We find ourselves once again on December 1. For many, the day signals the start of the Christmas season. It’s time to get the tree up, and also to seek the treasure hidden behind door no. 1 on the Advent Calendar.
As for me, I have decided to take up the task once again of delivering a daily article for the next 24 days and dedicate it to the BIG story of Christmas. I think it will be fun to learn more about the traditions and symbols of the season, and sharing the findings of my exploration with you will be my gift to you all. Here we go!
Christmas is one of the most important religious and cultural holiday in our calendar probably because it is celebrated by more than 2 billion people around the world, both Christian and non-christian. In fact, the observance of Christmas occurs in 160 countries worldwide and people observe it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature, resulting in a variety of nuances, reflective of regional and local cultures. Here, in Canada, Christmas is broadly celebrated across the country. 87% of Canadians surveyed say they celebrate Christmas in their family.
So, what happens when you have billions of people, from multiple faiths and cultures, climate and history engaging in an event? You would think the event would be at risk of losing its original significance and yet, much of the core traditions have been preserved for centuries and even enhanced by local cultural flavours.
What is clear is that the traditions and rituals that make up what we know as the Christmas season cannot all stem from the observance of the birth of Christ. How does the Christmas Tree fit into the story? And what of the Christmas cards, Christmas carolling etc? Yes indeed, the story of Christmas is big!…HUGE!
Take for instance its name. For Christians, the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of Jesus Christ, the Saviour. The word itself literally means Christian’s Mass, (shortened to Christ’s Mass), and the day was intended to be a moment in time for spiritual reflection on the birth of Christ and the foundations of Christianity.
- In addition to “Christmas”, the holiday has been known by various other names throughout its history. The Anglo-Saxons for example (inhabitants of England in the Early Middle Ages) referred to the annual feast as “midwinter” or, more rarely as Nātiuiteð (from the Latin nātīvitās).
- In Old English, Gēola (Yule) referred to the period corresponding to December and January, which was eventually equated with Christian Christmas.
- “Noel” entered English in the late 14th century and is from the Old French noël or naël, itself ultimately from the Latin nātālis (diēs) meaning “birth (day)”.
So what’s in a name? Well, apparently a lot if your name is Christmas. With so many across the planet now engaged in celebrating the season, there has been a growing debate over the years as to whether or not it’s socially acceptable to say “Merry Christmas” to non-Christians and there has been widespread efforts to turn the traditional Christmas season into “the holidays,” removing the religious connection to it.
From the perspective of many who value Christmas as a celebration of the coming of Christ into the world, its a head scratcher, since Christmas is the reason for the season.
There is no doubt that in North America, Christmas overshadows other holidays. It makes Hanukkah seem small and, frankly, more religious compared with the cultural and social tone that has become Christmas. The solution of some well-meaning people who want non-Christians, or Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas, to feel included is a tweak in language: In mixed company, say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas.”
I am Christian and as such, believe in celebrating the birth of Christ and appreciate this time of year where everyone seems to remember his message to Love One Another. Love, joy and peace are the ingredients for Christmas and it gives me great pleasure to prepare my home and my heart to welcome it.
Perhaps this year I will reflect a little more on the meaning of Christmas, and its significance and what role it has played in my life.
Where do you stand on the debate? I would love to hear your views.