Once again Christmas festival is coming up. Birthday of the savior who split the era into BC and AD. Christmas is a religious and cultural festival observing the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world long anticipated by the people of Israel, as described in the scriptures. If asked when Christmas was first celebrated, the first recorded event is in AD336, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine. When we hear the word Christmas, what comes to our mind are Christmas trees, cribs, star lights, gift wraps, Santa Claus, cakes, and holy mass. How many times have we made Christmas cribs? Carols are sung, gifts are exchanged, the Christmas tree is decorated and each Christmas is over, we look forward to the next Christmas. The truth is that there is no boredom only enthusiasm. The fact is that there is no other celebration that gives us this much excitement and enthusiasm.
Everything about Christmas
There is so much to know and say about Christmas. Christmas was the fulfillment of prophecies. The people of Israel had long been waiting for a savior. The prophets had already recorded it in the scriptures, and those who knew the scriptures were waiting for that savior. However, when Jesus came and was born on this earth, none of the leaders of mainstream religion knew about it and the shepherds were the first to hear the news from God’s angels.
We celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but biblical scholars believe that Jesus’ birth date was probably in March or April. Because according to the Gospel of St. Luke, on the night Jesus was born, shepherds were in the fields tending their sheep. “And there were shepherds residing in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8) Since the month of December is very cold, shepherds cannot be seen outside in the fields. That is why the shepherds take the goats outside to graze in the non-cold months of March and April. And how come December 25 is celebrated as Christmas? One of the reasons for this is that in the Western world, December 25 is the feast of the Sun God. But when Europe entered the Christian faith, the festival of the Sun God that had been celebrated until then was changed to the birth date of Jesus. The reason for this is the realization that Jesus is the real sun (Sun of Justice).
Another reason lies in the Jewish context. In 160 BC, Judas Maccabeus, the king of Judah at that time, destroyed the image of Zeus God that had been in the Church of Jerusalem until then, and restored the worship of Jehovah (Yahweh), the one true God, in its place. The festival of the dedication of this church was known as the Hanukkah festival. On that day all the Jews gave thanks to God with lamps, joy, and shouts. For the Jews, the Hanukkah festival was a joyful and holy commemoration of the end of all slavery. The early Christians were aware of this feast day and had no hesitation in celebrating that feast day as the feast of the birth of Jesus, the one true God who ended all darkness and slavery.
Thus, so many stories Christmas has to tell. Countries that recognized Christianity as their official religion later began to celebrate Christmas by infusing memories and stories of Jesus’ birth into the feast of the invincible Sun God. The celebration of Christmas has been formed by combining many stories, customs, and traditions into a beautiful festival that transcends time, culture, and religion. To be more specific, Christ went down to each culture, local customs, and legends. Thus, Christmas became a global festival. Wherever in the world, past histories, stories, and events have been passed down from generation to generation through word of mouth. Therefore, facts and imagination are intertwined in the historical description of that period. It is not easy to separate it into two.
How do we celebrate Christmas? Usually, we hang stars in houses, buy new clothes, Exchange gifts, decorate Christmas trees, go to church, share food with family and friends, and then wait for Santa Claus to come are the typical Christmas customs in our country. Apart from that, on the occasion of Christmas, charity work is also done, preparing a house for the poor and homeless under the leadership of the church or organizations, visiting orphanages and giving them clothes and food, and organizing art programs for them. We hang stars in our homes and institutions to herald the arrival of Christmas on the first day of December itself. Within a few days, the work of the Christmas tree and the crib will begin, buying gifts for loved ones, making or ordering cakes, and so on. So many things are associated with Christmas. During the Christmas season, we can see many objects that represent the birth of Jesus. Behind all these objects there is history, there are stories and there are ideas and also concepts. Knowing, reading, and meditating on them this Christmas season is enlightening, fun, and even a blessing.
Christmas crib (manger)
When we think of Christmas, the first thing that comes to our mind is the crib. Why is that? We are all born in hospitals or at home. But it is widely believed that Jesus, the son of God, was born in a stable. We do not know of anyone else being born in a stable like that. In memory of that, we make cribs at home every Christmas. Not only in houses but also in churches and institutions grass sheds are made. But do you know who made this crib for the first time? St. Francis of Assisi was the first to make a Christmas crib.
