Somebody once called Christmas “the big kahuna of holidays.” I don’t know if I’d have put it quite that way, but the sentiment is right on. No other day on the calendar evokes the vast spectrum of thoughts, feelings, opinions and controversies as does Christmas. Even among non-believers, Christmas is huge. Those department stores so reluctant to recognize the true significance of this holiday—you know, the famous store that once insisted its employees greet you with “Happy Holidays,” and forbade them to say, “Merry Christmas,” and that other outfit that kicked the Salvation Army Santa’s to the curb—well, those guys sure do depend on Christmas to put their accounting books in the black. Without Christmas, most of the famous department stores would have gone out of business long ago.
Annually, Christmas tree sales alone top out at somewhere over $500-million. Then there are lights, ornaments, tinsel, garland, the star at the top and that incredibly poorly designed monstrosity at the bottom, which with unbounded imagination, the manufacturers call a Christmas tree stand. In 2008, on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), consumer spending rose 7% over the previous year, totaling $41-billion—and that during a crippling recession! Yes, Christmas is a huge moneymaker.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Now, most of us don’t know how this holiday called Christmas got started in the first place and nobody knows the exact date when Jesus was born. The date, December 25th, was picked out by the bishop of Rome, Julius I, in 350 AD.
Three-hundred-seventeen years before that, in 33 AD, one solitary Roman centurion stood at the foot of a cross and exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” By 1100 AD, the rest of Roman Empire, once the worst enemy of Christianity, had chosen that faith as its official religion (Every knee will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord) and suddenly, Christmas had become the most important festival in Europe.
Oddly enough, the Reformation of the church put the brakes on Christmas celebrations in the 1500s. About one-hundred years later, Christmas was actually outlawed in England and in many of its colonies in America. In fact, the Puritan courts of Massachusetts ruled that any observance of Christmas outside a church service was illegal and fines were imposed for so much as hanging a decorated wreath.
Things were a little different in Germany, though. In fact, Germans are credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition. Legend has it that Martin Luther, while on his way home one winter evening, beheld the stars through the tops of evergreen trees and decided to reproduce the visual effect in his own home by cutting down a pine sapling, bringing it into the house and attaching candles to the branches. German immigrants brought this celebratory observation to America as early as 1747. By that time, the Puritan embargo on Christmas had been lifted, but Christmas celebrants were still gazed upon with suspicion by most English colonists.
By the mid 1800s, England and America had relented and joined in on the festivities. Santa Claus made his first appearance in America just before the Civil War. In 1870, five years after the war ended, Christmas became a federal holiday. In 1895, the White House was decorated by Christmas trees illuminated by electric bulbs.
The crass commercialization of the holiday, born of multi-media advertising, was still a generation in the future and the world still saw Christmas almost exclusively as a celebration of the birth of Christ.
Christmas was now firmly established throughout the western hemisphere and celebrations took place even during World-War I, the biggest and bloodiest conflict up to that time. The power of Christmas was as yet undiluted and even in the trenches and the “no man’s land” between warring German and English armies, one of the most unlikely events in history took place in the name of Christ.
When I found the following story on the internet, I was more than a little bit moved. It seemed impossible, but cross-referencing confirmed it as factual—and there were photographs to back it up…
From a letter by Rifleman Graham Williams:
"I was standing on the firestep, gazing out towards the German line and thinking what a very different sort of Christmas Eve this was from any I had experienced in the past...
There had been no shooting from either side since the sniper's shot that morning, which had killed a very popular young soldier in our company named Bassingham. But this was not at all unusual.
Then suddenly, lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still frosty air! Other sentries had, of course, seen the same thing, and quickly awoke those on duty, asleep in the shelters, to "come and see this thing, which had come to pass". Then our opponents began to sing "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht".
This was actually the first time I heard this carol, which was not then so popular in this country as it has since become. They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang "The First Nowell".
