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Celebrating the 'Christ' in Christmas

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by Belladonna (subscribe)
Loves going out and about, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and writing about her adventures!
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Nine ways to make Jesus the centre of your Christmas
For Christians in Australia and around the world, the season of Christmas is (next to Easter) the biggest celebration of the year. After all, it is the time when the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, was born more than 2 000 years ago. In fact, the very word 'Christmas' (first recorded in 1038 and meaning 'Christ's Mass' in Old and Middle English) points to the very importance of Jesus himself.

However, in our modern, more secular Australian society, the religious meanings of Christmas tend to get lost amongst the piles of presents, Santa photos, Christmas trees, fake snow, naughty Elves, and retail sales. Where does Jesus fit into all of this? What do Santa Claus, reindeer, mistletoe, mince pies, pavlova, Christmas trees, the Elf on the Shelf and Frosty the Snowman have to do with Jesus?

Well, not much, really. The festival of Christmas is actually a mix of both Christian and non-Christian traditions (such as the Druidic mistletoe, the pre-Christian Germanic/Nordic gift-bringer in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, and even the ancient Roman custom of gift-giving during their December festival of Saturnalia). Many of these non-Christian traditions were eventually swallowed up and adopted by the Church over the centuries. However, in spite of the festive season's many non-Christian images and traditions, the fact of the matter is, Christians have been celebrating the birth of Jesus since at least the 300s CE (or AD). And since then, Christians have been working out how to celebrate the birth of Jesus in societies and cultures where the old non-Christian festivals and customs were/are still very much alive.

If you are a Christian and would like to focus more on the Christ in Christmas, or even if you're not Christian but would like Christmas to mean much more than just a neverending list of presents you feel obliged to buy, then here are nine ways to help you focus on Jesus during this festive season:

1. Prepare for Christmas with Advent. For many Christians, Advent is the time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus. This waiting and preparation involve more than just an Advent calendar filled with chocolates. Many Christians set up an Advent wreath in their homes which is an evergreen wreath with four or five candles. The four candles represent the four weeks (or Sundays) leading up to Christmas Day and are lit on each of the four Sundays, while the fifth candle (usually white and standing at the centre of the wreath) represents the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas Day. The purpose of the Advent wreath is, essentially, to remind Christians of the religious meanings of Christmas. Below is my friend Kirsty's beautiful Advent wreath.

Kirsty also does something quite unique for Advent. She prepares an Advent box for her daughter which contains goodies for her to enjoy in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. The Advent box contains Christian-themed goodies as well as the classic Christmas movie Home Alone. Kirsty (who has Polish heritage) explains that Home Alone is "a cultural add on. It's the most popular movie that airs on TV every year in Poland at Christmas."

2. Set up a Nativity Scene in your home. A nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus is an old Christian tradition, said to have been begun by Saint Francis of Assisi, Italy in the 1200s. The nativity scene usually features figurines of the baby Jesus, his mother Mary, father Joseph, the Three Wise Men, shepherds, angels and a few animals such as sheep and camels, as well as the stable.

Below are two of my nativity scenes. The first one is decorative with ceramic figurines (bought from Koorong Christian Bookstore in Fyshwick; the second one is from Target, made out of wood, and designed for little ones to play with).

You can also view the Nativity scenes set up at local shopping centres such as at Westfield Woden and Cooleman Court. Many churches will also have set up Nativity scenes.

3. Include religious themes to your Christmas decorating.
Amongst all the Santa Clauses, reindeer, snowmen, Elves, Christmas villages, and spectacular light displays, why not include a few decorations that focus on Jesus? Below are examples of my friend Lee's religious-themed decorations.

Or be like my friend Kaitlyn and forget about that Northern European inspired Christmas tree and go for a palm tree instead. "I love how they (palm trees) are a nod to a southern hemisphere Christmas with that tropical feel but more so because it is a nod to the first Christmas in Bethlehem on that silent night," Kaitlyn tells me.

4. Experience the Road to Bethlehem on December 9, 10 and 11 from 6.30pm-9pm at Canberra Christian School, 64 Ainsworth St, Mawson. Bring your family, friends and colleagues to experience the outdoor walk-through theatrical presentation that brings to life the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. This is a free event. For more information and to book your tickets, go here.

