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Milt Hankins: Let's remember the 'why' of Christmas

Dec. 21, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Honestly, now -- "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays?" Do you feel superior to those people who choose to say "Happy Holidays?"

Born of a virgin, angels singing "Gloria," wise men at the manger? Do you feel superior to those folks who call themselves Christians but who honestly do not believe that any of these things actually happened?

Santa Claus, Christmas trees, mistletoe, and eggnog? Do you use these traditional symbols for the celebration of Christmas, although none of them had anything to do with the birth of Jesus? Some are actually ancient practices of the Druids.

Around the world, the customs of Christmas are interesting and diverse. One year while visiting France on Dec. 25, the day I always thought was Christmas, the day set aside for gift-giving, I discovered the French people were packing into the department stores to buy gifts. It seems the French do not customarily give presents on Dec. 25, but on Jan. 6, the Day of Epiphany, instead.

Last year I mentioned that my niece tells her children, "If three presents were good enough for the baby Jesus, they're good enough for you." I didn't dare mention that the baby Jesus was probably a toddler, a two-year-old, before the Wise Men paid their respects. In that case, her children will have to wait a couple of years for this year's presents! Purportedly, the Wise Men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. Skip the frankincense and myrrh. Today's kid will take the gold!

I remember, as a child, wondering what "swaddling" clothes were. And, I couldn't understand why the baby Jesus would have been laid in a manger. The manger on my grandfather's farm was where the cows came to eat. And the straw was scratchy! As an adult, I have carefully reviewed this whole business of Christmas. Dec. 25? It's the wrong date! There never was a year 0000. Jesus was probably born in the spring of 2004 B.C. Definitely no later, but, perhaps as early as 2006 B.C.

I have studied the Gospels extensively. I challenge any minister of the gospel to take a Harmony of the Gospels and show me when Joseph and Mary made a trip down into Egypt. In the synoptic Gospels, we can piece together almost a day-by-day account of the life of the infant Jesus. The chronology simply does not allow time for a trip to Egypt. Nor time for Wise Men from the East to reach a manger in Bethlehem!

I have absolutely no problem with the celebration of Christmas; moreover, I would be the last person to criticize the use of the aforementioned customs, but I would like it very much if folks understood their meaning.

I think we ought to have an appreciation for the miscellany of Christmas. I think we should never criticize the celebrations of those folks who think differently than we do.

On the other hand, it behooves all of us to understand why we celebrate Christmas in the first place -- if for no other reason than to prevent it from inevitably becoming a commercial holiday.

Milt Hankins of Ashland, Ky., is a retired minister, theologian and freelance writer.

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