Wednesday, December 21, 2022

What is Christmas?

Nativity scene in Baumkirchen, Austria
While casting about for something to post I came across something I found interesting, it's bloody obvious to probably everybody but me, but nevertheless, I found it interesting.

Part of my "What am I going to write about?" process is picking a topic and then searching Google Images for what comes up. As an experiment, go there now and type in "Christmas." I'll wait right here. (For you smart phone Chanters, I think if you just search for Christmas then pick "Images" you'll get similar results.)

What I got was a lot of photos of Christmas trees, presents under the tree, Santa Claus, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and things of that ilk. I did see one Nativity scene done in brightly colored lights, but it was all very secular for the most part. You want pictures like the one above? Search for "birth of Christ."

I would like to say that Christmas has become more and more commercialized over the years, but that would be nonsense. When I was a kid, it was already very commercial. It was more about presents under the tree, singing carols (not all of which were related to the "reason for the season," after all it doesn't snow much in the Middle East), sending cards, gatherings of family, and things of that nature.

We did actually go to church for a Christmas program, which was very much about the birth of Christ, but that was a couple of hours during a season lasting at least two weeks, if not more. At least when I was a kid, the holiday was actually tied (somewhat loosely) to the birth of the Son of God, if only through that Christmas program.

As an adult, I didn't attend church for many years. I wrote about my return to religion here, as the title of that post suggests (and its second part here), that return was, I suppose, inevitable.

I've always been a believer, I've seen too much, and experienced even more, to doubt that there is a Creator, a Supreme Being, what we Christians refer to as God. However, the practice and the ritual of religion has often left me wanting.

So, for many reasons, Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of year, if not THE favorite. Now take the word itself:

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the word Christmas originates from the phrase “Cristes Maesse”, first recorded in 1038, which means the Mass of Christ or Christ’s Mass. The word mass is the English version of the Latin word missa, a celebration of the Eucharist, done in memory of Jesus Christ, where Christians eat bread and drink wine. But not all is Latin; in fact, the word Christ comes from the Greek word Khristos, translated from the Hebrew term messiah, which means anointed. (Source)

The coming of the Messiah is, indeed, the reason for the season. But I love the gift-giving, the singing of carols (though I try not to over-participate in said singing as my voice has been compared to the roaring of a gored bull, loud but not particularly pleasing to the ear) and the food, the gathering of family and all the other secular aspects of the holiday. But each and every year, I will take the time to read this passage on Christmas Day:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. Luke 2:1-20 (KJV)
Even during those long years when I didn't go to church, I would read this passage aloud to my kids, usually at Christmas dinner. I did want them to know why we celebrated Christmas each year and how important an event it really is. Not sure if it really took, only one of my three  bairns attends church on anything like a regular basis. That's on me, it's my fault we didn't go when they were young (and impressionable), even though more than once The Missus Herself strongly suggested that we should. (Yes, I should have listened to her then, I should listen to her more now, as you'd think I'd have learned by now. Being stubborn ain't necessarily a virtue.)

Anyhoo, that's where my head was Tuesday eve. I have a new post from John Blackshoe which I need to get up, but wanted to cover this first. I mean, it is Christmas, dontcha know?

Speaking of which, here's one of my favorite carols, sung by an incredible singer ...

Peace be with you ...


  1. Enjoyed the post. For some reason Christmas always brings me back to the penultimate stanzas from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
    "...'Tis sweeter far to me,
    To walk together to the kirk
    With a goodly company!—

    To walk together to the kirk,
    And all together pray,
    While each to his great Father bends,
    Old men, and babes, and loving friends
    And youths and maidens gay!

    Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
    To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
    He prayeth well, who loveth well
    Both man and bird and beast.

    He prayeth best, who loveth best
    All things both great and small;
    For the dear God who loveth us,
    He made and loveth all...."
    A lot of us believe in a Supreme Being, that He is ubiquitous, and that he is found in more places other than enclosed within four stone walls.
    Merry Christmas.

  2. The Celtic Woman singing of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, can make this Old Gray Badger wind up with a soggy muzzle.

  3. Our world today seems to have "Merry Christmas" people and "seasons greetings" people.
    I suspect the difference does have to do with the spread of modern media but I could be wrong (I think most of the crap going downhill in our society is because of modern media :-).
    "Seasons greetings" have far less obligations attached to it.

    1. The media helps spread the nonsense, they seem to revel in it. A pox on the Main Stream Media, Satan's little helpers.

