookies--then that's my cue to examine it and wonder if it's pulling my eyes off Jesus. And you know what? It usually is. So those will be the first things I let go of.

I pray your celebration this year is filled with the Light of the World. That each candle you light is a testimony to Him. That each gift you give is out of love--the same love you received from the Father when He gave His Son. The same love St. Nicholas embraced when he dropped gold down a chimney to save a family from the streets. The same love that raises man out of the mire and stretches him toward the Holy.

I pray that this Christmas is about the gift of Jesus to the world, and that new understanding of that amazing Gift falls on your heart and keeps you warm through the holidays.

God bless and Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

  1. The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 is a nice story, but it's more an episode torn out of its context.
    This was the first Christmas of the war. Neither soldiers nor commands were prepared to for the trenches. Supply lines were not, yet, stable. The fighting stopped once in a while out of sheer necessity: Men needed a break from shooting like you and I need breaks during a workday, and things like ammunition were short. These breaks where used for "collecting" the dead and wounded and, occasionally, for exchanging rations.
    So it was not Christmas demanding a pause of the killing. It was a pause of the killing allowing for Christmas celebrations. And for one day, the men remembered that they were worshipping the same god (the killings of each being blessed by their churches...).
    I feel with these men, conscripts, finding a moment of peace within the carnage, certainly not to be begrudged to them.
    As you note, the fighting continued the next day. And it went on for 1915 without any Christmas breaks, and 1916, and 1917, and in some parts past Christmas 1918.
    What is inspiring: There were soldiers actively refusing to fight and demanding peace. In parts of France, Italy, and Russia in 1917 and Germany 1918.

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