“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!” – Dave Barry
We live in a beautiful, charismatic and diverse world of many religions. Interestingly no one really knows exact number of religions present in the world; however, it is believed that the world today is not having less than 4,000 religions. Canada is a multi-faith country led by Christianity (67% according to the Canada 2011 National Household Survey), followed by non-religious affiliation (23.9%), Islam (3.25%), Hinduism (1.5%) and Sikhism (1.1%). Canada today has no official church and religion and demonstrates religious pluralism.
The meaning of Christmas
Christmas means the Mass (celebration) of Christ. Christ is a Greek word meaning “anointed” or one set apart by God for a special purpose. In Hebrew ‘Christ’ means ‘Messiah’.
Judaism was the main religion of Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth. Christmas is a Christian holiday on December 25 that commemorates the birth of Jesus and a widely observed cultural holiday. Christmas is a civil holiday in many of the world’s nations. The AD calendar that we all use today also began with the birth of Jesus. The years before Jesus’s birth are known as B.C (Before Christ) and the years after Jesus’s birth are marked A.D (Anno Domini, which means, in the year of our Lord). The modern historians believed the birth year Jesus fall somewhere in between 7 and 2 BC, however, the exact month and day of his birth yet unknown.
Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary (the mother of Jesus) as a fulfillment of the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecy. According to the biblical accounts, Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. According to tradition, Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem shortly before Jesus’ birth. Joseph had been ordered to take part in a census in his home town of Bethlehem.
Christmas for Christians
Christmas celebration is one of the greatest days in the Christianity.Christmas a festival of peace and reconciliationhas helped Christians to preserve many of their ancient beliefs and practices. For many Christians the season brings joy and happiness-some love to be with family, some celebrate the birth of Jesus-whom they consider the Messiah, and lastly some make a ‘ season of shopping’. All in all, its time of holidays and joys and to be with loved ones.
At no other time of the year do people wish to hear “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” than on Christmas occasion. Today Christmas is more than a one-day celebration or a 12-day festival. It also coincides with the most important part of the business cycle of the year-the month comprising an important retail period-Christmas, the Boxing Day and the New Year.
The majority of Canadians follow Christianity and attend church services albeit infrequently. Polls by Reginald Bibby in the Boomer Factor show-two out of three Canadians believe Jesus is the divine son of God, however, only one out of three Canadians (and just one out of five British Columbians) would actually attend church service once a month or more. Nonetheless, for Christians, participating in a religious serviceduring Christmas season plays an important part. Gifts giving and family reunions take place on Christmas Day.
The Advent (the word comes from the Latin adventus meaning coming) is the period of preparations for the Christmas and begins on Sunday nearest to 30th November. Advent wreaths are popular in Christian churches which are often full for the service late on Christmas Eve.
The decorations are major part of the Christmas celebrations. The traditional colors of Christmas decorations are red, green, and gold. The Christmas tree is considered by some as a living symbol of human dreams and aspirations life itself. Almost every Christian in Canada and many instances non-Christians decorate their offices and houses with a Christmas tree. The tree is usually an evergreen conifer such as spruce or pine. An artificial Christmas tree is usually made from PVC. The tree is rationally decorated with apples, nuts, chocolates, and other foods. Unlike in the old days, the tree is now decorated with Christmas lights instead of candles.
“Everyone wants a Christmas tree. If you had a Christmas tree Santa would bring you stuff! Like hair curlers and slut shoes.”
– Janet Evanovich, Visions of Sugar Plums
Santa Claus is also known as Father of Christmas or simply “Santa Claus (called in America)” is an essential part of Christmas celebrations. According to the old myths, Santa is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children on 24 December. Santa is portrayed as a portly, joyous and white bearded man wearing red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers and black leather belt and boots and lives in the North Pole. The visual image of Father of Christmas that we see today is the one popularized by American card-makers in the Victorian era.
“Santa is really the only cultural icon we have who’s male, does not carry a gun, and is all about peace, joy, giving, and caring for other people. That’s part of the magic for me, especially in a culture where we’ve become so commercialized and hooked into manufactured icons. Santa is much more organic, integral, connected to the past, and therefore connected to the future.”—TV producer Jonathan Meath who portrays Santa
In the United States and Canada, children traditionally leave Santa a glass of milk and a plate of cookies; in Britain and Australia, he is sometimes given sherry or beer.
