What is Christmas? Why do Christians celebrate it?
I love to celebrate birthdays. Whether it is my big day or a dear friend’s — the act of celebrating someone’s life is a beautiful thing. A person’s presence is a wonderful gift to the world, no matter how small their imprint. At Christmas, Christians the world over celebrate perhaps the most famous birthday of all, Jesus Christ’s.
Christmas is the most celebrated of all the holy days in the church calendar. The Christmas feast is held in conclusion of Advent. The opportunity to celebrate the first coming of Christ, and the hopeful expectation of his second coming. Interestingly, Christmas was not originally celebrated by the church, with the first historical record of a celebration of Christ’s birth, Christ’s Mass, in Rome, 336 AD. The celebration of Christmas really hit its stride in the Middle Ages, and this is when many of the traditional carols, statues, foods, and celebrations began, but the Christmas tree didn’t make an appearance until Victorian England.
One of the Church’s most famous saints, Saint Nicholas, was known as a protector of children and of following Christ’s command to sell his wealth and give to the poor. His legacy and veneration is what has led to the famous Santa Claus story. Saint Nicholas is an important reminder of why we celebrate the birth of Christ. He embodied the spirit of love God asks all Christians to exemplify.
Pope Francis, in his Christmas Eve 2013 mass, spoke eloquently to the importance of why we celebrate Christmas, “In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.” We celebrate because of the the incarnation of Christ as fully man and fully God and born of a Virgin. God entered our world amongst the most lowly.
As Christians we celebrate Christmas because of God’s grace revealed to us in his Son. God was no longer distant but one of us. The birth of Jesus forever changed the course of history. So we celebrate his birthday and the gracious imprint he has made upon our world. As we enter a new year, let us remember God loves us. He lived among us, and forever our world was changed.
Mikkee Hall is a freelance writer and editor living in Denver. You can follow along on her adventures at mikkeehall.com.