The Christmas Season Mr. Pablo Cuadra Religion Class “ The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” Isaiah 9:2 .
“ I bring you good news of a great joy … for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.
( Lk 2:10-11).
Manger square, Bethlehem
What is the meaning of the word Christmas?
The word Christmas comes from the Old English Cristes Maesse , the Mass of Christ.
Christmas, therefore, literally means Christ’s Mass.
Christmas’ day is the only day when three masses are celebrated continuously: Midnight Mass, Dawn Mass and Christmas’ day mass.
In total, there are four liturgical celebrations marking the beginning of the Holy season of Christmas: The vigil Mass on December 24 th and the three masses of Christmas’ Day on December 25th.
‘ What good is it that Christ was born 2,000 years ago if he is not born now in your heart?’ Meister Eckhart
What is Christmas about?
Historically, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth to a young virgin from Galilee named Mary.
Theologically, Christmas is the celebration of the mystery of the incarnation .
The word incarnation means to “Take flesh ”. We believe that God became flesh like one of us in the person of Jesus.
The mystery of the incarnation is at the heart of the celebration of Christmas.
Jesus the Prince of peace, Emmanuel, “God is with us” was born to redeem us and to reconcile humanity to God.
Christmas marks the birth of our redemption and the fulfillment of the promised of salvation made by God to the people of Israel.
How long is the Season of Christmas? And when does Christmas begin?
The length of the liturgical Season Christmas vary from year to year, depending on what weekday December 25th occurs in any particular year.
Christmas begins with Vigil Mass on December 24 th and culminates with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
This liturgical year (2008) the Baptism of the Lord will be on January 13.
The exact dates of several other feasts celebrated each year during the Christmas Season are subject to change from year to year.
Hence, they are called movable feasts .
Why do we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25 th ?
By the early fourth century, Christians began celebrating Christmas, the birth of Jesus, on December 25, as an alternative to the pagan observance of the winter solstice known as Deis Natalis Solis Invicti , “The birthday of the unconquered sun”.
As Christianity, gradually, became the official religion of the Roman empire many of these pagan feasts were Christianized and infused with a Christological theme.
Hence, the unconquered sun became a Christian symbol of Jesus the true sun of justice, and the pagan observance of the winter solstice evolved into what is known today as Christmas.
The development of this feast traveled from the Christian West to the Christian East .
Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts.
The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria says that certain Egyptian theologians "over curiously" assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ's birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus.
In Cyprus, at the end of the fourth century, Epiphanius asserts against the Alogi that Christ was born on 6 January and baptized on 8 November. Ephraem Syrus (whose hymns belong to Epiphany, not to Christmas) proves that Mesopotamia still put the birth feast thirteen days after the winter solstice.
In Cappadocia, Gregory of Nyssa's sermons on St. Basil preached on St. Stephen's feast prove that in 380 the 25th December was already celebrated there.
In Jerusalem 385, Silvia of Bordeaux (or Etheria, as it seems clear she should be called) was profoundly impressed by the splendid Childhood feasts at Jerusalem. They had a definitely "Nativity" coloring; the bishop proceeded nightly to Bethlehem, returning to Jerusalem for the day celebrations.
At Rome the earliest evidence is in the Philocalian Calendar compiled in 354, which contains three important entries: In the civil calendar 25 December is marked "Natalis Invicti". In the "Depositio Martyrum" a list of Roman or early and universally venerated martyrs, under 25 December is found "VIII kal. ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeæ".
The Octave of Christmas
Christmas has its own octave (eight days of celebration) during which the feasts of St Stephen (26th), Saint John (27th) and the Holy Innocents (28th) are celebrated.
These saints are seen as having a particular relation to the Christmas mystery and are traditionally honored as “companions of Christ”. The Sunday within the Christmas octave is celebrated as the feast of the Holy Family.
The last day of the Christmas octave, 1st January, is observed as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
Feasts celebrated during the Octave of Christmas
St. Stephen, the first martyr –December 26
St. John, Apostle and Evangelist – December 27
Holy Innocents, Martyrs– December 28
Holy Family Sunday (movable feast)
Mary, the Mother of God (January 1)
The feast of Mary Mother of God ends the Octave of Christmas.
Epiphany (traditionally Jan 6, this is a movable feast)
Baptism of the Lord (movable feast)
“ For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”
Epiphany is a Greek word that means appearance or manifestation.
