Michael Novak wrote, "Tradition lives because young people come along who catch its romance and add new glories to it."
The celebration of Christmas has for 1,600 years been a highlight of the year in western civilization. That is not to say that the celebration has always been the same.
The New Testament does not give the date of Jesus' birth, nor does it tell us how to remember the birthday, so Christmas has taken shape over time. Here is a sketch of some of the highlights from Ken Curtis, staff writer at the Christian History Institute
4th century: Emperor Constantine built the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and declares Christ's birthday an official Roman holiday. The Bishop of Rome establishes Dec. 25 as the day to celebrate Christ's birth. (Dec. 25 was the date of the winter solstice and therefore seemed a good theological statement - in the darkest day of the year, the light of the world was born.) Also in the 4th Century, Nicholas lives in Turkey. His secret generosity was later recognized and he became a patron saint of Children.
6th century: The church sets apart the four Sundays preceding Christmas for devotional preparation - Advent begins.
8th century: Boniface, English missionary to the Germans, replaces sacrifices to Oden's oak with a fir tree adorned in tribute to the Christ child.
11th century: The word "Christmas" first used in English,
13th century: Francis of Assisi ministers to the illiterate, common people by introducing a live nativity scene (crèche) into the church and festive carols in the language of the people.
17th century: First mention of Christmas tree in Germany, though some traditions say Martin Luther was the first to have lighted candles on a Christmas tree.
18th century: Handel's Messiah written in just 24 days. Christmas hymns are written by Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts and others.
Mid-19th century: Modern Christmas begins to take shape. Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" popularizes Santa Claus; Prince Albert introduces the Christmas tree to England; Christmas cards become a tradition. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol connects the spirit of warmth and good cheer with Christmas. Many more Christmas carols were written.
20th century: The 20th century saw the rise of technology. Television and the movies became part of the Christmas tradition, like the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life." The later 20th century also saw the rise of consumerism. British journalist Katharine Whitehorn remarked, "From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it." E.B. White wrote, "To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year."
I can't help but wonder how the celebration of Christmas will change in the 21st Century? The next generation of Christians may want to get back to the basics, focus on the heart of the holiday - celebrating the birth of Jesus.
John Donaldson is the pastor at Newborn & Mansfield UMC. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org