Tag Archives: Christmas
For me, Christmas has never been about the commercialism or the food or the decorations; we do things low-key here in Switzerland, though we do decorate and exchange gifts. It’s about family, time together, specific gifts that the receiver wanted or needed (not just purchases to stuff the stocking or load the base of the tree). As a Christian, the true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with Santa or sitting around a dead tree in the living room eating candy out of socks. It has to do with the single greatest event in the history of humanity, which was simultaneously a “non-event”… nothing like the people of the times had been expecting, and so most of them missed it altogether. Those who have ears to hear, or eyes to see, will hear and see; those who don’t, or who choose to remain deaf and blind, will do so; it’s that simple. So it is that many people today repeat history and miss the point of Christmas altogether. They get bogged down in materialism, commercialism, superficiality or social pressures of one form or another, and forget about the historical and spiritual aspects of the holiday.
Personally, we will continue to celebrate Christmas with a Christmas tree, gifts, Christmas music and time together with loved ones, all the while remembering the true Reason for the Season, for the greatest demonstration of sacrificial love next to the act of Jesus’s obedience to the point of the crucifixion: That of coming to Earth in the vulnerable form of a baby, born into a family with no status, no wealth and no social power, becoming a human in order to identify with us in every way, and to eventually pay the ultimate price on our behalf so that, if we accept what Jesus did for us on the cross, we can know him intimately – on the deepest level of connection possible to humans in our limitations of time and space: That of the heart, the soul, the mind, and the spirit. The more I think about it, the more mind-boggling it is; the events that we celebrate at Christmas were set in motion for you and for me. It’s that simple.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Blessed New Year!
In 1223, in Greccio, Italy, Saint Francis of Assisi is accredited with creating the first Nativity Scene. We tend to think of commercialism and materialism as a modern disease, but in fact, Francis created that display to be a visual reminder of what Christmas was all about, and to counter what he felt was a growing emphasis on secular materialism and gift-giving. It was to be a day of celebration and worship of thanks to God for what he had inaugurated through the birth of the prophesied Messiah, Jesus.
When we think of a modern nativity scene, we think of a few elements as standard: Shepherds, Jesus in a wooden manger of straw, three kings, angels, and cattle and donkeys and sheep. In fact, the stable was more likely a cave or a small hand-dug dugout, a shelter for animals in cold weather or raids, and perhaps a place to store surplus grains or foodstuffs. The manger was a feeding trough, much like modern feeding troughs found on small farms. The shepherds “watching the flocks by night” tells us that it was likely in spring or summer in that region; the day we celebrate as Christmas was adopted throughout Western Europe in the fourth century. Imagine the scenario: Rome had called for a census of the entire region, turning everything on its head as everyone was required to travel to their ancestral homes, including businessmen like Joseph, and innkeepers as well. Hundreds of people descended en masse onto sleepy little villages unequipped with beds or food to cope with them all. Perhaps Joseph had tried at several places in Bethlehem; perhaps there was only one Bed & Breakfast in the entire village; turned away, they headed back to the stable to get their donkey, and uh, “Wait! The baby’s coming!”
The kings were actually Magi, likely a caste of scientists and astronomers, from the “east” – i.e. east of Israel, which could have made them Asian, Indian, Caucasian, or even African. There were not three, but rather three gifts: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. In reality, their number might have been more like a small army: They would not have travelled such a distance with the quantities of gifts fit not only for a king but representing their own importance, as well as the honour they wished to bestow on this new king, without protection! The Bible records that King Herod and all Jerusalem were disturbed by their presence and the reason for their journey (Matthew 2). The three gifts offered by the Magi were very symbolic: Gold was a symbol of kingship, the wealth of the earth. It is one of the only metals that, when heated, loses none of its nature, weight or colour, but allows impurities to surface. It is used to symbolize faith and the process of refinement. Frankincense represents priesthood and divinity. It was familiar to most people in the ancient world, used in religious ceremonies. Myrrh, unlike sweet Frankincense, is bitter. It was used as a resin in a spice mixture used to embalm the dead and was symbolic of Jesus’ purpose in coming: His death, burial and resurrection. It makes an appearance both at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life on earth. It was used medicinally as a painkiller (often dissolved in wine) which is the reason Jesus refused to drink it on the cross (Mark 15:23). And note that the Magi did not show up at the manger in Bethlehem, but by the time they’d travelled that far and found Jesus, he was a child, and Mary and Joseph had set up house (Matthew 2:11).
Let’s address one more historical topic: Xmas. Many people think it’s a modern attempt to “X” Christ from Christmas; but in fact, it is just the opposite, historically-speaking. The X is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός which comes into English translated as “Christ.” and such abbreviated references date back as far as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1021. Even further back, ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys) was an acronym meaning “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour” used by ancient Christians. It is often placed within the symbol of a fish, as Jesus called his disciples to become “fishers of men.” Ichthyology is the study of fish, reflecting the Greek connection for the use of the symbol.
