WHAT IS CHRISTMAS?
Christmas. It comes every year. We string the lights and decorate the tree and spend way too much money on things we probably could live without, but what is this all about? What is Christmas?
Is it a religious holiday? Is it a solstice celebration? Is it just a commercial holiday? Or is it a birthday celebration?
The dictionary says Christmas is the annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus: celebrated on December 25 (or for some Eastern Orthodox Christians on January 7th) and now generally observed as a legal holiday and an occasion for exchanging gifts.
There are many words associated with Christmas: Yule, Noel, Nativity, Christmastime, Christmastide. And then there is Jolly Old Saint Nick and Scrooge and the Grinch and the Tree. Hmmm. Where do they fit in?
Okay, Christ-mas. Part of that word gives it away. Christmas has something to do with the Christ. So, who was the Christ? Well, there was this guy born over 2000 years ago named Jesus. You know the story; there was no room at the Inn and he came into the world in a stable along with the cow, the donkey, the sheep and the shepherds and, oh yes, Joseph and Mary. Well even if you are not Christian, that’s a neat story especially in how he grew up to have an amazing influence on every single person on this planet, even if some people have never heard his name. During his time on earth he was thought by his followers to be the anticipated Messiah or the Christ and he is referred to as Jesus Christ.
In Middle English it is Crist, from Old English, in Latin Christus, in Greek Christos, meaning literally, anointed. Jesus is known as the Jewish religious teacher whose life, death, and resurrection as reported by the Evangelists are the basis of the Christian message of salvation.
Gift giving probably came about commemorating the gifts brought to the baby Jesus in the stable by the Three Wise Men and this idea was elaborated on when the legend grew about the gift giving to the poor by a Christian bishop named Nicholas from the third century who somehow morphed into a now well known and loved figure called Santa Claus. Somewhere along the way Santa took over the holiday.
And that’s a shame because while Santa does ask little boys and girls to be good all year (or else coal in your stocking) Jesus had a much better message. Something to do with Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Men. Now if you don’t know much about Jesus he was all for love; love your neighbor, forgive your enemy, take care of the poor, render justice where justice is due, be kind to animals, take care of the earth. Pretty good stuff! Seems like we ought to give more of that as gifts instead of spending more than we earn on gadgets and toys.
Perhaps this year we can celebrate Christmas by giving thanks to be able to live in this special part of the world. Maybe we’ll bring our visiting relatives and friends down to that huge natural wonder in our harbor, the Rock. For some people the Rock is special. It signifies something solid, safe, and a bit mysterious too. Indigenous people worshiped it. It is almost a religious talisman. For some, Jesus is our Rock.
Now, you don’t have to believe like Christians do to appreciate Jesus. Maybe Jesus is just a prophet to you, or maybe he is just a person of peace. So even if you are not Christian, you can appreciate what the season is all about. What is Christmas? It is simply the birthday of someone who brought us a great message of peace and love - Jesus.