As Christianity spread in the centuries following Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, it encountered non-Christian peoples with popular festivals around the time of the winter solstice. To accommodate these winter festivals, Christmas—the Feast of the Nativity—was established on December 25, even though evidence suggests Christ’s birth actually occurred in the spring. (For more on the development of this holiday, see History of Christmas. On when Christ was born, click here and here.)
Over the centuries, cultural traditions have helped to define Christmas, and increasingly in today’s world, people see Christmas less and less as a religious holiday. (See, for example, the 2017 New York Times article “Is Christmas a Religious Holiday? A Growing Number of Americans Say No.”)
The Greatest Gifts
In the midst of all the gift-giving that goes on at Christmas, with its commercialism and nonreligious meanings, it is good to step back and consider the greatest gifts ever given:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends.” (John 15:13‒14)
“The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
“And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7).
The Living Christ
Both Christmas and Easter celebrate that Jesus Christ lives. Christmas celebrates His birth. Easter celebrates His rebirth and the physical and spiritual rebirth made possible for all of us by His atonement.
On January 1, 2000, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued an important message titled The Living Christ: The Testimony of Apostles. In a short space, this testimony of the living Christ by living apostles chronicles the most important parts of Jesus’ divine life and ministry. Studying and pondering this testimony is a wonderful way to bring Christ back into Christmas.
Credit for image at top of page: Matthias Stom (fl. 1615‒1649), The Adoration of the Shepherds, ca. 1650, photographed in 2018 by Paris Orlando. Link to image and license: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adoration_of_the_sheperds_-_Matthias_Stomer.jpg