FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Celebrating Christmas

with Phil Vischer | December 12, 2014
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Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Christmas the way we do? Join Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales and of the DVD, "Why Do We Call it Christmas?," as he explores the who, what, where, when, and how of our most popular holiday.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Christmas the way we do? Join Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales and of the DVD, "Why Do We Call it Christmas?," as he explores the who, what, where, when, and how of our most popular holiday.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Christmas the way we do? If so, join Phil Vischer as he explores the who, what, where, when, and how of our most popular holiday, Christmas.

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Celebrating Christmas

With Phil Vischer
December 12, 2014
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Bob: So, are you telling me, at the Vischer house, it’s kind of a low-key thing?



Phil: We make it a little less of a Super Bowl. We’ve turned Christmas into the Super Bowl of holidays. For Christians, Easter is the Super Bowl of holidays.

Bob: So your wife makes monkey bread and everybody gets a present and that’s it? 

Phil: Then we say: “Go home. Get back to work.” We actually make them go to school. “You don’t get the day off! Go to school.” Hey—hey, at one point, I thought—

Bob: Ebenezer; Ebenezer.

Phil: Okay. I’m looking for the pure, Jesus-only Christmas. How did the Puritans celebrate Christmas—because they were all about pure Christianity? So, you go back and research. When the Puritans were in charge of Boston in the 1670s, they made Christmas illegal. It was actually against the law to celebrate Christmas. If you sang a Christmas carol in Boston in 1670, you got a five schilling fine.

Bob: Wow! 

Dennis: Why? 

Phil: Because it was Catholic. Christmas came from the Christ’s Mass, which was a Catholic tradition; and the Puritans didn’t like that at all. It was a feast day—Puritans didn’t like feasting—they were pretty serious.


So, you know, you can’t go back to find “Where’s that pure Christmas in American history?” There never was one. I think that helps me, as a parent, to just kind of de-stress a little bit because it’s so hard to find a pure Christmas in our culture—to realize, “Well, it’s not only hard now; it was always hard because there really never was one.” 

Dennis: I know this—if Barbara was here, she would be cheering you on because Easter is her favorite holiday.

Phil: Yes; yes.

Dennis: I mean, it’s uncluttered—it doesn’t have the competitive commercialism and materialism associated with it. It’s simple. It is the story of sin being defeated / death being defeated, and hope for eternal life.

Phil: Absolutely.

Dennis: It doesn’t diminish the Christ Child becoming incarnate and dwelling among us.

Phil: Right—which is a really cool thing.

Dennis: It is, and we need to be celebrating that.

Phil: Yes, but the two go together—they’re book ends. You can’t have Christmas without Easter / you can’t have Easter without Christmas—they go together.

Another thing that we’re trying to do with What’s in the Bible?—we’ve launched something new called Everyday Emmanuel which is actually a digital activity book. It’s like an e-book that you can download to celebrate Advent.


It’s not just waiting until Christmas morning, and then trying to figure out “How to get Jesus in there?” when your kids only want to open presents. It’s: “Let’s talk about Jesus. Let’s bring the Emmanuel into this every day of the month, leading up to that.”

Bob: Sounds like your wife, again, and her tree ornaments—putting Jesus’ names all over Christmas trees.

Dennis: Yes.

Phil: Yes.

Dennis: She calls them the Christmas names from Isaiah and from Luke: Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God—

Phil: Yes.

Dennis: — Prince of Peace—then, from Luke, Savior and Jesus. What she wants to do is have families gather around the tree, as they begin to celebrate Christmas, and focus on the name of Christ—

Phil: Right.

Dennis: —because there’s a lot of meaning in who Jesus is, as you understand where the name came from/—

Phil: Right.

Dennis: —what the symbolism is there.

Phil: Yes, and when you put them on the Christmas tree, you can celebrate the symbolism of the Christmas tree. When Boniface gave the fir tree to these Germanic tribes as their new symbol, he said, “Look, this tree points to heaven.



“Let Christ be your guide. Look, the arms of the tree are outstretched towards you. Let Christ be your strength/your comfort. And you use the wood from this tree to build your homes—let Christ be the center of your households.” 

So, when you do that—when you look at the tree that way—it’s a completely different experience. And then, hang ornaments with Jesus’ name on them—and you’ve brought Christ into the center of it.

Dennis: Well, I know how she’s talking about doing it. She’s created seven of them, along with a little booklet, that explains each of the names—and where, really, a child, who’s got a third- to fourth-grade education, could read about the name in front of the family and go hang it on a tree around the seven names of Christ.

I want to come back to what you’ve created here, though—the DVD.

Phil: Yes.

