What is Christian Christmas?
Today we Christians are surrounded by a celebration that is often empty and consumerist, very different from the Catholic Christmas where we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who "for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and by the power of the Holy Spirit was incarnated of Mary the Virgin and became man" (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed). Every year, the Church prepares for Christmas with the liturgical season of Advent, which lasts four weeks.
"Christmas. You write to me: "Following the holy expectation of Mary and Joseph, I too am waiting impatiently for the Child. How happy I will be in Bethlehem: I have a feeling that I will burst with boundless joy. Ah: and, with Him, I also want to be born again...". -May this desire of yours be true!".
St. Josemaría, Surco, 62.
Basis for the celebration of Christmas
Since the Catholic Christmas, the way of worshipping God has changed. The Christian goes from praying looking at the sky, to turn his eyes to the earth to notice the fragility of a small child sleeping in the straw of a manger. The infinite greatness of God becomes the fragility of a newborn child. Suddenly, two concepts such as divinity and childhood, until then very distant, are united in one person and in the same direction. Christmas is the revelation of the simplest, which tests the wisdom of the wise and knowledgeable.
Shepherds were the first to adore the Child in the manger; and they did so because they understood that an Infant God embraces their simplicity and their simplicity. Their faith has dreamed of a God like this one who lives among their flocks, who is one among them, suffering their same needs.
And, as they approach the cave, they discover that this God made child takes refuge in the lap of his Mother. It is this bond between the Child and the Mother that completes the mystery of the Christian Christmas. Because God ceases to be an abstract and distant being, to become a helpless, human God, who takes refuge in a Mother, advocate in our relationship with Him.
If we strip it of this original meaning, Christmas ceases to be an authentic Christian feast.
"Above all," he stressed, "we Christians must reaffirm with deep and heartfelt conviction the truth of Christ's Nativity in order to bear witness above all to the awareness of a free gift that is wealth not only for us, but for everyone.
The Christmas tree in the Catholic tradition
The first feature of the Christmas tree is its ability to keep the leaves alive in winter that is why spruce or pine trees are used. "It was a symbol of eternity and the life of God that never passes away. Therefore, applying it to the life of God that never passes, applying it to the Son of God who comes with us at Christmas gives it that sense also of God who makes himself present in the midst of humanity," says D. Bernardo Estrada, Professor at the PUSC.
The first traces of tree decorations take us back to Germany where fruit was hung on the tree, reminiscent of the tree of life in paradise. Today, the Christmas tree is more than a decoration, it is a sign of joy for the whole world. In the words of St. John Paul II: "in winter, the evergreen fir tree becomes a sign of life that does not die [...] The message of the Christmas tree is, therefore, that life is 'evergreen' if it becomes a gift, not so much of material things, but of itself: in friendship and sincere affection, in fraternal help and forgiveness, in time shared and mutual listening".
"The Christmas tree and the gifts proper to these dates are a way of remembering that from the tree of the Cross come all good things... This is why the tradition of putting Christmas gifts for children under the tree has a Christian meaning: in the face of a consumerist culture that tends to ignore the Christian symbols of the Christmas holidays, let us prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior with joy, transmitting to the new generations the values of the traditions that are part of the heritage of our faith and culture."
How to celebrate Catholic Christmas
Pope Francis recommends that in order to live a Christian Christmas, the first thing to do is to make room for the Child to be born. Some practical advice from the Holy Father is:
Play the nativity scene and explain it to the children, and pray there, reliving the scene. Make room in our hearts and in our days for the Lord. Let it be a feast of joy, of welcoming the Lord in the manger and in our hearts. Attend the Holy Mass. Receiving the sacrament of Confession.
"Every Christian familyAs Mary and Joseph did, she can receive Jesus, listen to Him, talk to Him, be with Him, protect Him, grow with Him, and thus improve the world. Let us make room in our hearts and in our days for the Lord".
2. Christmas should not be a celebration of excessive consumerism: give to those in need. Also to give time and affection to the family and to those close to us.
"May Holy Christmas never be a feast of commercial consumerism, of appearance, of useless gifts, or of superfluous waste, but may it be a feast of joy, of welcoming the Lord in the manger and in the heart."
3. Christmas is the feast of the poverty of God who emptied himself by taking the nature of a slave.
"This is the true Christmas: the feast of the poverty of God who emptied himself by taking the nature of a slave; of God who serves at the table; of God who hides himself from the intellectual and wise and who reveals himself to the small, simple and poor."
- Excerpt from The Blessing of Christmas, General Audience, December 24, 2006, Benedict XVI.
- Interview with Fr. Bernardo Estrada Professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
- General Audience, December 19, 2004, St. John Paul II.
- The Spirit of the Liturgy, Vatican City, 18 December 2007. Benedict XVI.
- Pope Francis' advice on how to live Christmas better, December 2014.
- Homily, December 24, 2016, Pope Francis.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 463, 522-524.
- Furrow, 62, St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer.
- Christ is passing by, 22, St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer.
- Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.