If Charles Dickens’ famous “Ghost of Christmas Past” were real, he would explain to Scrooge that Christmas is nowhere in the Bible! Where did we get our modern Christmas observance from? It’s a history that will surprise many and one that should make us all reconsider Christmas Future…
THE REAL CHRISTMAS PAST
by Ken Frank
Did you enjoy Christmas this year as much as last? Because of the worldwide economic downturn, many decided to spend less on gifts than in past years. Retailers certainly are not happy about this change. But many discovered that what really makes Christmas special to them is not the material gifts but the special time they spend with loved ones. Our consumer-driven Western culture has deceived us into thinking that the good life is only possible as we can buy it. Perhaps this recession will cause many to refocus on their loved ones with increased appreciation and devotion.
But, surprisingly, while their renewed awareness of the value of people is admirable, it comes at an unfortunate time of year! If I may play Scrooge just for a moment, let me say that Christmas is not one of the holidays God prescribes in Scripture for His worship and special family time. In fact, it had a long, pre-Christian history that is increasingly recognized and reported. For example, NPR radio commentator, Garrison Keillor, in his daily The Writer's Almanac for December 19, 2008 wrote,
"It was on this day in 1843 that Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge ...
"Dickens' previous novel, Martin Chuzzlewit (1842), was a flop, and he was strapped for cash. Martin Chuzzlewit was satirical and pessimistic, and Dickens thought he might be more successful if he wrote a heartwarming tale with a holiday theme. He started writing in late October and worked hard to get it done by Christmas.
"At the time of the book's publication, the celebration of Christmas was somewhat controversial. Puritans in England and America argued that Christmas was a holiday left over from the days when pagans celebrated the winter solstice. Many Christians felt that the extravagance of Christmas was an insult to Christ. But A Christmas Carol was a huge best-seller in both England and the United States, and it set the tone for Christmas as we know it today; a season of generosity, feasting, and merriment." (Emphases mine).
Why did the Puritans in England and America not celebrate Christmas? Have you ever looked into this question? Americans take pride in the Plymouth Rock story of our national history and mythology. We honor those intrepid settlers who came to America for religious freedom. Many were, in fact, Separatists who thought it was hopeless to try to reform the Church of England from within and instead braved the Atlantic Ocean with merchant adventurers who sought their fortunes in an unspoiled land. The devout sincerely attempted to live "by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Since they could find no command to observe Christmas in Scripture, they forbade it in their colony. For several generations the observance of Christmas was outlawed in parts of the USA.
Only many years later, through several influences, did Christmas as we know it become part of Western tradition. The book, A Christmas Carol, played its part in giving us the holiday so identified with consumerism.
But if you are a sincere worshiper attempting to live by the Bible, you need to explore in greater depth the full origins of this and other seemingly Christian holidays. You just might discover you have been misled by tradition and sentiment. Unlike Christmas, the biblical holy days actually commanded by God to be observed every year have nothing to do with Santa, trees, wreaths, mistletoe, candlelight services, Yule logs, stockings – or mountainous credit card debt from buying gifts out of obligation.
Let this Christmas past be a springboard to determine once and for all the days on which God Almighty wants us to "come, let us adore Him." When you begin to observe His days, you will enjoy "the peace of God which surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
P.S. Have you ever looked into the origins of New Year's Day?
Adapted from “Christmas Past” from www.TomorrowsWorld.org.