SUNDAY, DECEMBER 25:
It’s the annual Christian celebration of Christ’s birth, marked by 2 billion Christians around the world. In the Western Christian Church, the Advent season comes to end; in the East, the 40-day Nativity Fast closes, making way for the great feasting of Christmas Day. Although historians say the date of Christ’s birth is still unknown, their best estimates place his birth year somewhere between 7 and 2 BCE.
On today’s Christian calendar, Christmas Day falls 12 days before Epiphany. Most of the Eastern Christian church celebrates Christmas on December 25 along with the West, but some Orthodox churches still follow the tradition of celebrating around Epiphany. Some churches will celebrate even later in January, reflecting older calendars that now diverge from current global calendars.
Around the world, Western Christian churches typically display a barn-like setting—even though early icons of the Nativity set the scene in a cave and Eastern Christians still depict the story that way. A cave-like shelter is more in keeping with the rocky grotto, now lined with icons and marble, beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Gospel accounts state that Jesus was laid “in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Get details from Wikipedia.) The animals so often seen in Nativity Scenes aren’t mentioned in the Bible, but reflect the stories of a manger (a feed box for animals) and of nearby shepherds who were summoned to see the baby Jesus.
KATE MIDDLETON SPENDS FIRST CHRISTMAS WITH ROYAL FAMILY
Until Prince Philip was rushed into surgery on Friday for a blocked artery, the British press was abuzz about Kate Middleton’s first Christmas navigating the arcane rituals of the royal family. Late Friday, the royal family released this statement: “The Duke of Edinburgh was found to have a blocked coronary artery which caused his chest pains. This was treated successfully by the minimally invasive procedure of coronary stenting.”
When Kate still was the subject of nearly every UK newspaper headline, the Daily Mail reported in part: “A record 29 royals will experience the Victorian splendour of Sandringham House in Norfolk this weekend as Kate Middleton spends her first Christmas there. And it will be Prince William’s job to help his new wife navigate the quicksands of protocol that surround the timeless festive ritual. (Guests arrive in a carefully choreographed arrival schedule. Then …) Over home-baked scones and Earl Grey tea, the Master of the Household will give each member a timetable and room-plan so they know where to marshal themselves and when over the weekend. This is the moment they also exchange presents—not on Christmas Day, which the Queen regards as a religious festival.”
Friends are forbidden at this royal gathering, but hands-on traditions like gathering around a tree decorated by the queen are accompanied by formal evening cocktails and up to five dress changes in one day. (Get the scoop from OK! Magazine.)
Pope Benedict Fragile but Still Planning a Big Christmas
Recent news reports say that Pope Benedict XVI also is in fragile health. Nevertheless, the Vatican just announced his Christmas schedule: “At sundown on Saturday, December 24, the life-size Nativity Scene in St Peter’s Square is unveiled. This will mark the beginning of a prayer vigil that will culminate in the chanting of the Kalenda, in a tradition re-established by Pope Benedict XVI, that ancient proclamation of Christ’s coming drawn from the Roman martyrology, announcing the beginning of Christmas time. At 10 pm Rome time Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI will lead celebrations of Christmas midnight Mass. On Sunday from the central balcony of the Vatican Basilica he will read out his Christmas message and send out his blessing Urbi et Orbi, or to the city and to the world.”
In his annual Christmas message to the Roman Curia, Benedict delivered a long talk about the state of the Catholic church, including a somber verdict that Europe currently is suffering a major “ethical crisis.” That crisis is not only financial, the pope argued. It’s also reflected in Europeans’ ever-declining interest in the Catholic church. The pontiff drew a sharp contrast with the joy and growth of the church in Africa. Over the past year, the pope said, “Africa’s joyful passion for faith brought great encouragement. None of the faith fatigue that is so prevalent here, none of the oft-encountered sense of having had enough of Christianity was detectable there. Amid all the problems, sufferings and trials that Africa clearly experiences, one could still sense the people’s joy in being Christian, buoyed up by inner happiness at knowing Christ and belonging to his Church.”
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.