Tomorrow most of the Christian world celebrates the Christmas holiday. Even some non-Christian countries join in the festivities because the lights, the tinsel, the trees, and the presents have become iconic features of year-end festivities. The genesis of winter celebrations can be traced back long before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (see last year’s post for more detail). According to the History Channel:
“The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight. In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.”
The New Testament reports, “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” [John 8:12] It is not difficult to understand why disciples of Jesus, who believed him to be “the light of the world,” would adopt ancient celebrations that “look[ed] forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.” It seemed like a natural fit and still allowed unbelievers to eat, drink, and be merry in the long, dark nights of winter. No matter your religious persuasion, this time of year is a good time to reflect on the peaceable things of the earth and to consider what can be done to help others who are in need. There are certainly plenty of people in want who could use a little help. You probably don’t have to look very far to find someone near you to whom you can reach out and help. They may only need a kind word, an arm around the shoulder, or a listening ear. If you’ll serve someone else this holiday season, I assure you that you will have a happier Christmas. As Charles Dickens wrote, “I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” Happy Christmas.