Christmas celebrations have become more of commercial and less spiritual. Is that true?
As we know Christmas is a most popular December holiday season celebrated by large numbers of people all around the world. It has long been known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which occurred over 2,000 years ago. However, not all who celebrate the holiday do so with Jesus’ birth in mind. In fact, there are many traditions associated with Christmas that actually began as a part of pagan culture.
All big departmental stores spend a lot of money on advertising at this time of the year in a bid to convince potential customers to buy their products/services. The seasonal buying trend entices customers to buy things that they even don’t need them. That perpetuates the capitalist driven consumer centric cycle into the next year and further erodes the true meaning of Christmas.
What is the significance of Christmas for Christians?
The question then becomes, “Since Christmas has its origins in pagan traditions, is it acceptable for Christians to celebrate it?” The fact remains that, although Christmas has some associations with a secular holiday, Christians still celebrate it to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It may be a matter of conscience for some, for as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:23 ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive.” There are many others who believe the holiday has been redeemed due to the deeper meaning it has been given. These individuals continue to celebrate Christmas based on Paul’s words further on in the passage: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”
What message would you like to give to the readers on this occasion?
This is the message that I would like to give to all the readers. We should never forget that, the true meaning of Christmas is LOVE. In the Holy Bible, Book of John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.
The real Christmas story is the story of God’s becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshiping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.
So the true meaning of Christmas is love. God loved His own and provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8): Merry Christmas – Jesus is the reason for the season.
Christmas for non-Christians
Christians celebrate Christmas believing that it was the time when God’s greatest gift was given to them. An atheist, however, would say that it was highly unlikely that there was a virgin birth in Jewish backwater of Palestine roughly 2,000 years ago and that the birth of Jesus represented God’s incarnation on earth. It looked to him a bizarre story.
Many Indo-Canadian non-Christians such as Hindus and Sikhs enjoy having a feast, putting up Christmas tree and lights, exchanging gifts and enjoying mythology of Santa Claus. Although Christmas is religious holiday, however, like most non-Christians, atheist, Sikhs and Hindus treat the occasion more of holidays than any religion virtue. When I asked my Hindu and Sikh friends about Christmas celebrations, they would reckon the occasion as happy holidays and relax time-oh yes-shopping time as well-than any spiritual time. My Chinese friends shared almost the same feelings. Nonetheless, feelings are pretty strong that Christmas has become more of commercial event and less spiritual.
“I think commercialism helps Christmas and I think that the more capitalism we can inject into the Christmas holiday the more spiritual I feel about it ” – Craig Ferguson
In the Muslim world, Christmas is not celebrated publicly, except in the minority Christian communities in the Middle East. There is no “Christmas Spirit” at all in the Muslim world. It’s not that Muslims are ignorant of Christmas or the birth of Jesus. It may come as a surprise to the readers that the story of the birth of Jesus is actually mentioned in the Quran (the holy book of Muslims). Although, contrary to Christians believe that the Jesus is a “son of God”, Quran explicitly mention that Jesus was not the son of God rather a messenger of God. The fact is Islam stands closer to the Christianity than any other religion on earth.
Put it differently, although Muslims do acknowledge Christ’s miraculous birth of a virgin. However, Muslims also love and respect Jesus as one of God’s greatest messengers to the humanity. Muslims do agree and believe that Allah (God)-Gospal (the holy book) was revealed to Jesus, just like Ta’wart (Torah) to Moses, and the Old Testament (Zabur) to David and Koran to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
My Muslim friends also treat the season as relaxing time-the time they want to spend with families and friends or if the weather is good hang out in parks, on beaches or head to shopping malls.
Jews also don’t celebrate Christmas and not treat it as Jewish holiday. Unlike Muslims, Jews don’t believe in Jesus as a messenger of God because they believe Jesus didn’t fulfill the messiah prophecies; did not embody the personal qualifications of the Messiah; Biblical verses “ referring” to Jesus are mistranslations and Jewish belief is based on national revelation.
“Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.” – Gladys Taber
– By Syed Asad Hussain