What is Christmas?

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By 2017-12-24

By Milan Lu

Christmas is a time that Catholics and Christians celebrate Jesus's Birth. But to many in Sri Lanka, Christmas is a holiday that isn't celebrated by everyone. So how did Christmas come to our little island and what exactly is the holiday about?

Jesus is born
According to the Bible, Jesus is the son of God. Christmas is used as the day to celebrate his birth even though the exact date Jesus was born is still unknown. Over 2000 years ago, when King Herod ruled a place in the Middle East called Judea (now part of Israel), God sent the angel Gabriel to a young woman who lived in the northern town of Nazareth. The girl's name was Mary and she was engaged to marry Joseph. The angel also told her that her very old cousin, Elizabeth, would be giving birth as well. Elizabeth's son would prepare the way for Jesus to do his work on earth. Mary visited Elizabeth soon after and spent three months with her. Elizabeth gave birth to a boy named John. When Mary came back to Nazareth, her fiancé Joseph was very worried about her being pregnant before they got married. He was confused if he should marry her at all but an angel visited him in his dreams and told him not to worry and explained God's plans to him. After he woke up, he married Mary.

The country that Mary and Joseph lived in was a part of the Roman Empire. The emperor of that time, Augustus, wanted to have a list of all the people living in his empire so he asked everyone to return to the towns their families came from and register their names there. Joseph's family was originally from a place called Bethlehem which was about 70 miles away from Nazareth.

They travelled to Bethlehem together slowly because Mary was going to give birth very soon and she could not walk very far for too long. When they finally reached Bethlehem, there was nowhere they could stay at because all the houses and inns were full. The only place they could stay in was a little farm house where animals were kept for the night. This is where Jesus was born and he was placed in a little manger after being wrapped tightly in a long cloth called swaddling clothes. A manger is a little box that the hay animals ate was put in.

Shepherds visit
Outside of Bethlehem, there were some shepherds on a hill, looking after their sheep through the night. When the new day was beginning, a bright light and an angel appeared to them and told them that the saviour is born. Jesus is called the saviour in Catholicism. Before he was born, the people were waiting for the saviour to arrive. They were expecting him to be a king. So the angel told the shepherds to go visit baby Jesus at the manger. More angels appeared and sang to them as well. When the angels were gone the shepherds wanted to go see what had happened and when they found Mary and Joseph, they told them about the angels. They were the first to welcome Jesus to this world and they went back while praising God.

The star and three wise men
When Jesus was born, a brand new bright star appeared in sky. Some Wise Men in faraway countries saw the star and guessed what it meant. They were very cleaver men that studied the stars and had read in very old writings that a new star would appear when a great king was born. They set out to find the new king and bring him gifts.

The Wise Men followed the star towards the country of Judea and when they got to the capital called Jerusalem they began to ask people: "Where is the child who is born to be king of the Jews?" Herod, the king of Judea, heard this and it made him very angry to think that someone might steal his place as king. Herod asked the Wise Men to meet him and told them to follow the star until they had found the baby king. He asked them to tell him where the baby is so that he could go worship the baby. But Herod did not tell them that he really had an evil plan in mind to kill the new king.

The Wise Men followed the star towards Bethlehem because the old writings said the king would be born there and the star was shining directly above Jesus. The Wise Men found Jesus with Mary, they bowed down and worshipped him. The Wise Men had brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. God appeared to the Wise Men in a dream and warned them not to go back to Herod so they returned to their countries using a different road.

Evil Herod
Herod realized the Wise Men had tricked him and was very angry. He ordered that all boys who are either two-years-old or younger in Bethlehem should be killed because he hoped the new king too will be killed this way. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Jesus and Mary and go to Egypt. The angel told him to stay there until the angel told him when it was safe to return. So Joseph got up that night and took Jesus and Mary to Egypt, where he stayed until Herod died.

After Herod had died, Joseph had another dream in which an angel appeared to him. The angel said, 'Get up, take Jesus and Mary and go back to Israel, for those who were trying to kill Jesus are dead.' So Joseph got up, took Jesus and Mary and they went back to Israel. But when he heard that Herod's son was now king of Judea, he was afraid to go there. So instead they went to Galilee, and lived in their old town of Nazareth.

Christmas in Sri Lanka
When the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka and took over the country in 1905, they also introduced Catholicism to Sri Lanka. Through them, the Dutch and later the British, Christmas was introduced to Sri Lanka and celebrated ever since. Christmas season normally starts from the first day of December. Religiously, the season of Christmas starts four Sundays before Christmas day. This period before Christmas day is called Advent.

On Christmas Eve Catholics and Christians will go to church to attend a holy mass that begins just before midnight. Those who cannot go for Midnight Mass can also go for Mass on Christmas Day morning. Traditionally, those who celebrate will invite family and friends over for a meal, most popularly dinner.

Every house has a Christmas tree decorated as well as a small nativity. The nativity is a replication of Jesus's little stable, with statues of baby Jesus in a manger, Mary, Joseph, the Donkey Mary rode on, farm animals, the shepherds, sheep, the three wise men, their camels, and either an angel or the star. Families sometimes light a lamp in front of the nativity. Gifts are exchanged after Midnight Mass.

So if you celebrate the holiday, have a very Merry Christmas!

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