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Wednesday Word: Christmastide

December 30, 2020 | Jay T. Smith

Christmastide’s Historical Foundations

Sadly, we have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. In doing so, we actually cheat ourselves out of a life-changing experience.

For early Anglicans and Protestants, Christmas Day was the beginning of “Christmastide,” a twelve-day celebration of the nativity ending on January 6th. In 567, the ecumenical Council of Tours proclaimed the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany as a sacred and festive celebration. In this season, each day had a special designation. During the Middle Ages in England, this period was one of continuous feasting and merrymaking which climaxed and traditionally ended on the Twelfth Night. William Shakespeare made the “Twelfth Night” famous in one of his comedies.

A few scholars, most notably Hugh McKellar, speculate that each of the twelve days was a metaphor pointing to a theological truth and was thus used as a catechism of sorts. This theory has caught on in much of the English-speaking world, but is not actually a proven fact. It is possible however, that many devout families in the 18th and 19th centuries did, in fact, give a broader meaning to the Christmastide festivities by interpreting each day through a particular symbol.

Twelve days of celebration is a lot of feasting, singing, and telling stories around the fire. Giving each day a meaning then, was important. Was there a time of worship each of these days? —very possibly. Was there a feast each day? —without a doubt. At the winter solstice, was it important to “brighten” the day with joy and light? —most assuredly! Most importantly however, was that it was a time set aside to honor and adore the birth of the Son of God into this world.

Taking Back Christmastide

As we wonder what to do with ourselves after Christmas morning, Christmas dinner, and Christmas clean-up, pick out something to share with your family about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus or why this birth is so important for us today. Don’t let the days between Christmas and January 6th be known as the best shopping season of the year. Don’t let those days become a celebration of the 21st century consumer mentality. Don’t let those days be known simply as a celebration of Dad’s recliner and the college football “Bowl” season.

Christians, we can—and must—do better with this important set of days. Give meaning to each and every day. Give each day a spiritual emphasis that helps release the enslavement to consumer concerns. Celebrate, feast, and tell the stories of Jesus in such a way that this time lives with us for the rest of the year. Let LOVE rule the days and empower your faith for the rest of the year.

As the baby in the manger changed the world, His love will change yours.

Jay T. Smith

President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

Dr. Jay Smith leads the Yellowstone Theological Institute as its president. Dr. Smith has served as minister of youth, music and as senior […]

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