Countless made-for-TV movies and newspaper editorials have pondered the question “What is the real meaning of Christmas?” For Christians, the answer is an easy one. Its most important purpose is the celebration of the arrival in the form of a human baby of the Emperor of the Universe. But Christmas has many meanings which have shifted over time.
Here are the words of Nicholas Breton, (c. 1555-1626) English poet and satirist. We see in this quote how Elizabethans viewed Christmas and a clear sense of the connection between the merry and the sacred:
It is now Christmas, and not a cup of drink must pass without a carol; the beasts, fowl, and fish come to a general execution, and the corn is ground to dust for the bakehouse and the pastry: cards and dice purge many a purse, and the youth show their agility in shoeing of the wild mare: now, good cheer, and welcome, and God be with you, and I thank you:—and against the New Year provide for the presents:—The Lord of Misrule is no mean man for his time, and the guests of the high table must lack no wine: the lusty bloods must look about them like men, and piping and dancing puts away much melancholy: stolen venison is sweet, and a fat coney is worth money: pit-falls are now set for small birds, and a woodcock hangs himself in a gin: a good fire heats all the house, and a full alms-basket makes the beggar’s prayers:—the maskers and the mummers make the merry sport, but if they lose their money their drum goes dead: swearers and swaggerers are sent away to the ale-house, and unruly wenches go in danger of judgment; musicians now make their instruments speak out, and a good song is worth the hearing. In sum it is a holy time, a duty in Christians for the remembrance of Christ and custom among friends for the maintenance of good fellowship. In brief I thus conclude it: I hold it a memory of the Heaven’s love and the world’s peace, the mirth of the honest, and the meeting of the friendly. Farewell.