Around the second century, all Christians began to celebrate Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, but no one made a Christmas crib. But Francis of Assisi thought to make a manger one Christmas time, exactly in 1223. Francis of Assisi was a saint who lived in Assisi, Italy. He was a pious man who gave up all the comforts and luxuries of his life and became extremely poor. One day he thought like this, everyone is celebrating Christmas very lavishly. But the modesty and simplicity of the Son of God, who was born in a stable by making himself empty and humble, is lost in the Christmas celebrations. Francis tells his friend Giovanni that this year I want to celebrate Christmas differently, we want to build a stable.
So, for Christmas that year, in the churchyard of Greccio, under the leadership of Giovanni, not a manger, but a stable was built. Figures of Mother and Joseph were placed in the stable. And the wise men, the goats, the cows, the shepherds all were placed there. Even though all of them were placed there, only Infant Jesus’ figure was not placed there. On Christmas day, after mass, when everyone was lighting candles and praying in front of the manger, Infant Jesus appeared in heavenly light in the middle of Mother Mary and Joseph in the manger. Everyone who was there that day was lucky enough to witness this miracle. So, everyone started imitating this method started by Francis of Assisi the following year. Over time, this became popular. This is how the practice of making cribs for Christmas and celebrating Christmas came to all the churches, Christians, and people.
Jesus was born the poorest of the poorest. This stable is a symbol. A symbol of love, mercy, modesty, and poverty. Have you noticed the stables? Or take a look at the cribs we prepare on Christmas day. It has no doors. Anyone can enter there at any time. Everyone, whether good, sinful, poor, or rich, can enter this stable at any time. Our God is waiting for us in that stable. Our baby Jesus, the eternal source of love and mercy is waiting. A stable is a symbol of poverty. Modesty is a virtue that can be seen here.
Christmas Papa (Santa Claus)
One of the most beautiful concepts of Christmas celebrations is Santa Claus. It is believed that on Christmas night, Christmas Papa comes with gifts for the children. In fact, the greatest gift we have received is Jesus who was born as our savior. It is not wrong to think that gifts are exchanged to commemorate this gift that God has given us. Do you want to know who was this Santa Claus? Santa Claus, also known as Christmas Papa, was a bishop who lived in Asia Minor in the 19th century. His real name was Nicholas. This Bishop had great love and affection for people and was eager to help everyone. During the time of religious persecution, he secretly helped persecuted Christians. As a result, the rulers disliked him and imprisoned him. Even after his release from prison, he continued to help the poor and oppressed.
There are many stories about him. This is the traditionally believed story. At that time there was a poor man who had three daughters, the eldest daughter was of marriageable age. But validly he could not arrange his daughter’s marriage. So that poor man was very distressed. Then one day he got a bag filled with gold coins from a corner of his house. He did not know who brought it there. He sold the gold coins and arranged his daughter’s wedding in a grand manner. The same thing happened when the second daughter was of marriageable age. Someone secretly delivered a bag of gold coins there. The marriage of the second daughter was also arranged.
The same thing happened when the third daughter was of marriageable age. But this time the poor man found out who was bringing the gold coin. It was none other than our Nicholas. He was the bishop of the diocese of that place. Then Nicolas said to the poor man, “Tell this to no one, and keep it a secret.” The poor man didn’t tell anyone, but gradually it became public that Nicholas was secretly helping everyone. A concept was also formed that if someone secretly received a gift, it was brought by Santa Claus. This is how the concept, or belief, that Santa Claus comes with gifts at Christmas was formed. “Santa Claus “is a Latin word Santa means saint and Claus is the short name for Nicholas. Santa Claus means Saint Nicholas.
The Christmas star is one of the most seen and best-selling items we see during Christmas. Let’s see how the star became an integral part of Christmas. When the savior Jesus was born, the shepherds were the first to know that information. It was the messengers of God who spoke it to them. But the wise men who came to meet Jesus with gifts learned this information when a star rose with unusual brightness in the east. How did they understand this information?
