How Well Do We Understand Christmas?
By Apolinario Villalobos
Mention Christmas and immediately what comes into the mind of some are gifts that are expected to be received and to be given, festive foods, glittering lights, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, snow, reindeer, toys, and most especially, for the regularly employed populace – bonus. Some will of course insist that they have Jesus in their mind. For some, yes, but I am referring to others who go to Mass to show off new dress and new hairstyle. Obviously, it is an occasion for them to be seen by many people and be admired. These same people use the evening or dawn Mass to be with their buddies. Lovers use it as a good alibi to see each other outside the Church. On the other hand, the season becomes a good reason for some of the affluent to show off the abundance of their blessings on their table. Families with financial limitation even go to the extent of borrowing money just so they can have a sumptuous “noche buena”.
Even pagan practices have made the real meaning of the celebration vague, one of which is the “required” number and kind of fruits and sweets to be displayed to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Blazing Christmas trees and lanterns are given more attention and become the centerpiece of the celebration rather than the nativity scene which is supposed to be what Christmas is all about. Even the sincerity in giving or sharing is gone, as gifts are sort of classified according to the receivers…cheaper gifts to the poor friends, expensive gifts to the rich friends. Even receivers have learned to complain about the gift they receive.
How many know that even the celebrated date, December 25 has been questioned? This date is what the western Church celebrates while the eastern Church celebrates January 6. Some allegations even put the birth of Jesus between March and April 4 BC, and another between January and April 1 BC. The January 6 as feast of the nativity was celebrated together with the Epiphany or Feast of the Baptism and the miracle at the wedding in Cana. Later on, December 25 was observed as the date for the Feast of Nativity, and from Rome, the tradition spread to other churches under the authority of Vatican. In Constantinople, the observance of the same date was introduced by Gregory Nazianzen around AD 379, although, prior to that, under Theodusius, January 6 was popularly observed.
How about the “three kings”? Without these personages, the picture of Christmas is not complete. Surprisingly, the gospel of Matthew which has so far contain more extensive passages on the birth of Jesus never mention “three kings”. His gospel mentions only “astrologers from the east” who came to pay homage. Tradition has changed their image from being “magi” into “kings”. As to the real number, nothing has yet been established, because tradition has reduced their number from twelve to three.. The “kings” were even given names as Hor, king of Persia, Basantor, king of Saba and Karsudas, king of the East, by the Syrian writer of the Book of Adam and Eve. For the Egyptian historian, Barbaro, they are Gathaspe, Melchior and Bithisarea. For the Armenian Infancy Gospel dated about 500 AD, they were Melkon, king of Persia, Gaspar, king of India and Balthasar, king of Arabia. And, finally, today, they are known as Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar. They were regarded as belonging to a priestly caste of the Medes who dabbled in magic and astrology, aside from being considered as scholars of the Mediterranean. This shows that the story of Christmas which some believe to be just a legend is not confined among Christians. Jesus Christ has been respected even by gentiles far better than those who profess to be Christians today.
Not only one book can be filled with interesting information about this particular feast. But if only to maintain our Faith to the most powerful Being who sent His son to live among His creatures, focus should be on Him alone. Christmas is supposed to emphasize that love for others should dwell in every one’s heart, otherwise, it is like alleging that those in the hinterlands who have not seen a Bible do not deserve to be called creatures of God. And, only those who regularly recite the novena and rosary, and attend the Mass, have the right to be “saved from the fires of hell”. If Christmas, be it December 25 or January 6, is supposed to be a special day being the natal day of Jesus Christ, a reminder that love should be manifested in different ways, why not observe it every day? Why be bad the rest of the days of the year and wait for Christmas to make atonement for all the bad deeds which is hypocritical?
The Philippines takes pride as the country with the longest Christmas celebration. Filipinos are proud to say that Christmas in the Philippines start with the onset of the “ber months” –beginning with September, even up to February of the following year. Radio stations start to play Christmas songs in September. There are even countdowns to culminate on the celebrated day, the highlight being Christmas trees, high and heavy with decorations and bulbs. What do we gain from that? Of course a line of recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records, and very especially, monetary gain from businesses related to the celebration. Very obvious, on the other hand is the materialistic tone of the celebration that made the real meaning obscure. Is a long celebration of Christmas, a guarantee for the forgiveness of sins? Does this mean that the Philippines need a long celebration due to the many sins that are persistently accumulating every year? Well…
The astrologers from the east, who were gentiles, took time in trekking across deserts to pay homage to the new-born Jesus, an effort that symbolized respect. Unfortunately, today, even some of those who are born Christians, not only lose respect but faith in Jesus by trampling on the rights of their fellow men and exploiting them for material gain. They forgot what Jesus said: What you do to your brethren, you do to me. Incidentally, these are the learned ones, some are even at the helm of the government, supposedly leaders of the country, and who amass wealth by fraudulent means at the expense of the honest, hardworking Filipinos.
This writer sometimes think that we failed to ponder on the message brought by the series of catastrophes that our country has been enduring – pockets of unrest, earthquakes, floods, typhoons, anomalies in the government. Could these be His way of jolting us into realizing that we have deviated from the right way of showing our faith, despite the yearly reminder which is Christmas? We are given one chance to be saved for which we should be thankful, but what are we doing? …or rather, what have we been doing?