Teaching Children about the Origin of Christmas
by Lee Ann Mancini
Can you feel the excitement in the air? Christmas is nearly here! It is my family’s favorite holiday. In addition, it is celebrated by billions of people around the world. So what are the origins of the Christmas holiday? How long has this holiday been celebrated?
Interestingly, Origen of Alexandria, a Greek first century scholar and theologian, was fundamentally opposed to celebrating the birth of Jesus. He argued that birthday celebrations were for pagans and not for Christians. Nevertheless, Christians have been celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 since the first century. While we traditionally celebrate the birth of Christ on this day, biblical scholars can attest that Jesus was not actually born on December 25. No one knows the specific date of the birth of the Savior. This is simply the date that has been chosen by tradition.
The Christmas holiday has inherited a mixture of pagan and Catholic customs along the way. Our tradition of having a Christmas tree likely comes from a time when the pagans worshipped trees in the forest and then brought the trees into their homes to decorate. Over time, the Christians took over this custom. Meanwhile, our tradition of giving gifts at Christmas comes from the Catholic Church’s celebration of Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was a historical figure, who was named a saint in the 19th century. He was a bishop and a member of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. One group of Christians, who idolized Nicolas after his death, began a tradition of presenting gifts to each other annually on the anniversary of his death on December 6. Catholics eventually incorporated this custom into the Christmas celebration.
Pew Research states that 9 out of 10 Americans celebrate Christmas. In addition, research shows that 81% of non-Christians in America celebrate the Christmas holiday. Why do so many non-Christians celebrate this holiday? As the popular song proclaims, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” There is a romantic atmosphere to the Christmas season. In fact, Christmas Eve is the most popular day for couples to get engaged. Also, who doesn’t like to receive gifts, eat wonderful food and enjoy one day where there seems to be peace on earth?
How can we teach our children that Christmas is not about the material gifts they receive, but about giving freely and lovingly from the heart? When my children were little, they attended a local Christian school that happened to have quite a few Jewish students. One day, my son came home crying and told me that he wanted to be Jewish. When I asked him why, he replied, “The Jewish kids get presents for eight days for Hanukkah, and we only get presents for one day!” Hearing this, his little sister quickly exclaimed, “Yeah, that’s not fair!” The incident inspired me to write my children’s book, God’s Gift. My goal for this book was to teach young children that Christmas is not about how many presents they receive. Christmas is about God’s gift of His Son to the Christians and His gift of light to the Jews.
Christmas is also a wonderful time for us to show our love for each other in spite of our differences. That’s the true meaning of Christmas. It is a time for us to love each other as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love us! That is the reason for the season, and that is why Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year!
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