Odisha

Christmas 2019: A Guide To The History, Significance And Traditions Of The Festival

Bhubaneswar: Celebrated across the world on December 25 every year, the day marks the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the second of the Holy Trinity of Christianity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit).

According to the Bible, Christ was born in a stable in Bethlehem to Mother Mary and Saint Joseph when virgin Mary, who was engaged to Joseph, miraculously conceived through the Holy Spirit. An angel of God had foretold this to Mary and had also said that she will name the child Jesus and he will be known as the Messiah, or saviour.

The shepherds were the first to see the newborn, following them, three kings from far away lands, guided by the star of David, visited the baby and offered him precious gifts of gold, frankincense, mirth. In 336 A.D., Emperor Constantine, a Christian Roman Emperor, declared that December 25 will be celebrated as Christmas to mark the birth of Christ. Following that, Christmas became one of the biggest festivals to be observed across the world. The birth of Christ is considered an event of utmost importance to followers of Christianity as it is believed that God had sent his Son on earth as a sacrifice to redeem the people of the world from their sins.

Many attend the midnight mass at churches on December 24 (Christmas Eve) followed by greeting friends and family. The places of worship are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass service. Carols like ‘Jingle Bells’, ‘Silent Night’, ‘Joy To The World’, ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ and ‘Deck The Halls’ echo in churches and homes alike. It is also notable to mention here that the carol ‘Silent Night’ played a crucial part in Christmas Truce of 1914 when the opposing forces of World War I walked out of their trenches to greet their enemies and share food and drink. Thus the War was paused for a moment by the Christmas carol, following which it became a cultural landmark.

An elaborate Christmas feast is also enjoyed by the entire family together. The traditional Christmas meal includes delicacies such as roasted turkey, gingerbread, roasted chicken, mince-pie, Christmas cake, pudding, eggnog, mashed potatoes and mulled wine.

Santa Claus, thought of mainly as the jolly man in red, also plays a crucial part in this festival. His legend can be dated back to the 3rd century when a monk named St. Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Admired for his kindness, the monk became the subject of many stories. It is believed that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick and over the course of years, his became known as the protector of children and sailors.

During this time, pine trees (or Christmas Trees) are decorated with bells, candles, candies, stars and gift stockings. Christmas decorations consist of four main colours — red, green, golden and white. While green denotes eternal life, red signifies the blood Christ shed, golden denotes royalty (he was known as the Son of David, the King of Israel) and white denotes peace.

In India since the early 20th century, Christmas has been a secular holiday, observed by Christians and non-Christians alike. In schools, children are taught a play that tells the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth. People exchange gifts on the day and indulge in merry-making to celebrate the day. They also visit Churches to see the decorations and seek the blessings of Jesus by lighting candles.

Thus, over the years, Christmas has rightly become the festival of love, peace and goodwill.

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