Alan Beasley, pastor of First United Methodist Church-Jasper, said Christmas and all its traditions were ultimately shaped by one event — the birth of Jesus Christ.
“The essence of Christmas is the birth of Jesus. That is what is at the center of all of Christmas. It was all shaped from one place,” he said.
Beasley commented on nativity scenes. He said Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in the early 1200s. Beasley said a traditional stable in Israel during the time of Christ’s birth would not be very similar to most nativity scenes.
“It was more like a cave,” Beasley said. “It wasn’t a nice, wooden structure like we see these days.”
Beasley said the innkeeper who allowed Joseph and Mary to stay in his stable is often thought of as a bad guy.
“He wasn’t as bad as he seems,” Beasley said. “He didn’t have a regular room, but he did have a place to let them get out of the weather. He didn’t kick them to the curb.”
The manger story survived 1,200 years until that first nativity scene, Beasley said.
“There are few current events that will survive 1,200 years,” he said. “This story survived that long without the technology that we know today. It survived without pencil and paper. The Christmas story survived just by being passed on.”
Beasley said the first recorded history of Saint Nicholas, who would be the inspiration for Santa Claus, was in the fifth century. Saint Nicholas was a fourth century, Greek bishop. Beasley said the evolution to Santa Claus took centuries.
“The best thing that happened for Santa Claus was Macy’s,” Beasley joked. “He was a character that could be put into a store and children could come and sit and talk with him.”
Beasley also talked about the history of Christmas trees. He said trees increased in popularity in American homes after the White House began placing a national tree in the early 1900s.
Gift-giving has its roots in the original Christmas story, Beasley said.
“It was a humble expression of honor to give a gift,” he said. “That tradition has also survived and turned into the gift-giving that we know today. I’m not saying whether that is good or bad. I’m all for people doing what makes them happy.”
Beasley said most Christmas traditions lead back to the story of a baby born in Bethlehem.
“That’s one story that no one can seem to make go away,” he said.