2019-01-08 - Today is Christmas Day
To any of our Orthodox Christian readers, I hope that you are/ have been having a meaningful Christmas Day!! (I am not sure about time zones.) Some readers may wonder why I am sending a Christmas devotional after December 25th, and may be thinking “that’s over!” But actually, for many people, Christmas will still be ongoing, even as I will be sending this devotional. For some Orthodox Christians in Israel, Russia, Hungary and other countries, January 7th, is actually Christmas Day. For others, Christmas was over on December 26th, and some folks are downright fanatical about taking down decorations immediately, for non-religious reasons. But for a good number of worshippers, the celebration is only beginning on December 25th, which is indeed only the first of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”
In fact, in some cultures, January 6th, Epiophany Day, is looked forward to even moreso than December 25th! Epiphany Day commemorates the day that the Wise Men arrived at the birthplace of the baby Jesus, to honor and worship him. One day, I was eating with one of my DA office colleagues who happened to be from Mexico. She told me about the Mexican tradition (as well as in other cultures) of hiding a small baby doll in a cake called the Kings’ Cake, named after the Magi, or Wise Men, also sometimes called the Three Kings. The person who receives the piece of cake containing the doll, has the privilege of providing the cake for the next Christmas. I have fixed one of these myself, as we enjoy experiencing varying traditions along with our own sentimental ones. (The Three Kings Cake is also sometimes used during Mardi Gras.). This tradition signifies the Christian virtue of worship.
In France, Pere (Father) Noel is religious, being modeled after Saint Nicolas, who was a real-life Christian bishop in what is now Turkey. In the 4th century, St. Nicolas literally did give gifts to poor families. Later, Christian nuns would adapt the custom, by leaving anonymous gifts on the doorsteps of poor families. Today, Saint Nicholas Day is held on December 6th. This tradition signifies the Christian virtue of helping those in need.
Some aspects of celebrations and traditions are often based on what has been believed about the logistics of Jesus’ birth. There are differences among scholars concering the actual location and time of that birth. Some scientists say that we simply don’t know the exact date And some of us are just thankful that scientists admit Jesus was real, destroying a legalistic myth about science. ; )
There are those who believe that Jesus was born in Summer or Fall, based on the necessity of certain weather for shepherds to be out in their fields. The date December 25th was chosen in the 300s, in Rome, because it coincided with pagan celebrations. The celebration of a Christmas festival was intended, by authorities, to provide contrast to the pagan ones, and try to persuade people to follow Christ instead. So in that respect, it was evangelical.
And where did the actual birth happpen? Some say it was in a stable; some say that is a mistranslation and was probably in an upper room. I found that intriguting since the “Last Supper”was celebrated in an Upper Room.So that would make sense, since the Biblical stories sometimes have parallels.
All these traditions and facts are interesting. But in the end, “where” or “when” do not really matter. For the place that matters the human heart. In order to truly be a Christ follower, we must be “born again” in our hearts, after believing in and claiming Christ’s death for our sins.
John 3:1-8 (Young's Literal Translation)
And as Richard said in his own recent devotional, we Christians should celebrate Christmas year-round. We should celebrate not only our salvation, but honor the Biblically-sound traditions of showing love in practical ways - to both our loved ones and those in need.
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