A closer look at Christmas traditions


Christmas is so full of wonder, meaning and tradition. But, where did all these things that we now call “Christmas” come from? I turned to one of my favorite websites, crosswalk.com, and found a good bit of information on this topic. I’ll share some of it with you here.

We know from history that the Romans celebrated an annual victory of their sun god, Saturn, over the long night of winter darkness. This pagan festival was held each year near the winter solstice of December. It was called Saturnalia and included the giving of gifts and the release of slaves. Christians used this occasion to celebrate the birth of Christ. This celebration eventually was called “Christ’s Mass,” from which the word Christmas is derived.

Note: we do not know that Jesus was born on December 25, and it is most unlikely that he was, but we use it because early Christians in Rome made it coincide with Saturnalia.

Crosswalk declares, “What an amazing picture of Christ’s coming to us. As John 1 says, He came to a sin-darkened world, He came as a Sunrise from on High and offered the free gift of salvation and liberation from servitude to the servants of darkness.

By the year AD 360 the church was intentionally celebrating the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ. By AD 386, Chrysostom, the great church leader, emphasized, “Without the birth of Christ there is no Baptism, no Passion, no Resurrection, no Ascension and no Pouring out of the Holy Spirit …’ ”

As the centuries unfolded, the tradition grew to include Epiphany, Jan. 6, when the visit of the Wise men is celebrated. It is on this day that the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas.

So, what are the Christian meanings to many of our old traditions? According to crosswalk.com …

December 25th was the Roman Saturnalia Festival of emancipation, gift giving and the triumph of light after the longest night. The Christian sees the truth implicit in this pagan tradition that reflects Christ the Light of the world, and His triumph over the night of sin in Luke 1:78-79.

Evergreen trees were the symbol of eternal life. Martin Luther introduced them to the Reformation Church as a reminder that God’s love never ends and as a picture of our endless life in Christ, by bringing in a tree to his family on Christmas Eve lit with candles (Isaiah 60:13).

Candles are a picture that Christ is the Light of the world (John 8).

Holly speaks of the thorns in His crown (Matthew 27:29).

Gifts symbolize that God gave the greatest gift of His Son Jesus to be our Savior, and are a reminder of the gifts of the Magi to baby Jesus. (Matthew 2).

Mistletoe was an ancient symbol from the Roman times. It was under mistletoe that old enmities (hostilities) and broken friendship were restored. So Christ was the One who took away the enmity and gave us peace with God (Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1).

Bells are associated with ringing out news. Christ is the good news, the best news of all.

Christmas Eve is a time when we remember that Christ came in the darkest night of Earth’s need to be the Light of the World.

Shepherds, who were watching lambs for use as sacrifices in the Temple, were the first to hear the great news that the Lamb to end all sacrifices had appeared.

Santa Claus is a Dutch word that is actually Sinter Claus, Saint Nicholas in English.

Saint Nicholas was the early Bishop in Asia Minor [the modern country of Turkey]. He became aware of some desperate needs in his congregation, and a family having to sell their children into slavery, so one night he came and left money for them. It was gold in a stocking.

So, I share with you this final conclusion:

1. Let the spiritual depth of Christmas be the true emphasis and meaning of the season.

2. Let the spiritual delight of Christmas trump the call of commercialism.

3. Show the world around you that there is Joy to The World, (because) The Lord is come.

4. Live your life all year displaying the Peace of Christ.

5. Give a gift to Jesus.

6. Like Christ, give to those who can’t repay you.

7. Pause to sense the darkness outside at night, and then thank God for sending The Light.

8. Read the Scriptures to your family. Especially Luke 2 and Matthew 2.

9. Start some traditions that point to Christ.

10. And, of course, worship the Christ-Child in your church or in a church near you.


Kollmeyer is Pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fayetteville on Ga. Highway 314, between Lowe’s and The Pavilion. He invites you and your family to Christmas Eve Candlelight Services at 4, 8 (new time), and 11 p.m. Visit www.princeofpeacefayette.org.