Have you ever wondered why we say “Merry Christmas” instead of Happy Christmas? We say Happy Birthday, Happy Easter, and Happy Mother’s Day. Where did it come from?
One of the earliest times recorded was in a letter dated Dec 22, 1534, where an English bishop wrote to a lawyer from prison and closed with the words “Merry Christmas.” The celebration of Christmas was then outlawed in England and in America for about a decade in the 1660s because it was seen as to joyful, with merrymaking, gambling, singing, and drinking being a problem! It was too merry! The “Merry” holiday was reinstated only about a decade later.
It wasn’t until much later that the term Merry Christmas really took off. It can really be traced back to the 1840s when Charles Dickens wrote his famous novel, “A Christmas Carol” where the phrase “Merry Christmas” appeared 21 times. At the same time, the English post office created a card that said “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You” to encourage the sending of cards during December.
Christmas has always been a “merry” holiday, but the very first Christmas was very different than the commercialized version the world pauses for today. Regardless if you say “happy” or “merry,” there is a reason to celebrate.
Before the commercialized version of Christmas celebrations we think of today, there was the first Christmas in the small town of Bethlehem.
Here are the words written in the first century by Luke found in Luke 2.
Luke 2:1-20 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.