Modern Nativity scenes represent a condensed version of a historical event (there is, after all, more historical evidence for Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection than many other events in history people accept as fact); so the next time you see one, think about the significance, the reason for its inception by St. Francis of Assisi in the first place, and the Reason for the season.
Merry Christmas! Or, Merry Xmas!
Originally posted on History Undusted, 14 2013
Hi everyone! In case you’re wondering, yep, I’m still here; real life has been busy, busy, busy! By the time I’ve gotten time to write anything this past fortnight, I haven’t had the energy to do so.
I’ve been busy preparing my manuscripts and graphics for publication, in the midst of preparing and then sitting at a crafts fair for 2 days, selling my wares, and then bringing home a bug that stayed for a couple days as an unwanted guest. I’ve also had more blood tests (all-clear on those, thank goodness!) in connection with the surgery I had in October; thankfully, the medication that I now take seems to have found an accurate balance from the outset, so that’s a relief.
In between the publishing process phases, I’m preparing my other books in various ways – adding new blurbs, etc., so I’m working with several checklists at once, and, I must say that the motivation is approaching “Christmas break” in my mind… it’s like teachers trying to motivate kids to focus in the week before holidays – ain’t happenin’ all that effectively! But, just one step after the other, and I’ll get there eventually. Before Christmas, that’s my only goal right now…
Speaking of Christmas, here’s a few Calvin & Hobbes cartoons to bring a smile to your face!
Merry Christmas, everyone! Here are a few cartoons to bring a smile. I hope your Christmas is relaxing, refreshing, and cheerful!
Recently there was a very black day; a Black Friday, to be precise. The shocking images coming from America of people who (for the sake of giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume are fairly sane otherwise) put aside every shred of human dignity to fight over an object they don’t really need just because it’s on sale (and which was most likely marked up in price beforehand…). This, the very day after they spent time remembering everything they have to be thankful for. Such behaviour is inconceivable to me. What possesses people to stampede, trampling others for baubles and trinkets? The introvert in me rather asks why anyone would want to go shopping on the busiest day in the year… heck, I even avoid shopping on normal Saturdays because of the weekend crowds! That scourge of marketing tactics is making its way over to Europe as well, but what’s odd about the European version is that there is no “Thanksgiving Day” as it’s strictly an American holiday, so the Black Friday on the following day is completely artificial timing.
Personally, I much rather prefer staying home and enjoying a day of rest; it saves me money, time, stress and injury. If I do any special shopping on the day, it is done online. Besides, it’s around this time of the year that Christmas markets burst forth; nearly every town in Switzerland has its own market, some larger and more elaborate than others. This past weekend, we went to one of our favourite local Christmas markets in a town called Bülach. Vendors might be individuals, or groups such as youth groups, or mom-and-pop co-op businesses. We tend to buy specialty items, such as gourmet cheeses, smoked meats, spices, honeys direct from the beekeepers, and homemade spiced oils. Other items I like to look for are nice olive-wood spoons for the kitchen, or handcrafts that I don’t make myself (e.g. metal or glass crafts). There’s also an Iranian vendor; I always pick up a kilogram of Persian rice (it’s got a basmati/smoky flavour) and an assortment of dried fruits from him.
Besides food items, we look for Christmas gifts for each other; that goes something like this:
(Me to my husband): “That’s a nice ring…” (Try it on; it fits).
(My husband) “Go away.”
“I’ll just walk on to the next booth.”
“Don’t look.” (He buys said ring, or something else besides, then joins me at the next booth.)
Along the way, we head toward the whisky shop and the conversation gets reversed – once he’s picked out a possible whisky he’d like to add to his collection, he leaves the shop, and I buy it plus stocking stuffer samplers (Schätzli, if you’re reading this, forget you saw that last sentence…).
In two weeks our own town will be having its market; it’s a time to get out, meet up with friends and neighbours, chat until it’s time to warm up with a glass of Glühwein (hot spiced wine) or hot chocolate, and find our favourite items, stocking up until the next year’s market days. The walk home is crispy cold, topped off with a hot tea and a cat on the lap; life doesn’t get much better than that.
When you go to Christmas markets, or street markets at any time of the year, what do you look for? What do you end up buying? Does your town have a Christmas market? What makes it special for you? I’d love to hear about your own experiences in the comments below!
For those of you in highly commercialized countries (I won’t name names, but the initials are USA, for one…), before Thanksgiving is past, Christmas decorations have hit the shop shelves. Before Christmas is really digested, Valentine’s ads appear. I hope that you’ll bear with me, as I contemplate a holiday between your Thanksgiving, and Christmas: Advent.
