• Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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  • December 2012
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A History of Christmas in the United States

Painting of a 1776 Christmas Party

The first Christmas in America took place near Tallahassee, Fla., in 1539. Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto and other members of his expedition, celebrated Christmas there. It was a religious observance with a Christmas mass.

During early American colonial times, there were very few Christmas celebrations. The Pilgrims and Puritans were not fans of Christmas because – Christ did not give instructions that it should be honored as a holy day; Christians in the first two centuries did not celebrate Christmas; December 25 was an arbitrary date for its celebration; and, as Cotton Mather noted, its celebration had been degenerated by the immoral behavior of the participants. In Massachusetts, anyone caught observing Christmas was obliged to pay a fine and Connecticut law forbid its celebration. This, of course, did not intrude on the colonists’ private devotions at home. How you observed Christmas, however, depended on where you settled in the colonies. Christmas celebrations were legal in both New York and Virginia.

After the American Revolution, Americans saw Christmas as an English custom and many rejected it. On Christmas day in 1789, Congress was in session. This does not mean that the members of Congress met to take a stand on the separation of church and state. As sons of their time, they recognized Christmas as part of a moral/theological debate within the predominately Christian American community. The church and public opinion would finally decide the fate of what many, at that time, saw only as a tradition or custom. Allow me to be clear about this; they saw Christmas not Christianity as a tradition.

Interestingly enough, Washington Irving’s book of short stories in 1819, “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon“, may have influenced public opinion in this matter. The book describes various Christmas traditions and some of Irving’s own ideas. In addition, in 1822, Clement C. Moore composed the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”, published as “The Night Before Christmas” as a gift for his children. In it, he describes an American version of Santa Claus. Children’s books played an important part in spreading various customs of Christmas in the US. With increasing immigration, the Christmas traditions of other cultures soon found their way into American households. In 1850, the commercial selling of Christmas trees began in the United States.

As the American Civil War approached, the division on the issue of Christmas continued. Many in the North considered it sinful to celebrate Christmas. In the antebellum South, Christmas celebrations were more common. The first three states to declare Christmas a legal holiday were from the South: Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas (1836-1838).

On June 26, 1870, Christmas became a federal holiday. At first, this only applied to federal employees in the District of Columbia. In 1885, Congress extended the Christmas holiday to all federal employees throughout the US.

Christmas, as a celebration, has continued to grow in popularity in the US and throughout the world. Can we say that the popularity of Jesus is equal to that of Christmas? I am not so sure we can. Christmas has become a  secular idol to many. This is a huge problem for those of us who sincerely want to honor Christ in Christmas. Perhaps the Pilgrims and Puritans were right about Christmas all along. Perhaps, in our personal witness, we have failed to communicate the glorious message and meaning of Christ’s birth. What do you think should be done?



Sinclair B. FergusonSinclair B. Ferguson:

Scripture speaks about God working everything together “for the good” of those who love him (Rom. 8:28). But what is this “good?” It consists of believers being conformed (changed and remade) to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Thus, all the experiences of life are intended, under the sovereign hand of God, to help us to grow towards the great goal of the Christian life – Christ-likeness.

God Came to be with Human Beings

NativityDennis Bratcher:

At the heart of the nativity narratives in both Matthew and Luke, is a simple fact: amid the struggle of a people who had longed for 500 years for God to act in the world in new ways, God came to be with them in a way that totally identified himself with us, as human beings. Amid the most unlikely of circumstances, to the most unlikely of people, God became man for the salvation of all people. © 2003

The Father’s Love

John OwenChristmas PointsettiasWhat would cause the compassion in God that He should so deeply concern Himself in our lost condition? It is the infinite love and goodness of His nature. John Owen writes:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 ESV)

The eternal … cause of the whole work wherein the Lord Christ was engaged, for the redemption and salvation of the Church, is the love of the Father. It is constantly ascribed to this in the Scripture. And this love of the Father acted itself in His eternal decrees, “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4); and afterward in the sending of His Son to render it effectual (John 3:16). Originally, it is His eternal election of a portion of mankind to be brought to the enjoyment of Himself, through the mystery of the blood of Christ and the sanctification of the Spirit (II Thess. 2:13, 16; Eph. 1:4-9; I Peter 1:2).

This eternal act of the will of God the Father does not contain in it an actual [approval] of, and complacency in, the state and condition of those that are elected; but only designs that on which they shall be accepted and approved. And it is called His love for several reasons:

(1) Because it is an act suited to that glorious excellency of His nature wherein He is love; for “God is love” (I John 4:8, 9). And the first egress of the divine properties must, therefore, be in an act of communicative love. And since this election, being an eternal act of the will of God, can have no moving cause but what is in Himself, if we could look into all the treasures of the divine excellencies, we would find none it could be so properly ascribed as to love. Wherefore,

(2) It is styled love because it was free and undeserved, as to anything on our part; for whatever good is done to any altogether undeserved, if it be with a design of their profit and advantage, it is an act of love and can have no other cause. So is it with us in respect of eternal election. There was nothing in us, nothing foreseen, as that which, from ourselves, would be in us, that should any way move the will of God to this election; for whatever is good in the best of men is an effect of it (Eph. 1:4). Since it tends to our eternal good, the spring of it must be love. . . .

This is the eternal spring which is derived to the Church through the mediation of Christ. Wherefore, that which put all the design of this eternal love of the Father into execution and wrought the accomplishment of it was the love of the Son. . . . (“The Glory of Christ in His Love”)

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