The Significance of Christmas
Christmas, to me, is the most precious time of year for friends and family to gather and show their love and appreciation of each other. It is a joyful time to reflect on the past, talk about the present, and dream of the future. It is a time to give, share, and receive and most important for peaceful co-existence. It is time we learn to forgive each other and allow peace to reign in our hearts. Christmas is one of the biggest reminders that God has a plan for today and tomorrow. And yet, for many, it is the most stressful time of the year for many, it is the time where anxieties rise and conflicts occur. Many have said and many more will say that they despise this season and holiday. Jesus is the real meaning of Christmas, the hope we have in Him, the awesome plan of the Father. The great sacrifice of the son and the love that He has given us. Jesus is the real meaning of Christmas. (Photo: Joseph Sherman)
The official Christmas season, popularly known as either Christmastide or the Twelve Days of Christmas, extends from the anniversary of Christ’s birth on December 25 to the feast of Epiphany on January 6. On the Epiphany, some Catholics and Protestants celebrate the visit of the Magi while Orthodox Christians, who call the feast Theophany, celebrate the baptism of Christ
The Bible provides no guidelines that explain how Christmas should be observed, nor does it even suggest that it should be considered a religious holiday. Because of the lack of biblical instructions, Christmas rituals have been shaped by the religious and popular traditions of each culture that celebrates the holiday. Traditionally, the sacred Christmas season starts with Advent, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continues to Christmas Day. The sacred season ends on Epiphany, January 6. During Advent, Christians make preparations for the commemoration of Jesus’ birth on December 25, and also look forward to the Second Coming of Christ. Each of the four weeks symbolizes a different way in which believers perceive Christ: through the flesh, the Holy Spirit, death, and Christ’s judgment of the dead. The Advent wreath, which consists of four candles anchored in a circle of evergreen branches, originated with German Lutherans; the tradition has been adopted by many churches and families. At the beginning of each of the four weeks proceeding Christmas, Christians light an Advent candle as they say a prayer
On Christmas Eve, churches around the world hold evening services. At midnight, most Catholic and many Protestant churches hold special candlelight services. The Catholic midnight Mass was first introduced by the Roman Catholic Church in the 5th century. Christmas Masses are sometimes solemn and sometimes buoyant, depending on the particular culture that conducts them. Among some congregations, worshipers enter the church in communal processions. Church services often feature candlelight and organ music. Some also include a dramatization of the biblical story of Jesus’ birth, a practice begun by Saint Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.
Christmas observances have also assimilated remnants of ancient midwinter rituals that celebrate the returning light of the sun following the winter solstice. For example, many cultures continue the pre-Christian custom of burning Yule logs during the midwinter season; the Yule log symbolizes the victory of light over the darkness of winter. The tradition of lighting the Yule log is still observed, especially by Europeans. Families light the log on Christmas Eve and keep it burning until Epiphany. Some families save the remains of the Yule log to help kindle the fire the following year. According to ancient tradition, the ashes provide protection against bad luck during the year.
Christians traditionally exchange gifts as a reminder of God’s gift of a savior to humankind. Gift giving also recalls an ancient Roman custom of exchanging gifts to bring good fortune for the New Year. In most cultures that celebrate Christmas, a mythical figure delivers gifts to children. Many of these legendary gift givers bear a passing resemblance to pre-Christian elves and pranksters, who would distribute gifts while also making mischief in the community. As cultures adapted to Christianity, however, the gift givers often required that children behave well in order to receive their treats. This good behavior usually entailed obedience to parents and recitation of verses from the Bible. If the children misbehaved, they might receive a lump of coal or a switch rather than sweets and toys. Since the 19th century, Santa Claus and other mythical gift givers have become increasingly gentle, generous, and forgiving.
Christmas customs around the world reflect the variety of cultures that celebrate the holiday. For some people, Christmas is primarily a holy day marked by religious services. For others, gift giving, feasting, and good times figure more prominently. At its root, Christmas celebrates one of the fundamental events of Christianity, the birth of Jesus. However, the celebration of Christmas also incorporates many secular customs that have been handed down through families and borrowed from other cultures. This complex layering of sacred and secular observances creates celebrations that vary from nation to nation, and from culture to culture.
Christmas is a time of renewal. A time when the best in humanity is called forth amid the safety of traditions. A time when it feels good to give when grievances are abolished, when Heaven comes to Earth for a moment. Instead of offering the New Year resolutions, we could give it our brand new selves. We could leave behind the mistakes, the regret, and the hurtful words, all of it. Surely Christmas is a perfect time to start over, to make big changes, to do a turnaround. If we could see ourselves as the adored Child, we might remember our innocence.
HAPPY AND BLESSED CHRISTMAS TO ALL. MAY THE PEACE OF JESUS CHRIST REIGN IN ALL HEARTS.
Written by Joseph S. Sherman, Washington, DC
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