The history of the feast
The feast of Christmas is considered to be a great Christian holiday and it is one of twelve main Orthodox feasts, which are celebrated by Church with a special solemnity.
The feast was set in the honor of the birth of Our God Jesus Christ, God’s Son on the Earth. All-powerful God, the Creator of the heavens and land embodied and became a man to save people of world from the death.
The bright feast of Christmas is an important part of life for every Orthodox Christian or Catholic as well as of the Church. According to the words of John Chrysostom the second Christmas is the first feast in the Church calendar, it is celebrated on December 25 (according to Julian calendar) and on January 7 (according to Gregorian calendar). He told that this feast has the beginning of the Epiphany, the Easter, the Ascension and the Pentecost.
Every Christian knows from the old-time stories that the coming of God’s Son on the Earth was predicted by the prophets of the Old Testament. And people expected for that miracle during centuries. The Birth of Christ was predicted and the history of the feast goes deep with its roots to the fourth century BC.
So what was the beginning?
The first emergence of God’s Son happened in the cold winter night. Mary and Joseph were walking from Palestine to Jerusalem. The ancient sources affirm that at that time was carried out the census. Romans were registered according to the place of domicile and Jews – according to the place of birth. Mary and Joseph were descendants of David the king and they were walking to Bethlehem, which was situated on west of Jerusalem. When the process of accouchement started they were near the cave in which the stall for cattle was made. Joseph went to look for a midwife. And when he came back he saw that the Baby was already born and the cave was full of very strong light that his eyes could not bear it. Only after some time had passed the light disappeared. It was the way Mary gave a birth to a God-Man. It happened on the straw near the cribs, but it was shined by God’s Light.
The worship of shepherds and the gifts of three wise men
The first people who found out about the birth of Jesus Christ were shepherds; they were near their herd. The angel appeared in front of them and brought blessing news about the birth of God’s Son. The bright star, which went up above Bethlehem, informed the wise men about the joyful event. They followed the light of that star and came to the cave.When they came into the cave they approached to the Baby and kneeled down in front of the Future Savior of the humanity. They brought some gifts for Him: 28 golden bricks, frankincense and myrrh. Gold was the symbol of a king, frankincense was the symbol of God, myrrh was for a man who would accept the death. Jews buried their dead with the myrrh that the body could stay imperishable. Small balls were filled with sweet odour and they were stringed. Together there were eighty-one balls.
The babies’ murders
Herod the king waited for the birth of the wonder Baby with a huge fear. He thought that the Baby would pretend to become the king instead of him. That is why Herod told the wise men to come back to Jerusalem and let him know where Mary and the Baby were located. But the wise men did not do that, because they got a massage in their dreams – a warning about the king’s insidiousness and an advice to avoid despotic ruler. Herod was waiting for the wise men, but he understood their plans. He ordered his soldiers to encircle Bethlehem and kill all children. Soldiers burst into houses, took babies from their mothers and killed them. At that day according to retelling more than fourteen thousand babied were murdered. But they did not find God’s Son, because Mary and Joseph had a dream from God. An angel warned them about the danger, ordered to leave Bethlehem immediately and to go to Egypt. So they listened to God and did as He said.
The date and the time of Jesus' Christ birth
The date of the birth of God’s Son had been a controversial point for historians and theologians for a long time. All attempts to determine that moment according to the dates of events, which accompanied the birth of Jesus, brought theologians to different dates. The first mention about December 25 as a day of Jesus Christ birth we meet in the chronicles of Sextus Julius Africanus, that chronicles are dated 221 year after Jesus’ birth. Why was the birth of Jesus placed on this day? Because the date and the time of Jesus’ death are certainly known from the Gospel. And Jesus had to be on the Earth full number of years. We can make a conclusion – Jesus was conceived on March 25. We add nine months to that date and we got December 25 – the date of Christmas.
The establishment of celebration
First Christians were Jews and that is why they did not celebrate Christmas. Because according to their world-view this day was “the day of beginning of grief and sufferings”. The day of Easter was more important for them. But when Greeks entered the Christian communities Christmas was celebrated according to their customs. At first, it was celebrated in the day of already existed Christian feast – Epiphany; the birth and Epiphany of Jesus were celebrated together. But at the beginning of seventh century the history of the feast came up on the other level and Christmas was started to celebrate separately..
The gifts of the wise men
According to the retellings before God’s Mother fell asleep the gifts of the wise men were given to Jerusalem Church, where they were saved for a long time and were passed from one generation to another. Later the gifts of the wise men appeared in Byzantine Empire. In 400 Byzantine king Arcadius moved them to sanctify the new capital - Constantinople. They were saved in the treasury of emperors. In 1433 Constantinople was seized and Turkish sultan Ala ad-Din Muhammad II allowed to take gifts to his wife Maro(Mary), who was a Christian. When Byzantine Empire fell down she sent the gifts of the wise men to Mount Athos into the Church of Pablo. They are saved till now on Mount Athos and only sometimes monks take them out of the Temple. Priests clear up water with golden bullions and exile evil spirits.
Traditions of the feast
The traditions of the celebration of the Holy day of Christmas go deep into the remote past. Forty days fast goes before the feast. On the Christmas Eve the fast is very strict. This day the evening service takes place. On the Christmas Eve in Ukraine and other Orthodox countries the tradition exists. Godchildren have to bring to their godparents the evening supper. When the first star shows in the sky it is allowed to sit at the table where must be twelve Lenten dishes. All meal has to be Lenten, because On the Christmas Eve it is not allowed to eat animal food. Before the festive supper starts all present at the table have to pray and worship Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The day before the feast people decorate their houses with the fir branches. Fir branches signify eternal life. People also bring fir tree into the house and decorate it with bight toys, which symbolize the fruits on the heavenly tree. In this day one more tradition exists – to give presents to each other.
Long time ago in this day young people put on funny costumes, gathered in groups, made a Bethlehem’s Star on the stick and sang Christmas carols. They entered houses, announced that the Lord was born. They wishes the owners peace in the house, good crop and other blessings. A good host thanked for Christmas carols and gave different treating. It is a pity, but such tradition is saved only in villages.
Divine nature of the feast
Christians all over the world with impatience wait for the lightest feast – Christmas. In every corner of the world, where people worship Jesus Christ, the greatest day of birth of the Savior is celebrated.
Christmas is the beginning of the new era for humanity on the Earth. All-powerful God with His Great Mercy took human image to help people to resume faded light in human hearts, to remind them the main point of the word – Truth, which was lost in the sinful life. The Creator came on the Earth in the human image, He connected heaven and land, He made a New Testament – the Testament of Love.
Prophets predicted the coming of the King of the world, who would improve everything what was made by people on the Earth. But people did not expect Him to be born in the simple quiet place near the cattle. Because it is know from the Gospel that God did not find a place in the religious family among people in Bethlehem to send His Son in it. The same thing happens today when people can’t find a place for God in their souls; there is no desire to accept the light of the birth of the Savior in the heart.
The majority of people wait for some great pompous coming of God into their lives, but He comes gently and invisibly. He comes to that people who truly want to change their lives, bend their knees in front of the Great power – Love, which keeps the universe on its palms.
Let the Lord help all people to have pure hearts, filled with Holy Gifts. That they could accept to their lives the Birth of the Savior and inform all people about the great news, the same way as the angels informed about the coming of God on the Earth:
Christ was born! Let’s glorify Him!