There was a time, way back when, that hours, minutes and seconds didn't even exist. Time passed, of course, but people kept time only by understanding where the sun and moon were at in the sky and by what was growing or dying around them on the land. Then someone decided we'd be more productive as a species if we understood our lives in a mathematical sense, and invented a mechanism by which we could 'tell time'.
Once we knew how to divide the time that existed into a day, someone decided to organize them, too. The division of days into months and years went through a few revisions, but enter the modern-day globally-accepted Gregorian annual calendar.
As we move into the holidays, I always find it fascinating to watch how people connect their beliefs to the observation of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I don't think there's much debate about the occurrence of the first Thanksgiving, and of all the holidays typically celebrated by Americans, I think it's history is pretty straightforward. If you research it even a little, it's pretty clear that the original Turkey Day was probably at the very least a bit of a political move so the handful of new-world survivors could convince the natives they weren't all that bad.
Similarly, back around 350 AD Emperor Constantine gave us what we really 'celebrate' as Christmas when he declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire but encouraged pagan traditions to be continued. The lights and trees are all about the celebration of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, as it is immediately followed by days that begin to increase in light and usher in the 'birth' of the 'sun'. And the Birth of the Son. There's a lot of conspiracy theory surrounding Constantine's true motives in regard to religion; he built many of the churches recognized as cornerstones of Christ's message, but he also allowed and even commissioned the use of pagan symbology throughout these buildings. He also erected a statue of himself with both pagan and biblical symbols, something scholars attribute to the self aggrandization common to emperors.
Easter coincides with pagan rituals that were held in reverence for fertility. The Easter bunny and the eggs are all a nod to successful procreation, to the resurrection of the 'sun' after a long winter, which seemed to Constantine as a good time to also recognize the resurrection of The Son.
I'm bringing this up because I think it's important to point out that we live in a time where the theft of culture is unacceptable; yet the culture we have doesn't belong to us at all. We took our holidays from someone else, for reasons that have nothing to do with the real birth or death of Christ and have everything to do with a man in charge who didn't want to take a stand. And the things we celebrate, they have roots in politics that most of us would be much more uncomfortable with if we stopped and really thought about it.
I'm also bringing this up because, no matter what you believe or what your religious background is, your kids are going to have questions. They're going to have doubts. And the next generation won't tolerate vague answers from adults when the internet exists. Parents representing the message of Christ should understand the history of the worship of the sun as it relates to the worship of The Son.
I'm not poo-pooing Thanksgiving or Christmas, just in case you're wondering. Far from it, in fact. I just think that one of the most important gifts you can give your kids during any season of giving or celebration, regardless of your religion, is an understanding of 'why'. It's important that your children know what kind of traditions you grew up with and what you believe now. As my beliefs have taken shape over the years, the little traditions unique to our family have become richer and more meaningful, and I have let go of many of the 'standards' that never resonated with me.
I don't see Christmas as the celebration of the literal birth of Christ, but rather as the time of the year that we really stop to think about what it meant that he was born and what he was trying to teach us in the short thirty-three years he walked the earth. I also enjoy the understanding that the tree in my living room is symbolic of the dark before the dawn, the depth of winter, and the celebration of survival. The lights on my tree aren't just about the light of Christ, but they remind me of the alignment of stars that led the magi to him; the same Persians who defined time hundreds of years earlier and split the sky into twelve pieces also used astrology to find the child who would usher in the new age. If we're going to steal culture and call it our own, we may as well find the beauty in the roots of it.