The date of our Saviour’s birth most likely was in the Spring.

The gifts were given only to the Christ-child, not a frenetic, gifts all around.  The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were symbolic of the attributes of Jesus, God come to earth to live among us, die on the cross of Calvary and conquer death and the grave,  bear the price of our sins, and open the way to Heaven for lost humanity.

The wise men came from the East when Jesus was about two years old, not to the manger of Bethlehem.  People say Christmas is for the children, but don’t often ponder who those children were in the first Christmas story.  Herod killed all the little boys two years old and younger, in his determination to eliminate the promised Messiah.

Back in a December of early 1970s, I read Luke’s gospel for the first time as a new believer in Christ.  It was one of those times when a heavy snowfall brought Vancouver to a stop. The city felt pure, peaceful and the silence was a gift from God.   I realized then that the frenzy of gift-buying, excessive eating and drinking at countless parties, had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, and I made the decision to step out of the crass commercialism and madness of Christmas.  I’ve never once regretted that decision.  Sometimes when I tell others that it really is possible to opt out, I see a glimmer of hope in their tired eyes.

One of the biggest frauds is that everyone is happy, happy, happy in the holiday season.  Actually the grim statistics tell an entirely different tale.

One day a customer gave me a Chargex payment with a deep sigh of relief.  He said, “This is the last of my Christmas present debts.”  It was the month of June.

When people ask, “What can I buy for Uncle Jim, who has everything”? …….the obvious answer is, ……“Why would you want to waste your money and his time?”  So now he has to go through the aggravation of pretending you spent your money, time and energy to buy him the gift he’s been waiting for all his life.  Surely there are better ways to help your fellow humans who desperately need a helping hand.  And they suffer hunger and want through all the calendar year.  This orgy of gift-giving exhausts your resources and strengths and very often disappoints the recipients.

Millions of people believe they should be surrounded by love and family and warmth and gifts, because that is the norm for everyone else around them,….but they don’t have it and feel worse at Christmas than any other time of year.  People breathe a collective sigh of relief when the whole charade is over.

Carry on, if you don’t have the strength of character to resist the pressures, but at least read the Bible to find the One who alone can give you gifts that satisfy the deep needs of your heart and soul and mind, for time and for eternity.

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This is a short, brief story of the ups and downs of Christmas from Christianity Today magazine.

When Christmas Meets the ‘Umbrage Industry’

If history is any guide, there’s no escaping the hostilities that erupt every December.

November 23, 2016

There is no easier way for politicians or pundits to rally the base this time of year than hyping the “War on Christmas” by liberal elites. Donald Trump’s son Eric told evangelist James Robison in an August interview that one reason Trump decided to run for president was because the White House “Christmas tree” was now called the “holiday tree.” (Multiple outlets noted that no such change had occurred.)

Hostility toward Christmas, Santa Claus, and the Christmas tree has a long history, as does disgust with the holiday’s appropriation by politicians, marketers, and lobbyists. Gerry Bowler’s often hilarious, sometimes tedious Christmas in the Crosshairs: Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World’s Most Celebrated Holiday (Oxford University Press) chronicles a mind-boggling array of conflicts stretching from the ancient world to today. Ever ready with wry zingers for Christmas’s legions of opponents or another quote illustrating the quixotic zeal of its appropriators, at times Bowler gives the impression of someone who loves his subject a little too much.

Bowler begins with the fascinating history of how the early church chose December 25 as the day to observe Christmas. The Bible gives little guidance, and Bowler is not convinced by the common argument that the church just decided to Christianize a pagan holiday. Instead, he attributes the date to obscure assumptions the early church made about the timing of Jesus’s conception, and the belief that great people sometimes died on the same date they were conceived (around mid-March, in Jesus’s case). Still, Christmas’s proximity to older pagan festivals would plague its reputation for millennia.

In the medieval era, Christmas became a fixture of Catholic festive culture, which sometimes featured drunken celebrations and “social inversions” such as the “Feast of Fools” and “Feast of the Ass” (that is, the donkey that carried Mary). These rites made Christmas a prime target for many Reformers, who viewed them as an unbiblical “popish” riot. In the 1640s, the Puritan-dominated English Parliament banned Christmas and “all other festival days commonly called ‘Holy-days.’ ” A century and a half later, radical French revolutionaries renamed December 25 “dog day,” viewing citizens who stayed home from work as potential enemies of the secular regime.

By 1800, Christmas was in bad shape, associated largely with working-class drunkenness and violence. But in the early 19th century, Christmas “revivalists” like Washington Irving and Charles Dickens began recasting it as a generically religious, culturally wholesome, and family-centered holiday. Clement Clarke Moore made perhaps the most significant contribution with his 1822 “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” A friendly Santa Claus supplanted St. Nicholas’s traditional threats of wrath against disobedient children. Other menacing nocturnal visitors who had been fixtures of medieval Christmases, such as central Europe’s “Perchta the Disemboweller,” soon vanished before Santa’s kindly image. The gift-giving Santa also transformed Christmas into the merchants’ holiday par excellence.

By the mid-19th century, Christmas had come to signify “charity, family togetherness, reunion, and the importance of parental love for children.” It is this version that has become the “biggest single event on the planet,” in Bowler’s estimation.

Christmas’s singular prominence encourages not only critics, but innumerable appropriators. Bowler provides a thorough rundown of the groups, from totalitarians to atheists to animal rights activists, who have used Christmas as a platform for one cause or another. The Nazis replaced Jesus with “Der Fuhrer” in the hymn “Silent Night.” (“Adolf Hitler is Germany’s star, showing us greatness and glory afar.”) The ultra-fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church replaced “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” with “Santa Claus Will Take You To Hell.” Planned Parenthood produced a version of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in which a lover showers his beloved with gifts related to “family planning.”

The last chapter covers the barrage of lawsuits filed by the ACLU and other secularists who seek to eliminate all vestiges of Christmas from American public life. Bowler is (rightly) frustrated with the “relentlessness” of their litigious flood. He sees complaints like those of the two Caro, Michigan, atheists who professed to be “offended, affronted, intimidated, and distressed” when they saw a crèche on the town square in 2003, as furthering an “umbrage industry.” But he also has little patience for hyper-sensitive rage against the “War on Christmas”—and for those who exploit it to make money or build political capital.

As a cure for our Christmas ills, Bowler recommends the old-fashioned virtue of genuine tolerance, a commitment to “abide with one’s fellow citizens’ choices.” If Starbucks produces an unadorned seasonal red cup, or the Wal-Mart cashier merely says “happy holidays,” there’s no cause for a Moral Majoritarian freakout. Likewise, if baby Jesus shows up on a courthouse lawn somewhere in Middle America, there’s no reason to get lawyers involved. When it comes to Christmas, Bowler pleads, can’t we just live and let live?

Thomas S. Kidd is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and the author of George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale University Press).

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