Celebrating the Christ in Christmas

5. Attend a Christmas event at a local church.
Many churches in Canberra will be holding special events in the days leading up to Christmas. Why not come along, celebrate the 'reason for the season', and meet new friends? For example, you can go to St Peter's Church Weston's Christmas Fair on December 15 from 4pm-7pm at 11 Watling Place, Weston. On December 16 there's Northside Life Church's Christmas carols night from 5pm to 7.30pm at Mullion Park, Encounter Street, Harrison; a Community Christmas Celebration at Woden Valley Alliance Churchfrom 5.30pm to 8pm, 81 Namatjira Drive, Waramanga; and Fusion City Church's Christmas Celebration from 5pm to 8pm at Palmerston Primary School, 80 Kosciusko Avenue, Palmerston.

From December 15-23 from 8pm, you can go to the Filipino community's Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Parish located at 2 Tyrrell Ct, Kaleen, for a traditional novena, or series of nine day masses, in preparation for Christmas and to honour Mary, the mother of Jesus.

From December 15-24, you can ring the church bells for Christmas at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, 1 State Circle, Forrest from 7.30pm-10pm. St Andrews will also host a special family Christmessy Festival on December 21. And St Johns Anglican Church in Reid will be hosting a Community Carol Singing and Pageant on December 24 from 6.30pm.

Celebrating the Christ in Christmas

6. Give to those in need.
"Never see a need without doing something about it," is possibly Saint Mary Mackillop's most famous saying as she went about her work. If you don't know who Mary was, she was an Aussie nun who lived between 1842-1909 and who set up schools and welfare institutions for the poor. Helping those in need, like Mary did, is a Christ-like behaviour that many Christians aspire to. Especially during Christmas time when many people are doing it tough. In Australia, over 3 million people (including 739 000 children) are living below the poverty line in 2018, according to the latest ACOSS Poverty report. So what can we do to help those who are struggling and those who are in desperate need in our communities this Christmas? Read my article here to find out how you can.

7. Read the Christmas story of Jesus' birth with your children.
Read straight from your version of the Bible or read a book designed for a younger audience. There are some absolutely wonderful retellings of the Christmas story such as this glorious pop-up book by Robert Sabuda, available at all good bookstores. You can also find plenty of good books retelling the Christmas story at the Koorong Christian Bookstore, located at 26 Maryborough Street, Fyshwick.

8. Celebrate the Feast Days leading up to Christmas. In the Christian calendar, there are special days called Feast Days which have been set aside to honour important people in the Faith as well as important events. Here in Australia, St Patrick's Day is perhaps the most popular and widely celebrated of all the Catholic Feast Days, though it has lost a lot of its religious significance and is now more well known as a celebration of Ireland and Irish culture. There are several Feast Days held during Advent which are not so widely celebrated in Australia but in other countries such as the Feast Day of St Nicholas on December 6 (which is celebrated in many European countries such as Poland, the Netherlands, Hungary and Romania); the Feast Day of Mary Our Lady of Guadalupe held on December 12 and celebrated in Mexico, and the Feast Day of St Lucy on December 13 which is honoured in Scandinavian countries and several regions in Italy.

My friend Kirsty celebrates St Nicholas Day with her family. "This is a very special day on the Polish Christian calendar and also in many parts of Europe," Kirsty says. "St Nicholas was incredibly generous and made good use of his wealth, helping those in need. It's a great time of the year to be reminded about St Nicholas' generosity and how we can help those in need, in our own community."

Kirsty and her family, therefore, donate generously to local charities (this year they delivered 8 big shopping bags of groceries to the Anglicare Pantry in Holt), but they also enjoy the Polish tradition of placing their good clean shoes by the fireplace on the night of December 5 when St Nicholas is said to visit homes and bring gifts. "If children have been well behaved, treats like fruit, a candy cane, chocolate coins, prayer cards and the odd little gift are placed in their shoes. If they have been naughty, St Nicholas leaves a switch (twigs or sticks) in their shoes instead!" Kirsty says.

For some more great ideas on how you and your family can celebrate Feast Days during Advent, go here.

And finally,

9. Attend Christmas Eve/Christmas Day church services.
One of my favourite Christmas traditions is attending the Midnight Mass/church service at a local church. There's really something very special and sacred and beautiful about attending a midnight service and when it's all over, walking out the doors to those first few moments of Christmas Day. Contact a local church for details of their Christmas Eve/Day services.

'On Christmas night all Christians sing,
to hear the news the angels bring.
On Christmas night all Christians sing,
to hear the news the angels bring.
News of great joy, news of great mirth,
News of our merciful King's birth.'

From The Sussex Carol, a traditional English carol

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Why? Because Santa Claus isn't the only King at Christmas!
Your Comment
Lovely article, Belladonna!
by Elaine (score: 3|7578) 651 days ago
I like the idea of the Christmas/Christian themed activities leading up to Christmas - will help the little ones understand more. Well done.
by Di Hill (score: 2|526) 633 days ago
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