Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays today. Throughout the world, it is spent in either a religious or non-religious way, depending on belief and tradition. But for this article, we’ll focus on Catholicism and whether or not we celebrate it in our religion.
Catholics celebrate Christmas. In fact, it’s one of the most special and sacred times for all Catholics and other Christians in the world. Not only does it signify the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but it’s also a time when God came down and entered the world in the flesh and became man.
So for Catholics, Christmas is more than just having good food, shopping, and gifts. It also lasts longer than just a day. To help you understand this season better, let’s look into its deeper meaning and how such a sacred holiday is celebrated in the Catholic faith.
Is Christmas a Catholic Feast Day?
Traditionally, Christmas was a Christian feast day celebrating Jesus Christ’s birthday. However, in the early 20th century, it became a non-religious holiday that even non-Christians celebrate. So today, it is both a sacred religious feast day and a secular holiday, observed in religious and non-religious ways throughout the world.
In the Catholic Church, Christmas is one of the most important days, coming only second to Easter. We observe it with traditions and practices that we have done for years, including the following ways:
Christmas in the Catholic Church lasts for more than just a day. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “the liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.”
The Church holds multiple masses throughout the eve of Christmas and on the day itself. Typically, these services include a program where children act out the time when Jesus was born.
Recreating the Nativity Scene
Catholic Churches and many Catholic families in the world set up a display of the nativity scene or the birth of Jesus Christ either outdoors or indoors. This usually entails a simple stable in a manger with the figures of the baby Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Joseph, and three wise men. Ideally, there should also be an angel, a shepherd, and several animals.
Many Catholics observe Advent before Christmas. Essentially, this is the season of preparation for the birth and second coming of Jesus Christ. It starts on the Sunday closest to November 30 and ends on the fourth Sunday before December 25. During this time, Catholic families and churches display wreaths decorated with purple candles, corresponding to every Sunday of Advent. You can also include and light another candle on Christmas day.
Now, these are just some of the ways Catholics celebrate Christmas. There are certainly more ways to celebrate it. It’s also worth noting that there’s no one way to spend this holiday; each family and culture has its unique mixture of religious and non-religious traditions during Christmas. This can include putting up and decorating a Christmas tree, exchanging gifts, and sharing a meal with family and friends.
What is the True Meaning of Christmas?
While traditions and practices vary from family to family, Christmas remains a special and sacred time for all Christians. This is because the true meaning of Christmas is Jesus, our Lord, and Savior, whose teachings and beliefs brought forth our religion. It is our celebration of his coming into the world and acknowledging that God, through His Son, became man and chose to become one of us.
Aside from celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Christians also use the Christmas season to reflect on what Jesus brings along with his birth – the gift of salvation.
Why December 25 is Jesus’ Birthday?
Have you ever heard someone say that December 25 isn’t really Jesus’ birthday? Well, the truth is that the Bible does not say when exactly Christ was born. There’s no given date or even time of the year. However, a closer look at Scripture suggests that December 25 is unlikely for Jesus’ birthday. Scholars also believe that his actual date of birth was more likely early spring, putting it closer to Easter.
So where in Scripture does it say all these? Let’s check it out below:
- “And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8)
During Jesus’ birth, we know that shepherds were in the fields. If this was the case, then Jesus couldn’t have been born in December since it would be too cold for shepherds to be herding.
- “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” (Luke 2:1-5)
In this verse, Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem to register in a census, which couldn’t have been taken in winter since the temperature would have dropped below freezing. Plus, the roads would have probably been in poor condition.
That said, where did December 25 come from? Well, there are at least three possible origins:
- It was chosen: Sextus Julius Africanus, a Roman Christian historian, placed Jesus’ conception on March 25. So after nine months in the womb, Mary would have given birth to Jesus on December 25.
- Saturnalia: It is believed that the Church chose December 25 to absorb the traditions of Saturnalia, a pagan festival to honor the agricultural god Saturn, which the Roman Empire used to celebrate in the 3rd century.
- Constantine: When Constantine made Christianity the major religion of the empire, the Church formally celebrated Christmas on December 25. Some speculated that he chose this date to weaken the already-established pagan celebrations on such a date.