Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The first Sunday of Advent was Novemebr 28, 2010

Advent: Means “To come” in Latin.

Advent originally was a time of instruction, prayer fasting and self-reflection, in preparation to be baptized in the new year. Then in the mid-300s Constantine the Great declared Jesus' birthday a national holiday. The exact day of Christ's birth is unknown, it was probably in the spring, some time around Passover. But Julius, bishop of Rome, set the date as December 25 because, at the time, this was the highest pagan festival of ancient Rome, called "sol invictus.” As soon as the days began to lengthen, the Romans would celebrate what they called the “The day of the unconquered sun,” because it was coming back to vanquish the cold, dark winter. So the early Church decided to use this heathen holiday to proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ, the true Unconquered Son, Who came to vanquish the power of death and the darkness of hell.

For centuries the "coming" that was celebrated was not the birth of Jesus, but His Second Coming. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the church began using the Advent season to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth. And even then, this newer sense of the Baby Jesus’ "advent" or coming did not replace the older sense—the Second Coming.

Pagans had traditionally decked their halls with boughs of holly, evergreens and mistletoe to symbolize winter's inability to prevent the renewal of life. Many ancient people, including the Egyptians and later the Romans, believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well.

Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return. That’s where our Christmas colors come from: red for holly berries and green for evergreens. For the church, purple (and/or blue) for the royalty of Christ, and rose, for joy, not red and green, are this season's colors. That’s why the candles in the Advent wreath are traditionally purple and pink

The Advent wreath: Pre-Christian European people groups used wreathes of evergreens with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope for the days of Spring. Prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.

As Christianity spread among the peoples of pagan lands, many of the practices of the winter solstice were blended with those of Christianity. In the dead of winter a celebration of rebirth of life was symbolized in the birth of Christ. The time of the winter solstice, when days grew longer again--the return of the light--became the hope of the world in the birth of Christ, "the light of the world." Who came to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God

As the church continued to appropriate pagan customs and practices for God, Christmas celebrations got rowdier and rowdier, until there was a lot of feasting and singing, drinking, carousing, costume parties, wild dances, and carrying on. By the 1500's there was nothing really left of Christ in Christmas partying.

The Puritans reformers intended to bring Christ back into their cultures. In Scotland, John Knox put an end to Christmas in 1562. In England the observance of Christmas was forbidden by act of Parliament in 1644. It was illegal to write Christmas carols. It was illegal to hold festivities of any kind. Instead, Christmas had to be treated like any other day. There were even mincemeat sniffers who walked up and down the streets of every town making sure nobody was secretly making mincemeat pies. Pro-Christmas and anti-Christmas factions rioted.

Xmas. The word “Xmas” is one of the oldest symbols of Christmas. X is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Xristos. By the fifteen hundreds, "Xmas" was the most popular way throughout Europe of writing Christmas.

Christmas Trees are relatively new – German people began to bring whole evergreen trees into their houses around the 1600's. It wasn’t until Prince Albert and Queen Victoria that Christmas came back to England, in the mid 1800's. Because Prince Albert was German, he brought the tradition of the Christmas tree with him, and set up the first one ever in England during his first Christmas there. Those pretty glass ornaments were originally all made in Germany.

Because much of the original United States was settled by Puritans, Christmas was for a long time outlawed in America, and even when it was no longer illegal, it wasn’t until Queen Victoria’s time that Christmas started getting popular. 150 years ago people were already complaining about the commercialization of the celebration of Jesus’ birth with present buying, Christmas trees, decorations, parties and so on.

But in the 1880's President Grover Cleveland had made Christmas a federal holiday, as it is to this very day.

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation


  1. This may be the ultimate example of Christians trying to claim something pagan for Christ (as in Abraham Kuyper "In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, 'That is mine!'") only to have even their best intents corrupted by their own sinful natures and the pressures of the world. Does this mean that as believers we give up on spreading Christ into the darkness? Of course not. But it's challenging to know how to work these kinds of things out into everyday life, and how to bring them into the public arena in modern-day America.

  2. Yes, it is a challenge, I agree. I am totally for making everything in life sanctified to the Lord, but these things do carry temptation, especially when one is trying to coopt something for the Lord.

    A work in progress! Thanks for commenting


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