Christmas, Nativity: Christians across the globe rejoice in Christ’s birth

Altar of a church decorated for Christmas

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 25: Sing for joy and ring the bells—it’s Christmas! The Old English Christ’s Mass celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ for Christians worldwide, hailing from snow-covered mountains to sandy beaches, crowded cities to rural fields—and everywhere in between.

Pew Research tells us that, even with declines in religious affiliation in the U.S., half of all Americans say they attend church on Christmas Eve.

Central to the liturgical year, Christmas closes Advent and begins the Twelve Days of Christmastide. Though the exact year of Jesus’ birth can’t be placed, Christian families re-read two Gospels that describe a lowly manger, visiting shepherds, magi and, of course, that mysterious guiding star (now believed to have been a rare alignment of planets). While previously a time of year when winter Solstice was celebrated in the Roman empire, Christians transformed this darkest period of the year and say that Jesus’ coming fulfills ancient prophesy that a “Sun of righteousness” would come, and that his (red) blood and (green) eternal life provide hope to the whole world. Even St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican boasts an impressive mosaic of Christo Sole, Christ the Sun, in its pre-4th-century necropolis.

Earliest evidence of a Christmas celebration centered around Jesus dates to 354 CE, when events took place in Rome (note that the birth of Christ was already being observed at this time by Eastern Christians, on Epiphany). The first Christmas hymns emerged in 4th century Rome, but the Epiphany holiday continued to dominate Christmas through the Middle Ages. During the medieval period, Christmas grew in popularity over Epiphany. During this time, the 40 days prior to Christmas became known as the “forty days of St. Martin”—a tradition that evolved into Advent.

CHRISTMAS DIY: DECORATIONS, RECIPES & PARTY TIPS

Whether your halls are decked to the hilt or boasting a sparse sprig of holly, have no fear—there’s still time to bring cheer to your home! We’ve searched the web and spotted these online gems that are worth a click and a look …

Martha Stewart offers a selection of handmade gift ideas, ornament inspirations and more. Don’t leave out the kids—their crafts and printables are at Kaboose. After the stockings and wreaths are hung, it’s time to focus on the Christmas meal—an all-important aspect to Christmas in many cultures. In areas of Italy, 12 kinds of fish are served on Christmas Eve (get Italian Christmas recipes here), while in England, fare often includes goose, gravy, potatoes, bread and cider. Whether Midnight Mass interrupts your menu or not, don’t forget dessert—American cookies, traditional pudding, fruit cakes and mince pies. (Taste of Home and AllRecipes offer everything from appetizer to dessert recipes.)

Cooking for guests with special requests? Find a gluten-free menu and a vegetarian menu from Huffington Post. In Malta, a chocolate and chestnut beverage is served after the 12 a.m. Christmas services. Chocolate lovers can find more festive food ideas at Hersheys.com.

DID YOU KNOW? (PARTY ICEBREAKERS)

Now, for some extra fun: Are you looking to strike up a conversation with a stranger—or that family member you only see once a year? Try tossing out a few of these interesting tidbits during your next gathering:

Sancte Claus was retroactively named the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam (the Dutch name for New York City) in 1809

• President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas a federal holiday in the United States in 1870. Five years later, the first American Christmas card was produced

• Charles Dickens sought to recreate Christmas as a family-centered holiday of generosity and secularity. Unlike modern-day Europe and U.S., workers in Dickens’ day did not get “days off” in their work schedules. In addition to campaigning for a full-day December 25 holiday in A Christmas Carol, Dickens was one of the leading British activists for Sunday-holiday laws in the UK that would give workers a weekly sabbath off work. So, there was a major political campaign behind Dickens’ fanciful tales

LOOKING AHEAD:
THE JULIAN EVENT AND 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

Gregorian and Julian calendars differ, causing Christmas and Epiphany to fall on January 7 and 19, respectively, by those Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian Calendar. Christmas doesn’t end on Christmas Day for anyone, though—at least not according to the church! On the contrary, Christmas Day begins the Twelve Days of Christmas, which continue through January 6. Most Christian denominations preach this worldwide tradition, even though many parishioners are quick to take down decorations and move into the new year. In some places, it is tradition to give gifts during each of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

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Feast of the Transfiguration: Western, Eastern Christians recall ‘greatest miracle’

Painting of men in white light, others looking on while shielding eyes

A painted rendering of the Transfiguration by Carl Bloch. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, AUGUST 6: An event shrouded in mystery and revered by St. Thomas Aquinas as “the greatest miracle” is recalled by both Eastern and Western Christians today, on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. (Note: Catholic and most Orthodox churches mark this feast on August 6, though many American Protestant congregations, among them United Methodist and some Lutheran churches, celebrated Jesus’s transfiguration much earlier this year as part of their Epiphany season.)

Three Gospels tell of Jesus taking three disciples—Peter, James and John—along with him on an ascent of a mountain. Once at their destination, the prophets Elijah and Moses appear. A voice in the clouds says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The disciples fall to their knees in wonder.

While heading back down the mountain, the Bible describes Jesus as telling his disciples not to speak of what they had seen until he has risen from the dead. The disciples—confused by the words, “risen from the dead”—discuss the meaning of this puzzling experience.

