“Happy Thanksgiving!” “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Hanukkah!” “Happy Quanza!” “Happy New Year!” “Happy Holidays!” We have embarked into the Winter Holiday Season in the United States. Traditionally speaking, this is a time of giving thanks and spending time with family and friends and having a vacation away from our usual “duties”. This is how it used to be. The more we advance in our knowledge of temporal things the more complicated the holidays become. Our Winter celebrations have become much more consumer driven and less and less family-focused times of peaceful rest, relaxation and renewal. It has also become a time when we do not know what to say. Do we dare say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.” Will people be offended if we simply say, “Happy Holidays!”? Will they think that we are atheists? I remember when President Obama referred to the White House Christmas Tree as a “Holiday Tree.” Some people were enraged and called him anti-Christian and accused “Uncle Sam” of being involved in a conspiracy to take away everything “Christian” from the American culture. In my humble personal opinion, this is not “Uncle Sam’s antics,” but simply semantics. Whenever I read or hear (on the news) about the lighting of the White House evergreen tree, it is referred to as the “White House Christmas Tree.” (This year’s White House Christmas Tree is an eighteen-and-a-half foot Douglass fir from Eastern Pennsylvania. It will be lit on December 3, 2013, at 5:00 p.m., in case you‘re interested.)
Before going any further, I want to mention that lighting up an evergreen tree was first a pagan ritual traced way back to the 1400’s when Vikings or people related to Vikings lit an evergreen tree on fire, possibly for warmth and to make light in the wintry darkness. Later on, people would bring evergreen trees or branches into their homes to remind themselves that some things were still growing and green, even in the dead of winter, and that their fields would soon be green once more. Christians adopted this idea of bringing evergreen trees indoors to symbolize God’s faithfulness, everlasting love and eternal life found in His One and Only Son Jesus Christ, who was born to them on Christmas Day. Sometime later, the evergreen trees were called “Christmas Trees” and were decorated and lit with candles, later Christmas lights, in honor of Christ’s birth. The lights represent the Saints as “the light of world” (Matthew 5:14-16). That is how the Christmas Tree tradition came to be, in a nutshell. So, if some people want to call them “Holiday Trees” I have no objection, as long I am free to call my tree a Christmas Tree.
What is a “holiday” anyway? This is how Dictionary.com defines “holiday“:
1. A day fixed by law or custom on which ordinary business is suspended in commemoration of some event or in honor of some person.
2. Any day exempt from work (distinguished from working day).
3. A time or period of exemption from any requirement, duty, assessment, etc.: New businesses may be granted a one-year holiday from taxes.
4. A religious feast day; holy day, especially any of several usually commemorative holy days observed in Judaism. (I would also include Christianity. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, “holy” means “set apart” so a holiday is a day “set apart” for God.)
5. Sometimes, holidays, Chiefly British – a period of cessation from work or one of recreation; vacation.
Thanksgiving fits definition #1. According to Wikipedia: Thanksgiving is celebrated on the forth Thursday in November and became an official Federal holiday in 1863, during the Civil War, by President Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln proclaimed it as a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Ever since Lincoln‘s proclamation, Americans celebrate the First Thanksgiving Feast of the Pilgrims and Native “Americans” in 1621, by having a feast of their own with turkey and stuffing and all the fixings (and don’t forget the pumpkin pie!) and use it as a day to “count our many blessings” with family and friends (and don’t forget the FOOTBALL!).
Hanukkah fits definition #4. This year Hanukkah, one of the oldest Jewish holidays, started on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and will be celebrated for eight days. It is very fitting for Hanukkah and Thanksgiving to be celebrated together, because they are both are about being thankful to God. (According to the Hebrew Calendar, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will be together again for 78,000 years!) Hanukkah is also known as the “Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication.” As I noted, it is an eight-day Jewish holiday which celebrates the rededication of the (second) Holy Temple at the time of the Maccabean Revolt, in the second century BCE. Wikipedia states “The festival is observed by the kindling of lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, one additional light each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical Manorah consists of eight branches with an additional branch in the center. The extra light is the shamash and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The purpose of the shamash is to have a light available for practical use, as using the Hanukkah lights themselves for purposes other than publicizing or meditating on the Hanukkah is forbidden.” Hanukkah is a time to celebrate God’s provision and faithfulness to His people. As God made the very little amount of oil to stretch out to give light for eight days at the first Hanukkah, God continues to provide and remains faithful to His people today. I am sure food is involved and also playing a game with a spinning-dice-like toy called a dreidel is lots of fun, but this is all this Gentile knows about Hanukkah, except for one more thing: The Hanukkah Menorah cannot be called a “Holiday“ Menorah, because it comes from a rich Jewish Holy Day tradition.
Then, there’s “Black Friday.” Which definition does “Black Friday” fit into? I guess it could fit into definition #1, if you changed it to read: “A day fixed by law or CUSTOM on which ordinary people suspend common sense and courteous decorum.” I do not know when the name “Black Friday” got started, but it is the day after Thanksgiving when normal, law abiding people go into a Christmas shopping frenzy, while department store owners hope that there will be a lot of buying, so that they will go from being in the “red” to being in the “black” – thus the name, “Black Friday.” As for me, I celebrate “Black and Gold Friday” and watch the matinee Bruins hockey game, at 1 p.m., and enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers. (The Bruins beat the N.Y. Rangers 3 to 2 B.T.W.) This year, there’s the added “pleasure” of having “Green Friday,” with the Celtics Basketball game at 7 p.m. and “Green and Yellow Friday” with the 117th playing of the “Civil War” football game between the Beavers (Oregon State) and the Ducks (Oregon U), also at 7 p.m. One of the many blessings I am thankful for is a DVR. Both the Celtics and Ducks won (my teams) and I heard after the Beavers verses Ducks game, that it was a back and forth and very exciting game. I’m afraid the tryptophan did it’s work and I slept through most of the college football game. But, at least I have the DVRed Celtics game to look forward to watching. (I will be watching it because I’m afraid they will not be winning many games this season. But, you never know…) “Black and Gold and Green and Green and Yellow Friday” after Thanksgiving is my idea of a holiday, according to definition #2: “any day of exemption from work (distinguished from working day).
Another relatively new holiday is Quanza. Ask.com describes it the way: “Quanza also written as Kwanzaa is a week long celebration held in the U.S. in honor of the universal African-American heritage and culture. It was created by Maulana Karenga of the U.S. organization in 1966. It is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st.” Quanza also uses candles in their celebration, with seven candles representing core principles: unity, creativity and faith. The holiday ends with a feast and the giving of gifts.
The last Holiday Season I want to share with you is the Season of Advent, which prepares Christians (people who believe in Jesus Christ as Messiah and trust Him for their salvation) to celebrate Christmas, Christ’s first coming to us as a baby, and the joyful anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming as the Lord of lords and King of kings. The Season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and extends through Christmas Eve. Advent originated as a period of penance and of preparation for baptisms at Epiphany Sunday (the Sunday closest to January 6th). In the 6th century it was moved to the four weeks before Christmas. In the 9th and 10th centuries Advent’s meaning was broadened to include the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ (see Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13; Luke 12, 17, 21; John 14, 16). [This information comes from my church’s Deacons’ Manual.]
Christmas as a one day holiday fits into definition #1, since it is a “custom on which ordinary business is suspended…in honor of some person” who is Jesus Christ. I’m sure many of us would not mind taking the whole season of Advent off, but that is not always possible or practical. However, Christians have something to help them focus on what the Incarnation of Christ, “God with us” and His Second Coming means to us, for most of the days in the month of December. Out of all of my Christmas decorations, from the Christmas Tree to the garland and even my crèches (I have several for different rooms of my house) with all its tiny figures; they all have to wait. The first Christmas decoration that is put out on my dining room table is the Advent Wreath. Like the Menorah candles and the Quanza candles, the candles on the Advent Wreath have special meaning and purpose for Christians. Candles are lit each day and Scripture passages concerning Christ’s birth and His Second Coming are read, once in the morning and once in the evening. Prayers are said, after the Scripture reading, and Christmas Carols are sung. Just as the Hanukkah Menorah cannot be called a “Holiday Menorah,” the Advent Wreath cannot be called a “Holiday Wreath” because it has special religious significance. The Advent Wreath is not hung up, but laid down in a prominent place tin the house where the family is able to gather and spend special times of worship and praise.
There are five candles that make up the Advent Wreath, which is made up of evergreen branches arranged in a circle. The green circle symbolizes that God is eternal and He gives eternal life to all who believe in Him and trust Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. The three purple candles represent Christ’s royalty, as well as our attitude of humility and repentance with which we anticipate His coming. The rose colored candle represents God’s love and faithfulness, as well as our joy at Christ’s coming. These four candle are place at the four “corners” of the wreath. The white candle in the center of the Advent Wreath is the Christ Candle and it symbolizes Christ’s holiness and perfection.
Throughout this Advent Season, I hope to share my thoughts and meditations concerning who Jesus is to me, what He has done for me and what He continues to do for me until He comes again. The first candle is lit on the first Sunday in Advent (this Sunday, 12/1/13) and will be lit each day of the first week, two candles for the second week, three candles for the third week, four candles for the fourth week, and all five candles will be lit on Christmas Eve. As each candle is lit and specific Scriptures are read and Carols sung, I pray for the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds and hearts to who Jesus really is and what He has done for all who believe in His Name. As the Advent Wreath becomes brighter and brighter as the days get closer and closer to Christmas and the celebration of Christ‘s birth and the anticipation of His Second Coming, my hope is for all of us to share in the immeasurable joy and infinite peace that comes from receiving God’s “Indescribable Gift!” (II Corinthians 9:15).
This Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent. We light the first purple candle on the Advent Wreath. This candle is known as the “Prophecy Candle.” It reminds us that Christ’s coming was revealed by God through the prophets hundreds of years before He was born.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel [God with us]” (Isaiah 7:14).
“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:18, 20b-23))
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan -The people in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoicing at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warriors boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:1-7).
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ He who is seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:1-5a).
Dear Lord Jesus,
I thank you for coming down from Your heavenly throne to be born as a helpless baby, to become one of us, yet you were “God with us.” You grew up as a man, in order to die for me and save me from my sins. How can I ever thank You for saving me and setting me free. I also know that You will come again and put an end to all sorrow and pain, all fighting and strife, all bigotry and injustice, all hardship and evil and death. You will make everything new! As I meditate on all Your great works, during this Advent Season, help me to grasp anew what Your Incarnation and Your Coming Again mean. Renew the joy of my salvation and help me spread Your joy to others by loving and caring for them as You always love and care for me. Thank you Jesus! Amen.
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
(By Charles Wesley)
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver, Born a Child, and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, Now The gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine own sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
My next post will not be this long. Promise! This post was a long one because I believe it is a good thing to know about holidays of all kinds. It may help us get into an interesting dialogue and learn something new. And, who knows, the person may ask us to explain our holiday too.
My dad telling me about the First Christmas
“Blessed is the Season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” – Hamilton Wright Mabie