Have you ever thought about the spiritual message of Christmas? Do you wonder what Christmas is about and that it might be about more than eating and drinking?
Christmas shares a number of common features with other festivals from other religions and cultures? Many religions and cultures have a common spiritual message contained within their festivals. Many festivals have similar practices the relevance of which have been lost over time to common understanding. Light is a common theme to many faiths and festivals. On a very practical note light can represent warmth and comfort against the harsh cold and darkness of long winter evenings.
Christmas also coincides with the winter solstice, December 21st, the point of transition at which the year draws to a close in the rhythmic cycle when nature sleeps and begins the slow awakening towards growth, warmth and summer. Light is an important theme in the winter solstice as the transition of the seasons are being celebrated and witnessed. I believe there is a deep spiritual message contained in the concept of light that is not simply restricted to Christianity, but also to Judaism (Hanukkah), Hinduism (Diwali), Paganism (Winter Solstice) and other faiths and traditions across the world. Throughout Christian history, in an attempt to be embraced by many people, the church drew on parallels between non-Christian ideas and Christian concepts and made them their own. One example of this is Easter, where pagan ideas of the Easter bunny and Easter eggs have become as big a part of the celebration as the Christian message. It is my opinion that Christmas is no exception. The spiritual concept that so many people across the globe and throughout time have embraced during this time of year, of light being a beacon of hope and change amongst the darkness, the stale, materialistic and self- absorbed ways of old and entrenched traditions. It is easy to get confused by dates and think that because these festivals do not fall on the same dates as each other and often do not fall on the same date each year according to the Christian calendar, that they are not related. Reviewing these festivals and the messages of these festivals we can consider whether they might be spurring people towards similar spiritual developments and understandings?
The story of Hanukkah is the tale of the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Syrian King Antiochus and the miracle of the light that burned in the temple, representing the presence of God, while the Jews went about the task of making the temple holy again after Syrian occupation. This is a story of good over evil, of freedom over tyranny and of the light of hope and enlightenment over the darkness of ignorance and narrow- mindedness.
Jesus’ story is very similar in that Jesus was born in a time of Roman domination in The Holy Land during which the Jewish hierarchy was rigid in its interpretation of the Jewish Law. The star that led the Three Wise Kings to Jesus’ birth heralded a change for the state and the religion of the region. Jesus himself became a beacon and light of hope for people who suffered under the tyranny of the Roman Empire and Jewish control. Jesus marked a change towards love, forgiveness, compassion and tolerance and taught a different way to the status quo. Of course the star has great symbolic meaning to Christians. It led the way for the Kings and Jesus is the light that leads the way to God.
The story of Diwali has it that it is the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. In Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Kali (the goddess of creation and destruction). Everyone forgets and forgives the wrongs done by others. There is an air of freedom, festivity and friendliness everywhere. This festival brings about unity. It instils charity in the hearts of people.
According to the BBC website, Pagan traditions were born from ancient people’s life outdoors. “The seasons and weather played a very important part in their lives. Because of this many ancient people had a great reverence for, and even worshipped the sun. The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons. It was from the word for this wheel, houl, that the word yule is thought to have come. At mid-winter the Norsemen lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale.
The ancient Romans also held a festival to celebrate the rebirth of the year. Saturnalia ran for seven days from the 17th of December. It was a time when the ordinary rules were turned upside down. Men dressed as women and masters dressed as servants. The festival also involved decorating houses with greenery, lighting candles, holding processions and giving presents.
The Winter Solstice was celebrated in Britain long before the arrival of Christianity. The Druids (Celtic priests) would cut the mistletoe that grew on the oak tree and give it as a blessing. Oaks were seen as sacred and the winter fruit of the mistletoe was a symbol of life in the dark winter months. It was the Druids who began the tradition of the yule log. The Celts thought that the sun stood still for twelve days in the middle of winter and during this time a log was lit to conquer the darkness, banish evil spirits and bring luck for the coming year.”
There are many common themes of good and evil; light and dark; the light overcoming the darkness, destruction and creation; the emergence of the new order from the old order and rebirth. As with all spiritual messages and practice, these themes and ideas encourage us to look within to evaluate ourselves and how we are measuring up as beacons of light or dark. With respect to personal energy, this time of year is a time of contemplation and reflection. It is a time for each of us to look within and seek our own personal rebirth of new insight and understanding. I hope that this festive season leaves you renewed, having reached new perspectives that lead towards your growth and fulfilment in this New Year.