In today’s global village, people around the world are aware of holidays such as Christmas and Easter, though it might not be a part of their indigenous culture or religion; they may even celebrate them, though that be more of a marketing incentive rather than a religious one. I grew up in Kansas, and though we were aware of Advent as an event leading up to Christmas, we never celebrated it – we rarely, if ever, had an advent calendar, or advent wreath of candles. Here in Switzerland, Advent is like an extended Christmas; our personal advent calendar contains small gifts, and of course chocolate; this year, with a teenager in the house, I also included gag gifts. Our particular form is the Tischibo bags, hung from a rustic red metal heart frame with hooks.
What is the history behind Advent? What is its true meaning? Advent, which comes from the Latin Adventus (which is actually a translation from the Greek word parousia), had two meanings: In relation to Christmas, it is the inner preparation for remembering the first coming of Jesus as a babe into the world as a human, so that he could fulfil God’s plan for salvation for all. For Christians, the second meaning is a time to reflect on, and prepare for, the Second Coming of Christ, which will be the end of time for Earth (no one knows the day or hour, and so the Bible tells us to be prepared – like someone on call needs to be ready to go when the call comes). As an event, it begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas; this year that would be the 27th of November, as Christmas itself falls on a Sunday.
There are several expressions of celebrating Advent: The calendar, the wreath, and devotions.
The calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th century, and usually begins on the 1st of December. They can take on any form imaginable, from a simple paper calendar, to gift boxes, or gift bags labelled 1 – 24. Consecutive numbers are opened one per day from the 1st to Christmas Eve. Sometimes the calendar includes a Bible verse and a prayer or Christian devotion for that day of the Advent. There are even some towns that become living Advent calendars; this tradition began in Stockholm, Sweden.
The wreath, usually a horizontal decoration placed on a table, is made of evergreen boughs (real or synthetic) with four or five candles, representing the four Sundays prior, and Christmas day. The four are usually red, with the white Christmas candle centred. One candle is lit on the first Advent Sunday, with an additional candle lit each week. The concept originated with German Lutherans in the 16th century, though the modern form didn’t catch on until the 19th century, likely in conjunction with the calendar. For a detailed history of the wreath, click here.
The devotions are readings from the Bible accompanied by a prayer, to prepare the heart and mind for the Reason for the Season – the coming of Jesus as a man to Earth.
If you’ve never made an Advent calendar or wreath before (there is still time to prepare one!), or you want to try something new, below are a few examples I’ve collected from Pinterest. Please share in the comments below what kind you use, or what your traditions around this time of the year are!
Christmas is just around the corner, and I’m enjoying the different pace of life that comes with the season; my husband’s work is winding down toward the end of the year, which means he can come home earlier than usual (he works 10+ hours a day, so early is 7:30 pm!); and people seem to relax around this time of the year, too – they’re less stressed, more genial, and become more aware of their fellow man – which is as it should be all year round.
It’s cold outside but still no sign of snow, though the sun coming through the windows and threatening to melt our chocolate Christmas tree ornaments doesn’t deter me from listening to Christmas music! My favourites this year are the new Pentatonix album, “That’s Christmas to Me”, and Idina Menzel’s “Holiday Wishes”, both on Spotify. I take more time to read, to watch films, to slow down, to do crafts, to simplify life. One thing I simplified recently is our CD collection; I eliminated several hundred (!), because I found them on Spotify (if you don’t know it and love music, welcome to “life just got grand”! Check it out on http://www.spotify.com); we have the premium version, which means no adverts, and the artists get paid for their work (which is important to us).
Being the crafter I am, I figured that that amount of CDs would come in handy for something; I’m using some to make coasters, but keep my eyes open for other up-cycling ideas. I sleep very little (I jokingly refer to myself as “half-vampire” as I only need about 4-5 hours a day), so I have a lot of time on my hands, which I enjoy as fully as possible in all of the above!
Below is a panorama of where I now sit; my work space is at the top of a short flight of stairs, and just behind my computer is a round window that looks out over our town and toward the international airport at the other side of the valley. Just behind the computer you’ll notice a cat hammock; it’s one of two on that railing, and it’s usually full… our cats enjoy watching the sunrise through the round window. To the right of my desk is a set of drawers, atop of which is a cat bed; it’s also usually full, with Allegra.
Whatever your circumstances, whether you’re alone, or with family or friends, my wish for you this season is that you can find time to enjoy your own company. If you’re alone I know it can be difficult at such times in the year; I’ve been there, and spent a fairly dismal Christmas alone in the middle of nowhere one year; but it can be a time of discovery, if you choose to let it be. Go somewhere out of the ordinary, even if it’s just a new corner of your own town; shake things up, or come to rest – whichever you need most. And whatever you do, wherever you are, remember the Reason for the Season.