You might, but only if you go back decades and not centuries. I urge you to read Before you wish for an Old-Fashioned Christmas… for a fascinating overview of how Christmas was celebrated throughout the centuries and how it evolved to what we have today. You might be surprised at the few things that radically changed it, and the surprisingly positive impact that the Santa phenomenon had. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not a Santa fan and find him to be a distraction, but the historical impact is significant and not all bad.
However bad you think the commercialization of Christmas is — and I agree that it is bad — the current day celebrations are much more civil than they used to be. There is no need to be shocked at how easy it is to miss the point of the amazing incarnation, because it has been going on for 2,000 years.
It seems that the most awesome event in human history, the coming of God to earth as a babe in a manger, has been forever obscured by Santa, shopping, and merrymaking… [But before] we brood and protest too much over what we think Christmas must have been like in generations long past, we might actually feel encouraged about the season we celebrate today when we consider what Christmas was really like in the days of old.
Only in relatively recent times, the past two hundred years, has Christmas even been celebrated by most Christians. Up until the 1800’s the day recognized as Christ’s birthday was largely a pagan celebration. Those who bemoan the lack of religious zeal in modern Christmases would have been appalled at the way people in early America celebrated the day. For a majority of people who embraced Christmas throughout history, Christ wasn’t a part of the day at all. In most of the world, especially in England and America, Christmas was not a time of worship, prayer, and reflection; rather, it was a day set aside to sing bawdy songs, drink rum, and riot in the streets.
For centuries, Christmas was anything but a holy day. It was most often a sinful parade of excess, a day set aside for ignoring laws and even terrorizing citizens… Those who attended church did so in wild costumes, the messages of many priests were anything but scriptural, and gambling was common during the services.
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Collins then goes on to explain about the period in the 1600’s where the Puritans in the British Empire, led by Oliver Cromwell, rose up to overthrow King Charles I, and set about banning Christmas festivities and all the debauchery that went with it. He believed that Christmas should be a sober day of reflection where people go about their business just as they would on any other day of the week, and then go home to quietly consider what Christ meant in their lives. So both the sociable and the unsociable extremes of the holiday celebration were outlawed. No gifts given, no toasts made, no carols sung. Likewise, no day set aside to drink rum, riot in the streets and sing bawdy songs, or invade the palatial homes of royalty and the upper-class.
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The drunken parties and gang riots grew so bad that in 1828 the New York City Council met in special session to discuss the issue, and a special police force was formed just to deal with the unlawful conduct of citizens on Christmas Day.
Three primary things changed all that:
- Queen Victoria married her cousin, Germany’s Prince Albert, in 1840, which helped import Germany’s more solemn recognition of Christ’s birth.
- The poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” (Originally “A Visit From St. Nicholas”)
- Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” caused people to re-evaluate the season and how they lived
Perhaps ironically, with the introduction of Santa and Scrooge, and with the commercialization of Christmas, those living in America and England finally got a chance to experience the real meaning of Christmas. Santa put an end to the drunken riots and brought peace to the season, and this allowed millions to reflect on the peace offered by the babe’s birth in a manger. … Though many today may grow tired of the commercialization of Christmas, in reality it has opened the door for Christ to once again become the focal point of the season, and for family, especially children, to be at the heart of the celebration.
I am not a fan of Santa, but I must give credit to how the Santa-thing helped impact the positive ways we celebrate Christmas.
It is indeed also an irony that the big man in the red suit who now usurps the interest of many at Christmas, especially children, should be partly responsible for the freedom we now have to focus on the one who deserves pride of place as the inspiration for the holiday in the first place.
Because you see, Christmas is not about giving, it’s about a gift. May the gift of forgiveness through Jesus, our Lord, fill your heart this year.
Christmas is an amazing holiday. Easter is the most important event in Christianity, of course, but it had to start with the incarnation. As radical as the resurrection was, I find the concept that God came into his creation as a human being even more astounding. And I believe it with every fiber of my body.
Merry Christmas and blessings to all of you!