Significance of Christmas

V.N. Gopalakrishnan Christmas is a festival celebrated by Christians the world over on December 25, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is the celebration of love, generosity, benevolence, peace, kindness, brotherhood, and familial bonding. The word Christmas has derived from the Old English ‘Cristes Maese’ (Christ’s Mass). Jesus Christ also called Jesus of Nazareth was the founder of Christianity. According to the Biblical Gospel accounts, miraculous events surrounded the conception and birth of Jesus. He was the son of Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth, but is believed to have been miraculously conceived by his mother, Virgin Mary. Tradition has it that he was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth. He was baptized by John, the Baptist and he preached a message of religious reform and divine love. Christianity is a major religion stemming from the life, teachings and death of Jesus Christ. There are three principal groups of Christians belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Protestant churches. Christianity began as a movement within Judaism. Jesus and his chief followers called the Apostles were Jews and they accepted him as the ‘Christ’ or the Chosen One, sent to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The authority passed through the Apostle St. Peter, and the teachings of Jesus Christ were collected and consolidated in a body of writings known as Gospels. There are four gospels written by Apostles St. Mathew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John and they deal with the life, the person, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. The word gospel is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘god-spell’, meaning ‘good story’. The Holy Bible contains the sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament whereas the Jewish Bible includes only the books known to Protestants as the Old Testament. The New Testament is by far the shorter version of the Christian Bible. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is a collection of books including a variety of Christian literature. Although Christmas was not celebrated by the early Christians, there was a custom to celebrate a Saint’s birth into eternal life. Thus Good Friday (Christ’s death) and Easter Sunday (His Resurrection) took centre stage. Besides Christmas, the Christian Church celebrates two more birthdays – the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Birth of John the Baptist. According to a Roman Almanac, Christmas was celebrated in Rome by AD 336. However, in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the festival was celebrated on January 6 commemorating the manifestation of God in both the birth and the baptism of Jesus Christ. During the 4th century AD, most eastern churches adopted the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth on December 25. The reason for celebrating Christmas on this day is probably to coincide with the Roman festival marking the “birthday of the unconquered Sun” (natalis solis invicti). December 25 was also regarded as the birth day of Mithra, the Iranian mystery God known as ‘Sun of Righteousnes’. The 19th century has been characterized as the great century of Christian missions as the followers took the faith to every corner of the world. However, the Malabar Christians living in Kerala claim to have been Christianised by the Apostle St. Thomas as early as the beginning of the first century AD. It is believed that St. Thomas landed in Kerala in 52 AD and spread the message of Christianity and Jesus Christ. Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, Syrian Jacobite and Mar Thomite are the four major Christian groups in Kerala. Since European Middle Ages, evergreens, firs and lights have been associated with Christmas as symbols of survival, warmth and lasting life. Christmas is regarded as the festival of the family and of the children. Presents are exchanged in many countries in the name of Santa Claus, the traditional patron of Christmas who is also known as Father Christmas in the United Kingdom. The popular image of Santa Claus is based on traditions associated with Saint Nicholas, the 4th century Christian saint who was reputed for his generosity and kindness. Saint Nicholas became a benevolent, gift-giving figure in the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries besides the United States. Christmas Card is usually sent by mail as an expression of goodwill at Christmas time and the practice has been followed in all English speaking countries. The first Christmas card is believed to have been designed in England in 1843. Christmas Tree, usually a balsam or douglas fir, decorated with lights and ornaments, forms part of the Christmas festivities. The use of evergreen trees, wreaths and garlands as a symbol of eternal life was an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews. Modern Christmas Tree originated in West Germany and was introduced into England in the early 19th century. Christmas trees were popular in Austria, Switzerland, Poland and The Netherlands during the same period. In China and Japan, they were introduced by western missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. The true meaning of Christmas is a kind of hallmark sentimentality about a world where there is no strife, anger, hatred, and criticism. The true meaning of Christmas is not about man loving man but is about God loving man. Worldrenowned non-Christian historian H. G. Wells has ranked Jesus Christ as the most influential person who has ever lived. person who has ever lived. (The author is Director, Indo-Gulf Consulting, a PR consulting firm. ) Courtesy : articles/