On the significance of winter and the timing of the world's most celebrated holiday. By Natasha Bredle, contributing writer and editor.
The fourth and final week of advent, with just a few days left to go until Christmas, and just a few more after until the start of the new year, seems like a fitting time for the publication of our inaugural blog post. It’s the season of new things, which almost feels like a paradox, considering the nature of the winter season when stripped of its festivity. Winter is cold (if you haven’t already noticed), and dark, since the sun spends fewer hours illuminating certain areas of the earth. Grass withers away, vegetation doesn’t grow, and humans can’t venture outside for long if not equipped with the proper gear.
Different cultures throughout the ages have devised stories to explain these ominous changes. In Finnish folklore, the supposed goddess of the north takes the sun and moon hostage inside a bleak mountain stronghold, inadvertently leading to the yearly shift into a dim, frigid season. A better known retelling comes from a Greek mythology tale, in which Hades, the king of the underworld, kidnaps the spring goddess Persephone, and her anguish from the plight causes the suspension of all plant growth in the mortal world.
These, of course, are just fictional stories. As Christians, we know that the yearly cycling of the four seasons is just another unique facet of our earth orchestrated by God way back when at the time of Creation. The celestial perks of a spin and a tilt for the planet were all part of God’s perfect design, though they most likely play a less significant role in His bigger picture for humanity. But there’s no denying that the existence of seasons has huge implications on human lives.
Though we may not be acutely aware of it, the changing of the seasons changes us. As the weather shifts from temperate to warm to blistering to chilly to frigid and back again, we, as adaptable and volatile creatures, change our clothing, our habits, our plans, and even our attitudes. In fact, seasonal depression, a mood disorder that affects people during the regular cold seasons each year, has been found to be an extremely common condition across the United States. The lack of sunlight and the increased hours of isolation that occur when we are pushed indoors are sorrows shared by a vast majority of the globe.
Considering all this dimness and seclusion, it’s no wonder why so many old cultures have attempted to give winter a villain origin story. Personifying a season may at best appear creative on paper, but giving winter such characteristics—cold, relentless, and cruel—seems more realistic when the distress of being alone hits, or when harsh sleet and snow trample traveling plans, or when a simple stroll outdoors invites misery from vicious, biting wind.
Winter is a hostile season. And yet, when we observe all the festivity of the coldest winter months, it’s clear that few Christians, and secular people as well, perceive it that way. In fact, millions hail it to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ Why? Well, if it wasn’t obvious before, because of Christmas.
In recent years, researchers have been skeptical about the symbolic date of Jesus’ birth, citing that the event more likely took place in the spring rather than the dead of winter. But accuracy aside, the timing of one of the world’s most treasured holidays is incredibly significant.
Before Jesus arrived, the world was cold, damp, bitter, and lacking in light. But when He came to earth as a humble human infant, He became our light. He brought warmth and joy when he beckoned people everywhere to come have a loving relationship with Him. He offered a way out of the fear, doubt, and loneliness that plagues us. And He continues to do all this today. No matter if it’s regarded from a secular viewpoint or a religious one, the peace, love, and joy emphasized during the holiday season all point to the one surefire way out of darkness and cold: hope in Jesus Christ.
Celebrating Christmas in the winter does more than just lift our spirits during a bleak time of year. It serves as a reminder that Jesus descended from heaven to be right here with us, to be the fire to our frozenness and the sun to our shadows.
‘Winter’ itself is a word that comes from a Germanic root meaning ‘time of water.’ Water is quite a popular symbol in the Bible. For instance, water is the primary element of baptism. In Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, the first thing recorded after the event of Jesus’ birth is Jesus’ baptism. Jesus used water as a symbolic cleanser of sin. He later revealed on the cross that He Himself was the water to our sin, the one true redeemer of humanity.
Winter, the time of water, is therefore the perfect time to celebrate the birth of Christ. A light came to illuminate the darkness imprisoning us and to warm our frozen hearts. Water came to wash us clean and make us new, righteous followers.
Our world right now may still appear to be a very cold, dark, and cruel place. But we can remember that our one true, everlasting source of peace, love, and joy is always with us. The hope of Christmas is transcendent. It can brighten our winters, and shine through every other season of our lives.