The bright feast of Christmas comes to the Christians of the Western rite on December 25. Since recently, in Ukraine, just like in over 100 countries of the world, this day is a state holiday.
On the night of December 24-25, the Christians of the Western rite (mainly Catholics and Protestants), among whom there are many Ukrainians, celebrate Christmas, - one of the most important Christian holidays, established in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ by the Virgin Mary.
History of the holiday
Since the end of II century until the IV century, Christian church mentioned the events of the Christmas Day on the Day of Epiphany, - January 6. In 200 AD, Clement of Alexandria described this practice in his writings.
The first messages about the appearance of a separate Christmas holiday on December 25 date back to the middle of the IV century.
In particular, from the sacred writings of the evangelists Matthew and Luke, it follows that the rise of the first evening star on the night of December 25 marked the birth of the Son of God.
It also tells about this event:
In the year of the birth of Jesus, Emperor Augustus issued a decree to hold a population census. Judea was a part of the Roman Empire at the time. For the convenience of officials, all residents of the region were ordered to come to the city of their birth.
Since Saint Joseph was a descendant of King David, Bethlehem was considered his “small homeland.” He went there with his wife, the Virgin Mary, who at that time was already pregnant.
Due to the inflow of people in the city, the spouses could not stay at the hotel and they were forced to look for another shelter. Just at the time, the childbirth term approached, and little Jesus was born in a cave where shepherds sheltered cattle from bad weather.
This way, in 431, the Third Ecumenical Council, which took place in Ephesus, set the date of celebration of the Nativity of Jesus on December 25.
Despite the fact that the essence of Christmas both in the Western and Eastern rites is similar, the traditions of its celebration are slightly different and these differences are not only in date.
The Day of Nativity of Jesus in the liturgical calendar is preceded by a special period - Advent. It starts always four Sundays before the Christmas. This year the countdown started on December 2.
Earlier in this period, the Catholics and some Protestants adhered to a strict fast, but modern rules do not demand it. The Advent is considered a time that is given to a person for redemption.
The church recommends using it for the sacrament of confession, reflections on the coming of Christ to Earth, not only in Christmas, but also at the Second Coming.
The worshipping on each of the four Sundays of Advent have a certain theme. The first Sunday is dedicated to the coming of Christ at the end of time. The second and third Sundays reflect the transition from the Old to the New Testament. On the third Sunday the service of John the Baptist is especially marked. The fourth Sunday is devoted to the Gospel events preceding the Christmas.
Several other traditions are associated with this period.
Surely, you have already seen something similar in the supermarkets. It is a typical decoration in the form of a wreath made of pine, spruce or fir branches, which is most often attached vertically to the walls and doors of houses, set on the table or a window sill.
Four candles were traditionally placed on such a wreath: the first of them was lit on the first Sunday of the Advent, the second one on the second Sunday, and so on. The light in the wreath symbolized the growing expectation of Christ’s birth. Later, some new meaning was attached to it, due to the round shape, symbols of a wreath, greenery of spruce, color of candles and decorative ribbons.
Today, a four-candle Christmas wreath is associated with the globe and four cardinal points, a circle symbolizes the eternal life that the Resurrection gives, the green is the color of life, and the candles are the light that will illuminate the world at Christmas.
The second indispensable attribute of the Advent is the Christmas calendar - a special calendar, which, in fact, just like the Christmas wreath, indicates the time remaining until Christmas.
Such calendars are usually made as postcards or cardboard houses with opening windows, with a candy, a note with wishes or small gift in each cell. Its content depends on the family and the person for whom the calendar is given.
The Christmas calendar consists of 24 days, counting down from December 1 to December 24.
During the Advent, Western-rite Christians also set up a Christmas tree in their homes and decorate it with children's handicrafts in the form of lanterns and hearts or with the toys. A star is set on its top as a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem.
Most often, the tree is installed in the center of the living room, ideally - not very far from the fireplace, on which people hang large socks according to the number of family members.
Santa Claus who is the prototype of St. Nicholas puts his presents and gifts to children under the Christmas tree.
Another tradition of the Advent is the setting of a ‘manger scene’ or a crib. It is to remember the events of the Nativity of Jesus on the holiday with family or friends.
It is believed that if you play out the scene of the birth of the Son of God, Bethlehem enters homes and churches and becomes closer and clearer.
Christmas Eve Traditions
Advent traditionally ends on the Christmas Eve, which is the day before Christmas, December 24.
The main feature of this day is a strict post. Earlier on this day, it was allowed to eat only soaked grains – usually barley or wheat grains boiled in water with honey.
Over time, the menu expanded and other lenten dishes appeared on the Christmas table. Among them there must be: apples, vegetable salads and other vegetables, honey, raisins, nuts, celery. Because all of them are the symbols of good luck, wealth and health.
The main dish is on the table should be fish.
In addition, on Christmas Eve, those who did not have time to do the confession can do it. The church on this day is open from early morning and does not close.
On the Christmas Day, the churches hold three special liturgies — the night mass, the mass at dawn, and the day mass. So, the celebration of Christmas takes place three times - as the birth of the Word from God the Father (at night), the birth of God the Son from the Virgin (at dawn) and the birth of God in the believer’s soul (in the afternoon).
In addition to this, on the night of December 25, Santa comes to the Christians of the Western rite.
There is a custom that children should leave on the table in the living room a glass of milk and a plate almond cookies. Allegedly, it is Santa's favorite food and he certainly needs to eat after a long journey.
On this day, the scene of the birth of Jesus Christ is also staged.
In the late afternoon, the whole family gathers for the second Christmas meal. This time, a variety of dishes are put on the table, among which the main dish is roasted turkey or goose.
It is noteworthy, that one empty place is always left at the Christmas table - no matter who comes into the house, he will be a dear guest.
In addition, on this day people sing the carols - Christmas songs with the wishes of wellbeing and prosperity.
The Octave of Christmas
It is also important that Western–rite Christmas does not end on December 25 - it is celebrated for eight days, from December 25 to January 1. This period is called the Octave of Christmas. The Catholics and some Protestants commemorate their saints in this time.
In particular, on December 26, people mark the feast of Saint Stephen, on December 27, they commemorate the holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, and on December 28, believers remember the Innocent Babies of Bethlehem.
On Sunday, which falls on one of the days from December 26 to 31 (or on December 30, if Sunday does not fall on these days), the feast of the Holy Family is celebrated.
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is celebrated on January 1.