The Twelve Days of Christmas

How did Christmas really start and what's it really about? This time of year—well actually from the end of October onward—people are filled with the holiday spirit, decorations go up, Christmas music blares, and arguments begin. There are those angry about "the War on Christmas" who despise those that say "Happy Holidays." Schools (at least the schools I volunteered for in high school) forbade us from mentioning Jesus, Santa, and Christmas in general. There are countless traditions, none of which are biblical despite most Christians' insistence that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Introduction

Photocredit: FreeImages.com/Roger Kirby

How did Christmas really start and what's it really about? This time of year—well actually from the end of October onward—people are filled with the holiday spirit, decorations go up, Christmas music blares, and arguments begin. There are those angry about "the War on Christmas" who despise those that say "Happy Holidays." Schools (at least the schools I volunteered for in high school) forbade us from mentioning Jesus, Santa, and Christmas in general. There are countless traditions, none of which are biblical despite most Christians' insistence that Jesus is the reason for the season. People are labeled a grinch for not participating in the festivities—my own mother complains about people who "never send a Christmas card." But how did we get here? What's it really supposed to be about?
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Christmas as a Child

I grew up in a baptist church with half of my family claiming the Baptist denomination and the other half claiming Methodist or African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.). My dad and I use to start stringing lights starting the day after thanksgiving. We'd wrap garland all around the fence and porch steps. My mom and I would make wreaths with poinsettias and bows. We had a santa sleigh which lit up and went on top of the house. About a week before Christmas, we'd go pick out a tree and decorate it with twinkling lights, bows, and a Black angel. But for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what any of this had to do with Jesus' birth...

Growing up in a Christian family and neighborhood in the deep south, people were quick to remind everyone to remember the reason for the season (the reason being Jesus), so the question stayed at the forefront of my mind. Why was all of this extra-ness present at all, if Jesus is the reason for the season? Nonetheless, we'd go to church and read Luke 1 and 2; at one point I had both chapters memorized from reciting it each year in the Christmas play. The church made sure we understood that the virgin Mary was afraid (you would be too if you woke up pregnant but had never had sex—especially in the day and age where that was a crime punishable by stoning!) and Joseph was kind enough to have mind to send her away quietly. We needed to know that the angel came and spoke to each of them to assure them that the baby was of God and He was the Messiah they'd all been waiting for. We had to understand that they traveled to Bethlehem to be registered because of the decree, that Jesus was born in the manger because there was no room in the inn, and that the wise men (or magi) came bearing gifts.

What they failed to discuss was how the traditions of lights, garland, red and green, caroling, gift giving (to each other), santa and company, etc. became such an integral part of the holiday. How is it that the same people who say Jesus is the reason for the season, will say children "missed" Christmas or they have to "do" Christmas for their children? Despite being in her 60's and me fast approaching 30, my Christian mother woke up taking about "seeing what Santa brought" and has yet to even utter the name of Jesus today... My home church has moved the Christmas program from Christmas eve to the Sunday before Christmas (ironically placing the program closer to the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice). I was told this was done "out of convenience," but since when is worshiping God supposed to be "convenient?" That essentially amounts to saying "I'm sorry Jesus, I'm not going to celebrate your birthday on your birthday because that doesn't fit my schedule. I have something more important to do that day." (We'll discuss the validity or invalidity of the date in the series, but many of the Christians who don't study the Word and history actually believe this is the actual day Jesus was born).

Throughout the Bible, God warns us not worship idols; He found it important enough to make it one of the commandments. Yet, Santa, Christmas trees, lights, and the like are not substitutes atheists participate in during the holidays, they're considered part of the Christian Christmas festivities and Christians excitedly indulge in this spirit despite the lack of Biblical reason to do so. When I asked these questions, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. Most people are so used to doing what they always do, that it doesn't seem the least bit strange to get excited about Santa and profess Jesus at the same time. I used to be one of those people, so once upon a time when my friend, who is Jehovah's Witness, told me Christmas isn't in the Bible, I looked at her like she was crazy too. Sometimes it just takes time, studying, and prayer to see the truth.
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The Series

Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of Jesus' birthday, which is interesting considering we don't know when Jesus was born and none of God's chosen people celebrate their birthdays anywhere in the bible. As a kid I had questions, but you only question so much when you're content to get presents every Christmas and studying for finals. When I finally got time to really look into my questions, I found a lot of interesting information and I thought this Christmas, I'd share it. I started off typing out the information at random, but then I decided it should be more organized, so I decided to start over and from the beginning.

One of the things I formally discovered during these years of research is that the 12 days of Christmas (most notably from the song of the same name) doesn't occur before Christmas as many assume, nor does it really have anything to do with a true love giving gifts. When Christians began celebrating Christmas centuries after Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, those in the West celebrated His birth on December 25th while those in the East celebrated on January 6th. Eventually December 25th became the standard for Christmas and January 6th became known as the Feast of Epiphany, a feast to celebrate the magi visiting Jesus and bringing Him their gifts. The 12 days in between the two dates are what became known as the 12 days of Christmas.[1]

I've decided to follow the style of the song and present a series on Christmas for the next 12 days (hopefully it turns out the way I think it will!).
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Topics and Days

Day Date Planned Post
1 Friday December 25, 2015 Etymology of the word Christmas
2 Saturday December 26, 2015 Origins and Date
3 Sunday December 27, 2015 Santa, Rudolph, and Elves
4 Monday December 28, 2015 Gifts, Birthdays, The Wise Men, and the Feast of Epiphany
5 Tuesday December 29, 2015 Christmas Trees, Lights, Garland, Tinsel, and Bells
6 Wednesday December 30, 2015 Society, the War on Christmas, and Being a "Grinch"
7 Thursday December 31, 2015 Christmas Carols
8 Friday January 1, 2015 Depression and Christmas
9 Saturday January 2, 2015 Christmas Colors vs. Bible Colors
10 Sunday January 3, 2015 Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, and other Wintry Characters
11 Monday January 4, 2015 Christmas in America and A Christmas Carol
12 Tuesday January 5, 2015 The True Meaning of Christmas

References

  1. McGowan, Andrew. "How December 25 Became Christmas". BIBLE REVIEW-WASHINGTON-. 18.6: pg. 46-48. 2002

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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