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Christianity as a whole has many different holidays and “days of obligation”, from The Sabbath, which occurs every seven days, to holidays like Christmas and Easter which are observed only once a year.
Christmas is probably the most note able of all these. Not only is it observed by the Christians but it has become so ingrained in modern American society it is expected by all to receive a “Christmas break” in late December. Employers often give a Christmas bonus around the time to all of their employees, regardless of religious beliefs. The year’s most noted holiday is celebrated on December 25th, both in homes and churches worldwide. The meaning for Christmas is to celebrate the birth of their Messiah, Jesus Christ. During the fourth century the Bishop of Rome set December 25th as Christ’s birth date, though the exact birth date is note known. Some authorities claim that the choice of December 25th was made because it coincided with Chanukah, Mithraic’s feast of the sun god, and the people of northern Europe’s winter solstice feast. The winter solstice is the time of year in the Northern Hemisphere when the noon sun appears to be farthest south. Modern scholars believe Christ was actually born sometime in the spring, based upon data gathered from a roman census.
Many note worthy symbols of Christmas time festivities are set up during late December. Evergreens or Christmas trees have long been adopted as the symbol of eternal life and are used for Christmas time decorations. The Christmas wreath represents everlasting life and the endless love of Christ. Kissing under mistletoe supposedly started out when early Roman enemies stopped fighting when they met under mistletoe. Holly is the most known Christmas greenery, and there are several legends about it. One is that Jesus’ crown was made of holly, and the holly berries represented his blood. The Christmas tree, an evergreen trimmed with lights, decorations, and tinsel, is derived from a “paradise tree”, or the tree in the Garden of Eden. The use of the Christmas tree began early in the 17th century, in Strasbourg, France, spreading from there through Germany and then into northern Europe. In 1841 Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree to Great Britain, where from there immigrants brought it to the United States.
For many gift giving is the most important aspect of the Christmas celebration. The beginning of gift giving during Christmas started from the three wise men, with their three gifts for the Christ child. Since then people have made up different things to tell their children where their Christmas presents came from. The historical Saint Nicholas was known in early Christian legends for saving storm-tossed sailors, standing up for children, and giving gifts to the poor. Although many of his stories can’t be proven true, his legend spread throughout Europe, and he was soon known for his extreme generosity and gift giving. Many stories include him riding through the sky on a horse and wearing his red bishop’s cloak, sometimes accompanied by Black Peter, an elf whose job was to whip the bad children. His most known legend is when he would walk through the streets in his bishop clothes, carrying a sack full of presents, and leaving a gift on the windowsills of children’s houses. For the different parts of the world, there are different names, but the basic concept remains the same. Spanish children call their Santa Balthasar, children in Italy have a female Santa named La Belfana, Denmark has a gnome named Jule-Nissen, Holland has Sinter Klaas, Germany has Sanct Herr, and there are even some places that believe the Christ child brings their presents.
Holy Sunday or the Sabbath is observed every Sunday, usually as a day of rest and prayer. For a majority of Christians it is also the day on which they participate in group worship most frequently. For the Christian, Sunday is above all an Easter celebration, illumined by the glory of the Risen Christ. It is the festival of the “new creation”. Yet, when understood in depth, this aspect is inseparable from what the first pages of Scripture tell us of God’s plan in the creation of the world. If the first page of the Book of Genesis presents God’s “work” as an example for man, which it does, then the same must be true of God’s “rest.” “On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done”. The book of Exodus states we need not cease all work to keep the lords’ day holy but only: “Remember the Sabbath day in order to keep it holy”.
Much like the observance of Christmas this holiday is also deeply ingrained in society. Modern American laws prohibit the sale of alcohol, gambling, and other incessantly indulgent and evil behavior on Sunday to “keep it holy”, no matter what your beliefs may be. This is also the most common time of break, for both educator and employers. American school systems always give Saturday and Sunday off as time of rest. A majority of employers also prefer giving Saturday and Sunday as days of rest compared to any other two days of the week. The embedding of this Christian holiday goes back much further than the modern celebration of Christmas, thus its traits are much more subtle and harder to spot.
In Christianity, the Sabbath and Christmas both play important roles in the lifestyle of the individual and both affect non Christians greatly. To find the traces of society’s reliance on these observances in a country dominated by Christianity, one has but to understand.