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Worzel's World - Why Christmas?

 

It’s generally acknowledged that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 and that it has never snowed in Bethlehem. The date seems an arbitrary one.

The tendency to merge Christian celebrations with pagan holy days may be partly responsible. If so, the attempt to kill both the sacred and profane birds with one stone was wide of the mark by three days – the solstice falling on the 21st. The feast day of Saint Nicholas is December 6.

The tradition of gift giving at Christmas is loosely based on this historical figure. A fourth century Monk, Nicholas was imprisoned for his faith during the ‘Great Persecution’. He was neither fat nor jolly.

He was, says history, a wiry firebrand who God used to perform many miracles. His reputation as a gift giver stems from a tale of three young girls being saved from a life of prostitution when young Nicholas secretly delivered three bags of gold to their indebted father, which could be used for their dowries. The chubby red-suited fellow we know today is a mythical construct of corporate America.

But hey, what self-respecting capitalist would miss the chance to hijack a religious or cultural festival in order to make a buck? In 1822 Clement Clarke Moore wrote A Visit from St Nicholas – better known today as The Night Before Christmas – for his six children, with no intention of adding to the fledgling Santa Claus phenomenon.

It was published anonymously the next year. To this day the plump, jolly Santa described in this work rides a sleigh driven by eight familiar reindeer. In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. Over the subsequent years the CocaCola company centred much of its advertising around a Santa depicted by artist Haddon Sundblom who is largely responsible for the Santa we know today.

Once firmly established in North America, Santa then underwent a kind of reverse migration to post-war Europe, as did Coca-Cola, and he became a symbol of American generosity in rebuilding war-ravaged lands. I have been told by a reliable informant that this year Santa Claus has decided to take voluntary redundancy.

The scarcity of good children meant much of the challenge had gone out of the job and of course WorkSafe compliance issues meant that here in New Zealand it was a ‘no scaffold, no present’ scenario, even for the good children.

He reckoned it hardly made the trip worthwhile. The original Christmas went by largely unnoticed but for a handful if shepherds, three wise men and a smattering of beasts of the field. The herald angels sang about it of course but by and large people then, much like people today, harkened not.

However when Jesus of Nazareth became widely regarded as the much prophesied messiah God incarnate, the gospel spread. Christmas went global and huge numbers of people thought it a good idea to celebrate the possibility of redemption by eating too much, visiting the relly’s and not going to work. However there was always the underlying knowledge that it was somehow connected with God’s relationship with people.

It was a season where ‘peace on earth and good will to all men’ was promoted and generosity was the order of the day. Over time things have changed, as they tend to do. Now, for many, Christmas is simply only a holiday where they get stuck in traffic trying to go somewhere they think will be marginally better than the place they usually are. Often it is not, and where they end up is usually populated by exactly the sort of people they left home to get away from. The sad thing about this is that these are people very similar to themselves.

You won’t get much information about why the celebration of Christ’s birth has endured for two millennia from the media either. Their primary interest is in encouraging you consume as much as possible of everything you don’t need but are still prepared to pay for. So it looks like it is up to me to tell you why Christmas is so very important. Religion can bring comfort to imprisoned souls but only Jesus has the key to the cell door.

Medicine can relieve the sick but grace is needed to remove the cause of the disease. Positive thinking and self-improvement can help you achieve your goals but only faith can give you redemption, forgiveness and eternal life. This is why over two thousand years the birth of Jesus Christ has been celebrated by believers the world over. The God who was and who is and who is to come still brings gifts that Santa cannot copy.

They are gifts that will not break or have the wheels fall off soon after the new year has begun. They are of greater value than the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh given at the first Christmas or Bishop Nicholas’s three bags of gold that redeemed the prospects of three young girls. God’s gifts of faith hope and love are still available today to all who call upon the name of the Lord.

I wish you a merry Christmas and don’t forget to be happy in the New Year.

„ Feedback? Email prof_ worzel@hotmail.com

 
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