    2. A pox indeed, Sarge; for they are Satan's willing and enthusiastic helpers.
      Great post. O Holy Night is second only to O Come Emmanuel on my list of favorite carols.
      Merry Christmas to you and yours, Sarge; and to all of the cognoscenti "here".
      Boat Guy

    3. Two outstanding carols, you and I are of like minds on this.

  4. Crusty Old TV Tech here. In days of old (I know what you're thinking comes next, not going there today!), I suspect folks could take time to envelop themselves in the joy, expectation, and mysteries of Advent. It is a season of penitential waiting, and of wide-eyed wonder. Between the secularization of society, and the de-secularization of Sundays (we have probably all had to work a shift or two on Sundays, I still do from time to time), the time to celebrate and meditate is lost. This year, it was not possible due to work (if you saw pretty pictures of the Moon and a certain spacecraft, that was us), but I am going to make an effort to move work out of Advent next year as much as possible. Then Lent, and Easter to clear away the secularized deadwood.

    As to carols, Stille Nacht by Franz Gruber, in the original Deutsch, performed by guitar gets my vote.

    For the Feast of the Holy Innocents, 28 Dec, "Coventry Carol", the Medieval version sung in 2011 by the choir of King's College, Cambridge, gets my vote for most beautiful and haunting carol ever.

    Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Joyeaux Noel, and Froeliche Weinachten to all!

    1. Crusty Old TV Tech again. De-Sacralization of Sundays vice de-secularization. Mea culpa...

    2. COTT #1 - The Coventry Carol has a haunting beauty, that version by the choir of King's College is very good.

    3. COTT #2 - I figured that's what you meant. 😁

    4. Removing the Mysteries has accelerated the fall of organized Church.

  5. Sarge, on the whole Christmas is much less about the actual reason and more about the secular reason. I suspect that in part, the Church did that to itself (a very wise man just reminded me that the Church becoming like the world never makes the Church better). At the same time, it was somewhat inevitable as, through 50's and 60's when American culture permeated the world as part of the post-war/Cold War era, Americanism went the it - and thus Christmas in what has become its modified form. It is not necessarily all bad, as some of the cultural interpretations of things like Christmas trees and Santa are humorously delightful, and at some level it remains the one Christian related (in some sense) holiday that is almost universally recognized - even if most do not celebrate it that way, it at least leaves the path open for discussing it.

    But it is like many things: eventually, perhaps sooner than we know, the commercialism and easy "fesitivism" of the season (yes, I made that up) will disappear. Economic hardships have a way of doing that to people. When that gets torn away, the core will still remain.

    To Crusty Old TV Tech's comment above, part of the blame lies within myself as well, as I easily slip into the habit of not making time for any of the seasons of the Christian calendar because "important other stuff". That is on me, not on the world, and something I need to fi.

    Children and Church - We regularly attended all the way through 2020 and Na Clann all went to K-8 Christian school, but none of them seem to have an interest in attending regularly now. I am less concerned about it that I once was; I spent my own time "away" for several years in my early 20's before realizing that I was missing something.

    Favorite Carols: Gosh, so many. Good King Wenceslas is a favorite (mostly because it is my range). God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman as well. And O Come O Come Emmanuel in the original Latin is superb. For fun carols, The Boar's Head Carol is great as well as Orientis Partibus (The Song of The Ass, 13th Century - Originally in Latin, English in this version).

    Nollick ghennal erriu! (Merry Christmas, Manx Gaelic)

    1. Ah, some more lovely music to bask in!

    2. Then there is always the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah".

    3. Sarge, read both of the religion posts. Yeah, it is like that.

      Another thing we have in common: also baptized twice, once as forehead when I was a child, full immersion in a pool years later.

    4. I'm beginning to wonder if any of that stuck, weird times right now.

  6. Sarge, I wouldn't be too hard on yourself. I have always been a dedicated church-goer and neither of mine attend. 1 barely even believes. I pray they'll return to the faith someday.

  7. The secularization and desacralization of Christmas are a terrible thing. The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ is an important hinge point in the Christian celebration of His life. I like using that terminology, as it moves the name of the celebration away from the Roman Christmas, which might be more palatable to some Protestant groups. If I recall correctly, the Orthodox Churches use that terminology.

    My favorite hymns/carols are divided between Advent and The Nativity. For Advent, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", "Gabriel's Message"(a Basque folk hymn" and "Lo, How a Rose Er Blooming" top the list. For The Nativity, "O Holy Night", "Stille Nacht/Silent Night","What Child is This" and "Angels We have Heard on High" are some of the top on this list. I particularly like those that are sung a cappella or can be.

  8. 'Tis the season ....

    Christmas at home as a kid was baking. Church functions, cookies, pies, cakes, candies. School, every teacher of every child got a fruit-filled Yule bread. Mom happily used hundreds of pounds of flour and sugar. Outside in the unheated one-car shed was filled, an outdoor freezer that started filling before Thanksgiving, all distributed by New Years. &I used to dread that (as the chief assistant and lead cookie froster.) Now I miss it almost as much as I miss Mom.

    I sang and read in church and concerts, fell away when we couldn't have kids. Toys For Tots gets checks, nieces and nephews get gifts (small, fortunately there are many of them.

    There's a part of me that wanted to become Scrooge; therapy has changed that, but I doubt I'll ever catch up to my teen-age pace and quantity.

    Merry and Happy to all of you!


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