Dennis: How does Buck Denver get into all this history lesson? I know, it’s animated; right? But it’s—

Phil: It is puppets and animation mixed. Buck is at his cabin in the woods of Indiana to have a Christmas getaway. They decide to have a Christmas party—



—he invites over all his friends. While all of his friends are travelling from different places—including Captain Pete the Pirate, who’s coming from India on a ship—everyone is coming from all over the place. They are all asking these questions: “By the way, why do we call it Christmas? Why is it on December 25th? Why—it’s ironic that Jesus was born on December 25th.”  “Well, no, we actually don’t know when Jesus was born. Here’s why we celebrate it on December 25th.”  And then, as they’re putting up the tree: “What’s with trees? Why do we chop down trees and drag them into our houses to celebrate Jesus’ birthday?” So, it’s all these.

When I do this with What’s in the Bible? too—whenever I’m going through parts of the Bible—I’m trying to think like the really mischievous third-grade boy, sitting in the back of a Sunday school classroom, thinking of the questions—the last questions that the volunteer Sunday school teacher wants to hear. [Laughter] You know, “Why was it okay for the Israelites to kill all those Canaanites?” I mean, that’s one of the questions we ask in What’s in the Bible? and then we answer it.


So we’re doing the same thing with Christmas: “Why do we chop down trees for Jesus?  Tell me how this makes sense.”  When you’re a parent, those questions can be terrifying: “I don’t know, kid. Go look it up online.” 

Dennis: “Because we’ve always done it,”—that’s the answer.

Bob: Yes.

Phil: Yes.

Dennis: “It’s our tradition.”

Phil: “It’s tradition—it’s tradition. So, drink your eggnog!” [Laughter] “Well, what’s that have to do with anything?”  [Laughter]

Bob: So, you’ve got everybody coming to see Buck in Indiana—

Phil: Yes.

Bob: —and sailing their ships right into the port of Indiana, I presume.

Phil: Actually, the pirate has to—his name is Captain Pete. He has to stow a ride on another ship because his ship is in the shop. He says he needs to go to Buck Denver’s Christmas party in Indiana, and that captain mistakenly drops him off in India because he misunderstood it. So, he ends up getting a ride on a rickshaw from a friendly monkey, all the way from India to Indiana. It’s just part of the fun—Christmas fun. [Laughter]

Dennis: Only—only—

Bob: Only from the mind of Phil Vischer.

Dennis: That’s what I was getting ready to say.


Phil: See, but that gives you an opportunity to say: “Wait a minute, monkey! You don’t know about Christmas. This is India—you’re Hindu.” [In character] He says: “Well, thank you very much. There are 25 million Christians in India. That’s more than in Canada,”—just learn more about India while we’re learning about Christmas. [Laughter] “Thank you very much.” 

Dennis: I feel like I’ve watched the video.

Bob: Yes.

Phil: [In character] “No, you still need to purchase it and view it in your own home!” [Laughter]

Dennis: But I have 19 grandchildren.

Phil: [In character] They will all learn so much, but they each need their own copy.

Dennis: I’m going to make your Christmas happy.

Phil: [In character] I’ll sign each copy for a small price. [Laughter]

Bob: You can go to If you click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “GO DEEPER,” it will take you right to an area of the site where you can get more information about Phil Vischer’s Why Do We Call It Christmas? DVD that features Buck Denver.

Phil: Yes.

Bob: We also have information on the complete set of What’s in the Bible?—the DVD series—



—nine DVDs to take you from Genesis to Malachi and four more DVDs that take you from Matthew to Revelation—so you’ve got the complete Old Testament and New Testament available. These are a great tool to give your children, really, a solid education on What’s in the Bible?—that’s the name of the series. Go to Click the button in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” There’s information about the DVDs available there.

Also—information about a set of Christmas tree ornaments that we’ve made for your kids. We call it “The Twelve Names of Christmas.” We’ve taken twelve of the names of Jesus, and we’ve made a dozen kid-friendly tree ornaments to help your younger children be a part of the Christmas celebration and to use this to help disciple them as well. In the same way that a lot of grown-ups are using Barbara Rainey’s Adorenaments® on the Christmas tree, this is a great way to get the younger kids involved.



Go to Click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “GO DEEPER.” You’ll find information about all of the resources we’ve talked about here today. Or, if it’s easier, just call 1-800-FL-TODAY with any questions you might have. You can place orders over the phone for any of the resources we’ve talked about, and we’ll make sure they get out to you.

Dennis: Bob, I’ve got a couple of great stories, here, as we conclude the broadcasts. A number of years ago, I was in Alaska. I was standing in line at a Subway®.

Bob: You’re not talking about the underground subways. They don’t have those—

Dennis: They don’t have those in Alaska—

Bob: These are the sandwiches.

Dennis: —no, they don’t need those.