In the Christian East the feast of the Epiphany marked the beginning of the celebration of the birth of Christ.
The Feast of Epiphany was later adopted by the Christian West. Where it is celebrated together with the Christmas season.
Originally, Epiphany marked the end of the season of Christmas in the Churches of the West.
Epiphany was celebrated twelve days after the beginning of Christmas.
Did you know? The Twelve days of Christmas
Aside from the fact that Epiphany—which comes twelve days after Christmas—used to mark the end of the Christmas Season, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” are not really any part of Catholic liturgy.
The song of that name actually derives from a time in England from 1558 to 1829 when it was illegal to be a Catholic, and so the song contains a hidden catechism of Catholic theology.
A Partridge in a Pear Tree: Jesus Christ
Two Turtle Doves: The Old and New Testaments
Three French Hens: The Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity)
Four Calling Birds: The Four Gospels / The Four Evangelists
Five Golden Rings: The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the “Pentateuch”
Six Geese a-Laying: The Six Days of Creation
Seven Swans a-Swimming: The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit / The Seven Sacraments
Eight Maids a-Milking: The Eight Beatitudes
Nine Ladies Dancing: The Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
Ten Lords a-Leaping: The Ten Commandments
Eleven Pipers Piping: The Eleven Faithful Apostles
Twelve Drummers Drumming: The Twelve Points of Doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed
The liturgical color of the Christmas season is white .
Non-liturgical symbols and celebrations associated with Christmas are:
The crib or crèche
The Christmas tree
“ Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” Luke 2;14
There are two infancy narratives in the Gospels that tell the story of Jesus’ birth.
These narratives come from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Matthew’s account narrates the visit of the wise men from the East, the slaughtered of the Holy Innocents by Herod and the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.
Luke’s account narrates the story of Jesus being born in a manger, because there was no room in the inn and the appearance of the Angels to the shepherds.
Did you know?
Bethlehem the city where Jesus was born means “house of bread”.
Catholics believe Jesus is the true Bread from Heaven. John 6:35.
Catholics believe in the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. John 6: 53-56
The city of Bethlehem is home to one of the largest Palestinian Christian communities in the Holy Land .
The star at the church of the nativity marks the place where Jesus was born .
The Church of the Nativity
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was built upon the cave that tradition marks the birthplace of Jesus.
The Church of the Nativity is operated under the patronage of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
The Church of the Nativity is considered a sacred place of worship for both Christians and Muslims faiths.
Church of the Nativity
Did you know?
Christmas was against the Law in Massachusetts beginning in 1659 .
The ban, established by the puritans, existed as law for 22 years, but disapproval of Christmas celebration took many more years to change.
Christmas was condemned as an invention of the Popes.
In fact, it wasn't until the mid-1800s that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region.
The Christmas Crèche
The tradition of the Christmas crib or crèche was started by St. Francis of Assisi .
At Christmas 1223 he celebrated the birth of Jesus in an outdoor pageant and Mass in the village of Greccio, thus giving to the Christian world ever since the Christmas crib or crèche.
Pope Benedict’s Message for Christmas in 2005
“ At Christmas, the Almighty becomes a child and asks for our help and protection. His way of showing that he is God challenges our way of being human. By knocking at our door, he challenges us and our freedom; he calls us to examine how we understand and live our lives. The modern age is often seen as an awakening of reason from its slumbers, humanity’s enlightenment after an age of darkness. Yet without the light of Christ, the light of reason is not sufficient to enlighten humanity and the world. For this reason, the words of the Christmas Gospel: "the true Light that enlightens every man was coming into this world" ( Jn 1:9) resound now more than ever as a proclamation of salvation. "It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear" .
How to celebrate Christmas?
Each day of Christmas spend sometime reflecting on the meaning of the Incarnation. What does it mean to you to be saved?
Make plans to attend the Midnight Mass with your family or the Christmas Mass (Holy day of obligation).
Read the infancy narratives to your children and explain to them their connection with the Christmas season.
Do not take down the Christmas decorations until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Jan 13).
Make plans to attend a Christmas recital or play with your family or friends.
Practice the corporal works of mercy. For instance, sponsor a child through a charity.
Slow down, try to spend more time with your family.
Make a donation of diapers, formula or baby food to your local church or pro-life office in your diocese.
Pray to the Prince of Peace for Peace in the world, but above all be a peacemaker.
Loving God, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and worship of the wise men.
Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.
May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
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