Did you know that during the Christmas season you are 14% more likely to die than in any other season of the year? I listened to this report on the raido that reported a portion of these deaths are weather related either in accidents or from the cold but the vast majority of this percentage actually comes from one source.
Wrapped In Stress!
Stress increases your chances of dying in the holidays up to 14%. How’s that for a holly, jolly Christmas?!
Why is this holiday season so stressful? At the very heart of Christmas really is a very simple and quiet celebration of a little baby born in a manger. Being the parent of the little baby in a manger is stressful but celebrating the little baby is not. During Christmas it’s like we get to be aunts and uncles and play with baby for a while and then give the baby back to Mary. It should be fun! It really can be an easy going time of companionship, compassion, and charity.
But it’s not! Think of Christmas as a simple little present wrapped in layers and layers and layers of paper, bows, and stress. Lots of stress.
How Christmas got wrapped up in so much stress starts with the story of the holy day.
How Christmas Got Wrapped up
A little history… stick with me.
- For us 21st Century Christians who celebrate Christmas that the earliest of Christians did not celebrate Jesus’ birth like this, it was special but not celebrated. For them, like us, Easter was the main holy day. Easter was the greater day because without the Resurrection there really would be no need for a Christmas celebration at all.
- December 25th is not the actual date of Jesus birth. In the time that Jesus was born a different calendar was used based off of the Romans and it actually had 10 extra days in a year! We use the Gregorian Calendar created by Pope Gregory XIII, so the actual day of the birth will always be lost to this change.
- Many dating His birth in January, March, or September. From the time of the shepherds watching the sheep actually points us to a spring or autumn birth because these were the times of special days of sacrifice in Jerusalem that those sheep were being prepared for. During these holidays of Passover and Sikut, Jerusalem would have been filled with people, the reason why there was no room in the inn.
- Around 200 years later from Jesus’ birth a strong tradition grew up in the Christian church about the dating of the day when Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, which was set on March 25 making December 25 nine months later. December 25th is also roughly celebrated on or near Hanukah, tying the birth of the Light of the World with the Jewish Festival of Lights. Already by this time Christmas is starting to get wrapped up with traditions.
- The official first day that Christmas was celebrated as a Christian holiday on December 25th was established by the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine in the year 336 and a few years later December 25th would be declared officially the day to celebrate Christmas by Pope Julius I. We have to understand that the Church or liturgical calendar isn’t based off of the months or seasons but on telling the story of Jesus from Advent and birth, through Easter and the season of the Church to the Second coming and the New Creation. When these dates fall in the year is flexible dependent more upon telling the story.
- This flexibility allowed Constantine to set December 25th during the Roman celebration of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti meaning ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’ celebrating both Saturn and the Winter Solstice (which is always a few days off of the 25th, again remember the Roman calendar was off by a few days). For a political leader that had to deal with so many people groups, officially aligning Christmas with another holiday made a lot of sense. During the winer solstice and Saturn holidays the pagans celebrated with greenery and candles, holly and ivy, music and gifts. At this point we have this holy day that started off as being special but not celebrated is now wrapped in a ton of pageantry, decorations and expectations. Sound familiar?
- Fast forward through the years you have Santa Claus based after the real Saint Nicholas, the Christian Pastor and Bishop living in Smryna around 280. Saint Nicholas became associated with the English Father Christmas and Dutch Sinterklass creating this merry gift giving elf. Finally, the expectations for Santa Claus and Christmas would be wrapped up in the first printing of “The night before Christmas” in 1823 all the way up to pictures of Santa drinking a Coca-Cola bottle in the 1930’s.
Too much wrapping paper!
You start to see how the gently revered birthday of Jesus has been wrapped up in nearly 2,000 years worth of expectations and decorations—becoming a holiday that is 14% more likely to kill you! But it also tells us something really important. Almost all of the wrapping that has gone around and around the celebration of Christ’s birth isn’t necessary, isn’t commanded by God, and doesn’t really have to be there. It’s all just decoration really.
That means, that all of the things that cause us so much stress over the holidays doesn’t have to be there and really was never meant to be there in the first place. That means you and the people you love do not have to be stressed to the point of death over this stuff. When we do, it’s like having a heart attack trying to decide which Christmas paper to buy, red or green. It’s not worth the stress and taken to the extreme it actually is not honoring the birth of Jesus.
So, I’m thinking unwrap Christmas a little bit. Take off some of those extra layers of stuff that cause us so much stress and let the less decorated holiday honoring of Christ’s birth show through. If we are going to do some wrapping this year don’t forget to wrap each other. Not with expensive paper and bows or stress and expectations, but wrap each other in a way that befits the birthday of Jesus.
Looking down at that nativity scene what do we see it wrapped in? Mary wrapped in tenderness for her baby. Joseph wrapped in compassion for his family. The Shepherds wrapped in wonder. The wisemen wrapped in gratefulness . In Jesus is wrapped the very love of God for you and me.
Wrap Each Other In Love
In all of the wrapping we do this year let’s focus on surrounding each other with tenderness and compassion. Tie a bow of wonder and gratefulness on top of the people around us and wrap everyone up with love.