Celebrate Christmas skillfully? Yoga tells us to act skillfully in all we do. If that is true, then how do we do that in reference to Christmas? Do we spend less money and more time with loved ones? Do we highlight the Christian holiday of Christmas in a multicultural Fond du Lac?
Let’s look at what the word “Christmas” means. The word “Christmas” is the shortened form of the term “Christ’s mass” and was first used in the Western Europe in the 11th century. That was the time when the entire Western world was Christian. It meant the “whole world’s commemoration of the sharing of bread and wine by Jesus, the Christ,” who was considered the Messiah, which means the anointed, chosen one. The entire Holy Roman Empire celebrated that meal, known as “Eucharist,” which means “thanksgiving.”
So, originally, Christmas meant the mass celebration of a meal of bread and wine by Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians believe is Christ, the savior of the world.
It is a challenge even for Christians today to celebrate skillfully the original meaning of Christmas in light of our materialistic, secularized, Santa Claus world. Imagine, too, how challenging it is for non-Christians to celebrate Christmas’ original purpose.
How do Jewish, Muslim, atheists, Hindus or Native Americans skillfully celebrate this event that has such deep spiritual significance for Christians? How does one of these other believers acknowledge Christmas, and skillfully maneuver within the current trappings and the original meaning?
I am not a Jew, nor a Muslim, nor an atheist, nor any other religion’s affiliate, so I really can’t imagine how it is done in their own lives. However, I do know that many religious traditions celebrate God’s presence and activity in the world at this time of the year, especially at the end of the harvest season or at the end of the darkest time of the year. Each of these traditions also has practices of gift-giving and rituals around “light,” just like Christians do at Christmas.
Maybe that is their skillful way of celebrating what Christians celebrate. Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Light of the World. Christmas, according to Christians, is the en-fleshing of that Light of the World, called the Incarnation of God.
Historically, we know that Jesus probably was born in Spring, when the shepherds were tending the sheep on the hillsides during lambing season. We also know that the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Christ, was moved from Spring to the time when the Romans celebrated the Solstice (The Festival of Lights). They celebrated the movement of the earth away from darkness because the daylight was no longer getting shorter. This relocation of the celebration of Christ’s birth happened in the 4th century CE. At that time the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its State Religion. The celebration of the coming of the Light of the World, Christ, at the same time as the celebration of the old Roman sun god and the release of Persephone from the underworld made it easier for the new Roman Christians to believe that the Christian God, Jesus, was the one, true God.
Recently, one of The Center’s volunteers, Joni, researched the celebrations of various religions and made a sign for The Center students. I want to share what she did. Maybe skillfully celebrating Christmas means becoming more keenly aware that various believers are celebrating the presence of love and light in the world in many different ways, just like the Christians—
Hanukkah -- a Jewish celebration for eight days and nights, beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish lunar calendar of the month of Kislev, which falls anywhere from November 28th to December 26th. This celebration recalls the re dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and commemorates when one day’s amount of oil lasted 8 days. Gifts are given on each day.
Kwanzaa – a seven-day celebration of the African culture, beginning on December 25th and ending on January 1st. On the seventh day there is a Kwanzaa Karamu (big feast) during which gifts of Kuumba (creativity) are given to loved ones. There is also a daily lighting of the Kinara, and listening to traditional music and African principles and history.
Winter Solstice – a celebration of the coming of the Yule (sun, the longer days of light) for pagans on December 21st, the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It celebrates the rebirth of the Sun.
Las Posadas – a nine-day celebration from December 16th – 24th by some Latino Catholic families who process with candles while singing from house to house in the neighborhood, dramatizing Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem so Mary can give birth to her child, Jesus. The celebration includes gifts, parties, tamales and prayers.
Diwali – a five-day Hindu “Festival of Lights” which celebrates life and the victory of good over evil. It happens at the end of the harvest season in October or November and is filled with fireworks, feasts and family. Each day of Diwali celebrates a different legend of good over evil.
Chinese New Year – a 15-day celebration being on the first day of the lunar new year. The 15th day of the new year is the Lantern Festival, which includes a parade at night. The Chinese New Year marks the end of winter and the beginning of Spring and is a time spent with family and loved ones, eating and enjoying each other’s company.
I think it would be wonderful for all of us Christians to remember that skillfully celebrating Christmas means knowing that all the people of the world at this time of the year are commemorating and celebrating basically the same light and family and food that we Christians are celebrating. Although we have different cultures, we long for the same ritual remembrances that bring us joy and peace and happiness.
Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Las Posadas, Diwali and Chinese New Year!