At that time, outside of Judaism, there were scientists in Persia, Babylon, and Syria who were experts in astronomy. They were always watching the sky and once they saw a new star shining brightly in the sky. They knew that when great men are born who are capable of changing the course of world history, the star will rise like this and will be seen with great brilliance. That is how the wise men came to know about the birth of Jesus, and they followed the star to Jerusalem. Not only that, it is recorded in the Old Testament that when Jesus was born, a star would rise like that. “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth” (Numbers 24:17)
Angels informed the good news to shepherds, that Jesus was born, but the wise men who came to see Jesus from the east came to know that Jesus was born when they saw the newly risen star. That star is their guide. The star was moving towards Jesus in Bethlehem until the sages reached there. God spoke through the scriptures for the Jews, and through nature for the Gentiles who were not Jews. Thus, everyone knew the news of this happiness. Don’t understand why the star is so important in Christmas celebrations?
The Christmas tree is an indispensable part of Christmas. Do you know how the Christmas tree became a part of Christmas? Have you noticed the shape of the Christmas tree? It is triangular in shape. The Christmas tree is rich with stars, lights, and other decorations. The color of the Christmas tree is always green. The practice of lighting candles on green-colored trees was a custom practiced in the West even before the birth of Jesus. They decorated the beautiful green trees with lamps as part of their culture. In snowy countries, when snow falls, we can’t see any greenery. But in severe snow and cold, only fir trees keep green. Therefore, they used to light the fir trees with lamps. When Christianity came to Europe, they did not stop the practice of decorating trees with lamps, instead, they gave it an interpretation. That is, Jesus is the tree that remains green forever.
There is another story behind the spread of the Christmas tree in Western countries. Saint Boniface was on his way to Germany after completing his evangelistic work in England. When he arrived in Germany, he saw a group of people under an oak tree on the way. The crowd had gathered there to sacrifice a boy. Germany had not converted to Christianity at that time. Boniface, who had to see such a vile practice, scolded them and asked them to cut down the tree. They cut down the tree. As soon as the oak tree was cut down, a Devataru tree sprouted there. That very night the people gathered there and realized that it was a wonderful divine intervention. That night they lit up that tree with lamps. That is how the practice of lighting candles on top of the tree became widespread in Germany. Saint Boniface brought them to Christianity. When Germany converted to Christianity, the practice of decorating this tree was repeated for Christmas and gradually spread to all lands.
Christmas is a celebration that is rich with stories, history, and imagination. Peace is the theme of Christmas. Human love is the essence of Christmas. Therefore, if Christmas is to be meaningful, it is not enough for Christ to be born in a stable, he must be born in human hearts. The message of Christmas is that we should love one another. Christmas is also a symbol of immense mercy, sacrifice, and humility. Whatever the religion or whatever the celebration, its aim should be goodness, culture, happiness, love, mercy, recognition, mutual love, and respect. But what do we see today? Aren’t the vices of pride and arrogance? Human hearts today have sunk to a place where the word humanity does not even exist.
This is the time we need to check whether Christmas, which is the good news of the saviors’ birth is reduced to a religious celebration only. Today, one wonders if Christmas has degenerated into a celebration of debauchery, ostentatiousness, feeding, and drinking. Do the observances of Christmas become an affront to Christ? Christ is the historical figure who taught the world the truth and glory of suffering. We kill goats and cows at Christmas to make room in the stables for Him, right?
Then another question that arises is should we not rejoice in the birth of the Savior? Of course, you should rejoice and be happy. We should welcome Christmas with virtues that make the mind full of goodness and good deeds that make the heart happy. Let us make our hearts into cribs, for Jesus to be born. Many mistakes and crimes may have happened in our life, but it doesn’t matter. If we can see Jesus in those around us, love them and be a comfort to them, our lives will also be gospel. Think, have our birth and life been a piece of good news to anyone? Do we bring joy to our parents, children, families, neighbors, and friends?
Another Christmas has arrived. May we be able to impart happiness or comfort to someone through our word, look, action, proximity, or smile. We can use our tongue to speak good things about others. As someone said, extending one hand to help somebody has more value than joining two hands for prayer. Let us turn our lives into a prayer. It’s winter, don’t forget. Let us make our hearts little nests of grass as we prepare to celebrate the birthday of Christ. Let us welcome our infant Jesus with a blanket of peace, a pillow of love, a baby frock of mercy, and toys of happiness and peace.
Image credit: Canva.com
Stay in tune with Lovely Essays
You might also like: