Special Issue--Christmas Part 1

Special Issue--Christmas Part 1

Have you ever written a letter of special requests to Santa Claus? Many children wonder, "Is there really a Santa Claus?" The answer may surprise you. Long ago in the village of Patara in modern day Turkey, a boy named Nicholas was born to wealthy parents. Nicholas' parents could afford to give him all kinds of good things, but the best thing they gave him was their faith in Jesus. Nicholas' parents loved Jesus very much, and they taught him to do the same.

When Nicholas was still a boy, his parents died. Though he was sad, he still had the special gift they gave him. He still had his faith in Jesus! Nicholas made up his mind to give his life and his money to help other people. This was long ago, but we still know of some of the good things he did.

In the town of Myra, there was a poor man with three daughters. It was time for the girls to get married, but the father had a problem. In those days the father of the bride had to pay money to the groom when they got married. This money was called a "dowry." The father did not have enough money for three dowries. He didn't even have enough money for one dowry! Without the money, the girls might be sold into slavery.

The bishop of the town was none other than Nicholas. He wanted to help this poor father. One night before they went to bed, the girls washed their wool stockings and hung them by the fireplace to dry. As they slept, Nicholas crept up to the house and secretly threw gold coins into their window--enough to pay for their dowries! The next morning the girls had a happy surprise when they found gold coins in their stockings!

Another time Nicholas made a special trip, or pilgrimage, to the Holy Land in Israel. He wanted to walk where Jesus had walked and see the things Jesus had seen. After his visit, Nicholas boarded the ship to go home. On the journey, a fierce storm developed. The ship was tossed about on tall waves as lightning flashed overhead. The passengers and crew feared for their lives, convinced they were doomed! Of all the people on board, only Nicholas remained calm. He drew on his faith and prayed calmly for the Lord to stop the tempest. To the amazement of the terrified sailors, the wind and waves stopped suddenly.

After Nicholas's death, the Church came to celebrate his life through a special feast day each December 6. European children often dressed like him and gathered money for the poor in memory of his love for children and his desire to give gifts. They also set out shoes or stockings the night before December 6 for "Nicholas" to fill. The Dutch and Germans brought these traditions to the American colonies.

Today's popular image of Santa Claus started in 1823 when Clement C. Moore wrote a poem "The Night Before Christmas." He combined the Dutch "Sinterklaas" and German "Saint Niklaus" to "Santa Claus," which sounded more American. It also began the tradition of Santa arriving in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

All these centuries after the time of Nicholas, Christians still remember his good deeds and kindness. Christians still give gifts to each other as a way to celebrate their faith in Jesus. Today there is a popular depiction of Santa Claus kneeling in prayer before the cradle of the Christ Child. It reminds us that Nicholas was a great man because he served Jesus.

Why do people write XMAS instead of Christmas? Is it because they are trying to take Christ out of holiday celebrations?
In Greek, Jesus is called "Christos" which begins with the Greek letter "chi" or "X." In 16th century Europe, Christians began to use "X" to mean "Christ" in the word "Christmas."

Was Jesus really born on December 25th?
In the 4th century there was a popular pagan festival called Saturnalia, which included lots of wild parties. The festival was held during the short cold days of December in honor of the pagan sun god, Mithras. Birthdays weren't celebrated much back then, but the Church wanted to help believers stay focused on Jesus instead of the pagan partying all around them. December 25 was selected as the official birthday. In fact, it is unlikely that Jesus was born in December, because it would have been too cold for people to travel at that time for the census that Joseph and Mary were observing. In addition, shepherds wouldn't have been in the fields with their sheep in the winter. Most scholars believe that Jesus was probably born in the spring or fall.

What exactly are "The Twelve Days of Christmas?"
They are the time between Christmas and Epiphany, which is January 6. That is the time the early church determined that the wisemen would have come to worship the Christ child. "Epiphany" means a revelation of a divine being, which of course, was Jesus, God in the flesh.

Who wrote the Christmas carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem?"
It is believed that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem stands on the very spot where baby Jesus once lay in a manger. In December 1865. Pastor Phillips Brooks visited the Holy Land and attended a Christmas Eve service in that special church. The pastor was so struck by the children celebrating Christ's birth and the "dark streets" of Bethlehem that three years later he wrote words for a Christmas song. Brooks gave the lyrics to his organist to compose a tune so the children could sing it on Christmas Day, but the organist, Lewis H. Redner, forgot about the assignment until Christmas Eve. He awakened that night to recall the words, and he said an "angel strain" (or melody) rang in his ears. Redner got up and quickly wrote down the melody, calling it a "gift from heaven." On Christmas morning 1868, in Philadelphia's Church of the Holy Trinity, children sang the beloved Christmas carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem" for the first time.

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.
  1. How can you "keep Christ" in your Christmas celebrations?
  2. Have you ever given a secret gift like Nicholas did? What was that like? Can you give a secret gift this Christmas?
  3. How do you like to celebrate your birthday? How might Jesus want his birthday party to be celebrated?
  4. If you could write a letter to God, what special gift would you ask Him for? Look up John 3:16 in the Bible to find the greatest gift God has given to the world.
  • Videos/DVDs:
    • Nicholas: the Boy Who Became Santa An animated story of Nicholas.
    • The Candy Maker's Christmas The story of the candy cane.
    • Martin and the Heavenly Tree The origin of the Christmas Tree.
    • Prince of Peace The Christmas story in beautiful 3D animation.
    • The Story of Silent Night The story of the beloved Christmas carol.
      (Order these from Vision Video, 1-800-523-0226 or www.visionvideo.com)
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