Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:11 NIV)
I grew up in the tropical Malaysia. This means we did not experience the 4 seasons of the year. It would probably be best to say that in Malaysia we have an eternal summer. The sun rises at a predictable time all year round and goes down at a predictable time. There is no need to consider daylight savings time. At noon, the average temperature will be 30 C all year round. In Malaysia we do not have winter or snow. As I was growing up, I always wondered why Mum celebrated a winter Christmas with our artificial Christmas tree and why she would put cotton wool on the tree to make it look like a winter Christmas. I also wondered why we would sing about a one-horse open sleigh and jingle bells in our Sunday school Christmas party when none of us had ever even seen snow on the ground.
Fast forward to my first Christmas in Sydney, Australia. I had gone to Australia for my university studies. Australia is in the southern hemisphere and has summer on Dec. 25. In my first Christmas we did not have a roast turkey dinner. Instead we had cold cuts and then went down to the beach to catch some waves since it was so hot.
When we read the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ in the Bible, there is no reference to snow on the ground let alone coniferous Christmas trees. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Mary and Joseph was through some desert terrain. The shepherds watched their flocks by night in the fields around Bethlehem to have access to grass for their sheep. We are used to a Christmas card version of the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem with Mary, Joseph, the shepherd and the Magi with the star at the top. Some of these cards also present snow and coniferous Christmas trees by the side of this stable.
Why is Christmas celebrated in the winter (if you are in Europe or North America) and on December 25?
Over the years I have also done some study on the origin of Christmas on December 25 as the day to celebrate the birth of the Second Person of the Trinity. In the first 300 years of the Christian church, Christians were persecuted for their faith. In many quarters of the Roman empire, many Christians had to choose between “Caesar is Lord” and “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). They wanted to celebrate the birth of their Messiah Jesus. So, on December 25, when the Romans celebrated the Sun God during the winter solstice, Christians secretly celebrated the birth of their Lord during these festivities. When the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion on 381 A.D., he also made it legitimate to celebrate the birth of the Messiah on December 25.
As for the name “Christmas”, it is a shortened form of “Christ’s mass”. One needs to separate the root words “Christ” and “Mass”. Christ is English for the Christos , which is the New Testament Greek word for Meshach , the Old Testament Hebrew word that is translated as Messiah. Messiah means the Chosen One or the Anointed One. “Mass” is the word the Roman Catholics use to name their church worship gathering. It is derived from the Latin missa , which is also the same root word from which we get the English word “mission”. The Latin missa is a noun form of the verb “to send”.
In a round about way I am explaining that the word “Christmas” actually means “the mission of the Messiah” or “the sending of the Messiah”. That is why Christmas has a profound meaning beyond the date December 25. The Messiah has been sent. The Anointed One has landed. The Chosen One has come.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11 ESV)