And when we finished, they all began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs "O Tannenbaum". And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until we started up "O Come All Ye Faithful" the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words "Adeste Fidelis".
And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing - two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war."
And another letter, this one from C.H. Brazier, another rifleman in the trenches:
You will no doubt be surprised to hear that we spent our Christmas in the trenches after all and that Christmas Day was a very happy one. On Christmas Eve the Germans entrenched opposite us began calling out to us ‘Cigarettes’, ‘Pudding’, ‘A Happy Christmas’ and ‘English – means good’, so two of our fellows climbed over the parapet of the trench and went towards the German trenches. Half-way they were met by four Germans, who said they would not shoot on Christmas Day if we did not. They gave our fellows cigars and a bottle of wine and were given a cake and cigarettes. When they came back I went out with some more of our fellows and we were met by about 30 Germans, who seemed to be very nice fellows. I got one of them to write his name and address on a postcard as a souvenir. All through the night we sang carols to them and they sang to us and one played ‘God Save the King’ on a mouth organ" (The Hertfordshire Mercury, Saturday January 9, 1915).
It sounds impossible, but it happened. Half a century later, the Christmas Truce of 1914 was humorously memorialized by The Royal Guardsman’s recording of “Snoopy’s Christmas.” You can find a You-Tube video of it at the following web address:
Up until the 1940s, World War I had been known as “The War to End All Wars” or “The Great War.” Well, now there was something even bigger and more tragic, something to which the Great War could be compared. And now, we would simply number them. During WWII, our forces were divided among Europe, Africa, the Southwest Pacific, the Far East and a few other far-flung places. Losses on all sides were staggering and entire cities could be leveled in one day. Bad places to be included the inside of a B-17 on its way to Schweinfurt; the beaches of Normandy on D-day; the Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge, the islands of Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Okinawa.
For the American GI, there was only one place to be and a special occasion by which time he hoped to arrive there. Every soldier, sailor and Marine knew the wartime slogan, “Home by Christmas.” Irving Berlin wrote the song, “White Christmas,” poolside, at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. It was originally intended as a humorous offering about Christmas in Los Angeles, but these incongruous introductory lyrics were dropped by the time Bing Crosby first performed the song on radio in 1941:
The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There’s never been such a day in Beverly Hills, LA.
But it’s December the 24th—and I’m longing to be up North—
Crosby’s “White Christmas” reflected the desire of every GI to make it back home in time for a Christmas “…just like the ones I used to know” and his recording sold over 30-million copies worldwide. He did it again in 1943 with “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” which became the most requested song at USO shows in Europe and the Pacific.
By the time of the Baby-Boom, the commercialization of Christmas was in full swing and American kids were inspired to unprecedented levels of avarice. Every year, my brother and I received a truckload of the greatest toys you ever saw and fully believed that all of it was brought down our chimney by Santa Claus. The issue of how he did it in spite of the fact that our chimney was hooked up to an oil-burning furnace was never addressed and I, for one, was not about to rock the boat. Dad, a machinist of modest paycheck, was the sole support of our family and God bless him for the sacrifices he must have made to give his kids all these wonderful things—and then he let the guy with the white beard and red suit take all the credit. Thanks, Dad. And thank you and Mom for dragging us off to church on Christmas morning, too.
By the mid 1960’s the true meaning of Christmas had been so obscured among the shopping and glitz that celebrities on television hosted specials which sought “the true meaning of Christmas.” With the best of mistaken intentions, they told us that Christmas was about nice things like generosity and kindness and spending time with your family—and, oh yes, Borden’s eggnog. Only one nationally broadcast, primetime Christmas Special got it right and God bless Charles Schulz for standing up to the TV networks by having his Peanuts character, Linus, recite the Christmas story according to the gospel of Luke 2:8—14. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” aired for the first time on CBS in 1965 and you can buy it on DVD, today. Meanwhile, you can see and hear Linus’ recitation at the following You-Tube address:
As of recent times, there has been an annual war against Christmas. The ACLU routinely sues over such innocuous things as nativity scenes on public property—as if Christmas weren’t a federal holiday. A few years ago, when a nativity scene was put up in the Illinois capitol rotunda, a Wisconsin-based atheist group responded by applying for and receiving a permit to post an anti-God sign right next to the nativity scene. The sign read: “At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
The following year, another atheist group, the American Humanist Association, picked the Christmas season to place anti-God ads on the sides of transit buses in five cities including Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Nice, huh?
