“I think we’ve taken the meaning of Christmas out. People don’t stop and think of the birth of Jesus. When they think of Christmas, they think of Santa Claus and—for the children, and they think of giving gifts and out-giving the next person…of spending their time thinking of the right thing for somebody who has everything.”― Evangelist Billy Graham
The PBS film Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas tells the story of how immigrant Jewish- American songwriters began to write Christmas music. One rationale was economic—the US was only 3% Jewish but was 97% Christian at the time. The other was that they wanted to turn Christmas from a religious to an American Holiday devoid of references to Jesus as Messiah. Many of the familiar songs we hear about silver bells, Rudolph, and Chestnuts roasting on an open fire… were written by Jewish composers. The Christmas Song was penned by Polish Jew Mel Torme. White Christmas was written by Russian Jew Irving Berlin, who also wrote God Bless America, and even a song entitled Get Behind Me Satan. The film Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is fascinating, but if you don’t have time, here’s a link to 11 iconic Christmas songs written by Jewish composers. The word holiday in Old English meant Holy Day. The word Christmas is short for Christ’s Mass— a worship service where the Eucharist—Holy Communion is served (Eucharist means grateful for grace). Christ’s Mass celebrates the Advent or arrival of Jesus Christ. The name The LORD Jesus Christ, means the King, the One who is anointed or empowered to save the world from sin, offering us forgiveness and eternal life.
Another area of opportunity for our learning is that the folkloric character Santa Claus is based on the life and work of a 4th Century Christ-follower, Greek Bishop St. Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of children. St. Nicholas, who lived in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), was born of wealthy parents. When they died he distributed their wealth to the poor. St. Nicholas interceded for miracles, helped to exonerate innocent prisoners, and was known for the now-famous custom of secret gift-giving. In one account, St. Nicholas was said to have rescued three daughters of a man who had lost all of his money gambling by secretly dropping bags of gold in their home, giving them dowries to avoid prostitution. When one daughter found him and told their father, he fell to his knees in gratefulness. Nicholas charged him to tell no one. The fame of St. Nicholas spread throughout Europe. The Dutch in the Netherlands called him Sinterklaas. He rides on a white horse. They celebrate on December 5/6. Parents, friends, and neighbors become his helpers— sharing gifts and blessings with the less fortunate. Many folks say, “There is no Santa Claus,“ Parents tell their children, “Mommy and Daddy are Santa Claus.” Wouldn’t it be a more effective Christian witness for us to tell our children that originally, St. Nicholas was a pastor who loved Jesus and did good works to represent Him in the earth by distributing to those in need? Even Jews in the film made reference to St. Nicholas as the inspiration for Santa Claus. Jesus once said... “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” (Luke 16:8)