Bob: Okay; alright. [Laughter]

Dennis: But I was standing in line, and I was talking to a person. A woman turned around and she said, “Are you Dennis Rainey?!” I said, “I am.” She said: “I just want you to know that I’m a single-parent mom. I really benefit from FamilyLife Today. Thank you for what you guys are doing. We have fun with you guys, but you guys deliver the goods—practical biblical help and hope for my family. This is tough / this is hard.”



Frankly, that made my trip to Alaska.

Bob: Sure!

Dennis: We had a great time up there, in ministry; but that was a highlight for me.

Bob: I don’t know if you remember—but you and I were flying back from somewhere—and we were in the back row of a Southwest Airlines® plane. We were getting served our Cokes. The flight attendant wouldn’t—she served the Cokes, but she wouldn’t move the cart forward—like she was just standing there—

Dennis: She was processing.

Bob: Finally, she turned and she goes, “How do I know you two guys?!” Do you remember this?

Dennis: I do!

Bob: We looked up and said: “I don’t know. Do you listen to Christian radio?” She said, “That’s it!”

Dennis: She couldn’t place it. [Laughter] That was funny!

Well, I was flying from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Atlanta. I had a lot of work to do—so I had my computer out, and I was hammering away. I worked for two hours until we started to land. Finally, I thought I would be friendly to the gentleman I was sitting next to—I said, “You know, that’s an interesting book you’ve got there.”



It was a book on fathers and sons. He showed it to me; and I said, “Yes, I’ve interacted with a few groups around that subject over the years.” He stopped me; and he said: “I know who you are. I know who you are.” [Laughter]

Bob: He’d been sitting next to you the whole time?

Dennis: The whole trip. He said, “I started listening to FamilyLife Today about nine years ago. For all practical purposes, my marriage was over and your broadcast brought me hope and help.” At that point, he began to get emotional.

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: He said: “We went to a Weekend to Remember ®. I just want you to know we’ve got a marriage covenant hanging in our home.” I told him how proud I was of him for not quitting and thanked him for being a listener.



I said, “You know, you mentioned you had a twelve-year-old. We have this resource called Passport2Purity®.” He said: “Got it! My wife’s getting ready to take the twelve- year-old daughter through this in the next six weeks or so.”

I said, “Well, you also mentioned you had a seventeen-year-old son. You know, Stepping Up®—we’ve got this resource that can help you with your relationship with your son and really build into his life.” He said, “I went through Stepping Up two years ago with 200 men, here in Sioux Falls. That was fantastic! I’ve already done it.” I talked about Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date and he had that book.

Bob: Wow!

Dennis: So he was a real listener; alright?

Bob: Right.

Dennis: He’d been listening and getting the resources and, more importantly than all of that, he’d been using them—he’d been applying them.



I guess what I just want to say to the listeners, at this point, is: “If you’ve benefitted—if you’ve gotten resources and used them in your marriage and family, if you’ve been to the Weekend to Remember, used Passport2Purity, or Resurrection eggs, and we’ve helped bring Christ into your home—would you help us, here at yearend?—because we need your help. We’ve got a sizeable match that we need to take full advantage of. To do that, we need people who appreciate—we need listeners who appreciate FamilyLife Today to say, “I stand with you guys because you stand with me in my marriage, and my family, and my walk with God.”

Bob: We’ve had some friends of the ministry come to us recently—they’ve said, “We’d like to motivate and encourage listeners to make a yearend contribution.”

Dennis: So they did it big-time.

Bob: They did. They put together a fund—it’s a $2,000,000 matching-gift fund. Every time a listener makes a donation, we can make an equal withdrawal from that fund. So, if you make a $100 donation today, we can withdraw an extra $100 and match your gift. We can do that up to a total of $2,000,000.



We are hoping to take full advantage of that. To do so, we need you to go to and click on the link in the upper right-hand corner that says, “I Care,” to make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone. Or you can mail your donation to us—our mailing address is PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223.

Dennis: And if you can give—your giving needs to start with your local church—but if you can give beyond that, then may I challenge you to stand alongside us generously?—because there are single-parent moms listening to these broadcasts. There are parents, who have adopted children, who can’t afford to make a donation to this broadcast. When you give, you’re making it possible, not only for you to benefit, but for other families as well.

Bob: Yes, there are couples who are struggling—there are parents of prodigals. We could just run through the list; couldn’t we?

Dennis: We could.


Bob: We do appreciate your financial support. Again, go to to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We hope to hear from you.

And we hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend; and I hope you can join us back again on Monday, when we are going to meet a pretty remarkable young woman. She is not yet 25 years old, and she’s a mother of 13. [Laughter] You’ll meet Katie Davis on Monday.

I hope you can be here for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.


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