When we look at these things going on around us, it’s easy to feel a little bit discouraged. But it’s important to know that the God who spun the universe into space and spoke light into existence doesn’t need us to protect Him from those who say there is no God. Ultimately, He will respect their choice and give to them that for which they so vociferously campaign; an eternity apart from God.
Though they hate God and mock believers, the eternal destiny of these souls is not something to be celebrated. In fact, Christians have been personally commissioned by Jesus Christ to reach out to these people and love them as we love ourselves. There’s no ambiguity to it. He said: "… Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Even to the end of the age. That’s a whole lot of Christmases!
Nice Bob, thanks for posting. Seems like more people and businesses are saying Merry Christmas this year, we have never fallen into the generic holiday crap. Christmas is the reason for the season.
Easter is supposed to be the bigger Holiday actually.
Bob - Several years ago, you were the one who so generously gave many of us a very simple but very ingenious gasoline gauge that is a decided improvement over the old wooden "paint stir stick" that long ago became a Model T Ford "standard". I believe that your unheard of generosity via the forum at that time has now been superseded by what you just wrote and posted on the forum. Thank you so much for that, and here's wishing "you and yours" a very "Merry Christmas", and, as I like to say,..... that's "Christmas with a capitol "C"!
.....and a Happy & healthy New Year too,...... harold
Charlie,....actually, I like to think of Easter as just a sort of extension of the whole story, or, as Paul Harvey used to say,...."the rest of the story!"
Just to add a couple of things: For many years, Bing's version of WHITE CHRISTMAS was the largest-selling single recording of all time. The modern perception of Santa Claus was developed by the Coca-Cola bottling company for it's advertising in 1931. They took their version from the "VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS" poem - better known as "THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS". Prior to that, there were many versions of Santa, ranging from tall and thin, to a kind of spooky-looking elf.
Not to start anything ugly, but the ACLU has not been a part of any "war on Christmas", and in fact has advocated on behalf of people whose right to celebrate whatever religious holiday that they choose has been threatened. See the ACLU website. I know of a number of lawsuits that have been brought against those who wanted to put up religious symbols or scenes, but I am not aware of any of those lawsuits being brought by the ACLU. The ACLU has on rare occasion brought lawsuits against government spending on displays that would favor only one religion.
Thanks, Bob. I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas.
In the Scandinavian countries we do not use a word derived from Christmas but use the good old Nordic word "Jul". It most likely originates from the oldnordic 'jól', which was the term used for the feast the Vikings held at solstice. That was not unique to the vikings to mark the solstice and it is claimed to be the reason why the December 25th was picked as Chritmas Days: A lot of folks already celebrated something at that time and in Scandinavia we have kept the oldnordic word for it.
We way the vikings celebrated we still do: lots of food, good alcoholic beverages (all breweries have "Juleøl" (Christmas Brews) and maybe some tender love :-)
Christmas and Easter are the 'two' Christian holidays for sure but I have to agree with Charlie B. that Easter is the one where everything is brought into focus about Christianity. Its just a shame that Christmas has been so commercialized to the point its the world's biggest holiday.
The simple truth that's found in Silent Night says it all if we would but listen.
MHO and Merry Christmas to all!
Thank you, Bob!
Thank you, Bob. Well done, sir!
Garth Brooks sings a song called " Belleau Wood " about the WW1 occurrence.
Thanks for the effort Bob.