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Six surprising Christmas Eve traditions

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Firewood with Christmas shoes on wooden floor background (Credit: Africa Studio via Fotolia)

Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other nation. People there especially love giving books as presents on Christmas Eve, so recipients can spend the evening reading. In nearby Finland, people spend a long time in the sauna on Christmas Eve. In Norway, people hide their brooms so Christmas Eve witches don’t steal them.

Today in southern Louisiana, people will light massive bonfires to guide Santa Claus to their homes. Families in Italy will gather for a feast of seven different seafood dishes. In France and Germany, children will leave their shoes by the fireplace or the window to be filled with presents from St. Nick.

Some Christmas surprises are not just tradition, but fact. Consider the most neglected member of the cast of Christmas. And accept God’s invitation to join him in his ministry today.

Donkeys were domesticated 2,000 years before Christ. Abraham (Genesis 22:3) and various judges (Judges 10:4; 12:13) rode them. God once spoke through a donkey (Numbers 22:28). Job had “500 female donkeys” (Job 1:3).

And a donkey was likely the means by which Mary traveled eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where she would give birth to the Son of God. Amid the worship of heaven’s angels, the shepherds, and Mary and Joseph, there were gathered the animals belonging to the innkeeper and kept in his stable. And among them was the Christmas donkey.

Now fast-forward thirty-three years. The Child has grown up. And he who went to Bethlehem to be born would come to Jerusalem to die. How would he enter the Holy City?

The prophet predicted five centuries earlier: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Military generals rode white horses into cities they conquered. Men of peace always rode lowly donkeys.

So that’s how Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!'” (Matthew 21:7-9).

I cannot be Mary, for obvious reasons. I cannot be Joseph—I have two sons, and while they are terrific, neither is the sinless Son of God. I cannot be the innkeeper—Jesus is already born. I cannot be a shepherd—I don’t know the first thing about sheep. I cannot be one of the Wise Men—I’ve never been to Persia. I clearly cannot be one of the angels.

But there is one character in Christmas I can be today: I can be the donkey. I can carry Christ to the world through my prayers, compassion, and witness. In fact, there is no greater honor, for me or for you.

C. S. Lewis: “The Christian does not think that God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us.”

Does God love you?