You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth. – Luke 1:14
Nothing brings a smile to children quicker than seeing Santa Claus. St. Nick’s flowing white beard, his red suit, and big belly just make people smile. A few years ago, just for fun, I decided to wear a Santa suit to a restaurant for a holiday gathering of my church in Norman. You must be prepared when you wear a Santa costume out and about; children expect you to be St. Nick. I had a great time talking to folks in the restaurant and seeing children smile and laugh.
I was so inspired that when I got home, I snuck around to my daughters’ room and knocked on their window. The expressions on my girls’ faces, who were only about six or seven at the time, were priceless. There was St. Nick at the window! There was real Christmas joy created that evening – all because of a visit from Santa Claus.
Christmas should be about joy and not just because we may get a visit from Santa. After all, the Christmas narrative in scripture is the beginning of the greatest story ever told! God comes to earth in the form of a baby to give us hope and joy. However, believe it or not, Christmas has not always been about joy and merriment.
When Oliver Cromwell came to power in England in the 17th century, the Puritan influence was so strong that Christmas was actually cancelled. The Puritans had vowed to remove from England all decadence, and that meant doing away with holidays that promoted frivolity and festivity. That same Puritan spirit spread to America and from 1659 until 1681, Christmas was outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting Christmas spirit could be fined five shillings.
It was 200 years later, in 1841, when Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. His book about the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge was credited in part with helping to revive the past Christmas traditions in England and America that had been set aside for two centuries. Once again it was permissible to be joyful. New Christmas traditions were created at that time, such as sending Christmas cards, adopting the German tradition of a Christmas tree, and a revival of caroling. All these and the spirit of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol lit a spark in people’s hearts. The Christmas story was something to be shared, something to be joyful about, and something to be thankful for. It was noted that people were so moved by the transformation of Scrooge that a new wave of charitable giving erupted, as people wanted to help those less fortunate.
When we hear the story and watch as Scrooge finally realizes that Christmas is about joy and giving, we can’t help but smile. When you hear the Christmas story again this season, smile and give thanks that God is alive in our hearts. After all, it is the greatest story ever told!
Dave Poteet, Pastor of Congregational Care