Theologians have argued for centuries about the metaphysics of the transfiguration—whether his garments became white and his face shone like the sun, or perhaps the apostles’ senses were transfigured so that they could perceive the true glory of God. Nonetheless, Christian churches agree that the transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor. The mountain represents the meeting point of human and God; of earth and heaven.

For an Orthodox perspective on the holiday, learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

For a Western perspective, visit the Global Catholic Network.

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Easter: Billions of Western Christians exult in the joy of the resurrection of Jesus

Crosses, three, with light and orange

Photo by geralt, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, APRIL 1: Western Christians the world over revel in the resurrection of Jesus, rejoicing in the promise of new life: It’s Easter!

(Note: Pew Research estimates the world’s Christian population is 2.3 billion of whom about 300 million are Eastern Christians, who celebrate Easter on April 8 this  year.)

Following the solemn 40-day reflections of Lent and the Easter Triduum—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday—Western Christians awaken on April 1 to a day centered on new hope. Often dressing in pastel colors, more than a billion men, women and children head to church for the festive Easter service, which typically showcases shining brass instruments and rows of blossoming Easter lilies.

Across the United States, it’s a holiday of family reunions, feasting and even parades in some communities.

THE NEW TESTAMENT: WITNESS OF AN EMPTY TOMB

The New Testament describes the events of the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe verify him as the Son of God. There is no recorded moment of resurrection in the Christian Gospels, but rather, the discovery by Mary Magdalene (and possibly others) early on Sunday morning—that the tomb was empty.

In his crucifixion, Jesus died on a Roman cross. That evening, according to Christian tradition, Joseph of Arimathea asked the Roman official Pilate for the body, wrapped it in linen cloth and laid it in a tomb. Saturday passed, and early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene (and, some Gospels attest, other women in attendance) visited the tomb of Jesus. To their surprise, the tomb’s stone was moved, and a messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Gospel accounts vary regarding the messenger’s specific message and the women’s response, but all emphasize that the empty tomb was witnessed. To this day, sunrise services are popular in some regions on Easter Sunday, echoing the traditional stories of the empty tomb.

First evidence of the Easter festival appears in the mid-2nd century, and today, an elaborate Vigil usually begins in darkness and gives way to the singing of “Alleluia,” trumpets and unfettered joy.

EASTER: IN AMERICA AND AROUND THE WORLD

Pastel eggs on blue wood boards

Photo by Tiffany Pepe, Courtesy of Pexels

A traditional Easter menu often features lamb—a symbol of Christ at this time of year, as the Paschal Lamb. However, these days, Easter hams far outpace cuts of lamb. In America, egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many families, and for Christians, shared meals most often involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle.

In France and Belgium, the bells that “went to Rome on Maundy Thursday” return home for the evening Easter Vigil, only to bring Easter eggs to boys and girls—or so, the story has it.

In most countries with a substantial Christian population, Easter is a public holiday.

EASTER DIY: RECIPES, EGG-DECORATING HOW-TOS & MORE

 

EASTERN CHRISTIANS: Eastern Christians will mark Pascha (Easter) on April 8 this year.

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Merry Christmas! Billions of Christians worldwide celebrate Jesus’s birth

Dimly lit church with evergreens and red ribbon decoration pew

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

MONDAY, DECEMBER 25: Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas Day for the majority of the world’s 2 billion Christians, as the birth of Jesus is celebrated in great rejoicing. While the birth year of Jesus is only speculated, December 25 is embraced by a multitude of Christians worldwide as the day Mary and Joseph welcomed their newborn son in a manger. With the celebration of Jesus’s birth, the season of Advent closes for Western Christians; the Nativity Fast ends for Eastern Christians; and the 12 days of Christmastide begin. In many countries, Christmas Day is a public holiday.

Note: Some Eastern Christians mark Christmas according to the Julian calendar, which pushes many Russian, Ukrainian and Serbian churches to a January 7 celebration of Nativity (Christmas).

Many Christians believe the birth of Jesus to Mary fulfills an ancient Messianic prophesy. Two canonical gospels record Jesus as having been born to Mary and her husband, Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. Tradition tells that the birth took place in a stable, because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Nearby shepherds, told of the birth by angels, came to see the baby; magi came later, bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. The Star of Bethlehem is believed to have led the magi to Jesus, and the visit of the magi is celebrated as Epiphany, on January 6.

CHRISTMAS: A HISTORY

Baby lit adults admiring in dark

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

From the formative years of the church’s celebrations to the Nativity noted today, a multitude of customs have become associated with Christmas: displaying manger scenes, caroling, sending greetings and hanging stockings by a fireplace, to name just a few. Christian saints have been responsible for creating some of the customs—namely, St. Francis of Assisi for the nativity scene, and St. Nicholas for stockings and candy canes—while others are secular or even pre-Christian.

The Chronography of 354 AD is the oldest surviving reference to a Roman celebration for the birth of Jesus on December 25; in the East, the birth of Jesus was already observed with the Epiphany, on January 6. In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was outshone by Epiphany, though by the later medieval period, Christmas-related holidays were starting to become more popular.

Christmas encountered turbulence through the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the 19th century, writers such as Charles Dickens were creating the “heartfelt goodwill” that morphed Christmas into a more secular holiday based on goodwill, family and jollity. For billions around the globe, Christmas today includes cookies, gift giving, shared feasts, cherished stories and songs and festive decorations.

EASTERN CUSTOMS: JULIAN TO BETHLEHEM

Approximately half of Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas with Western Christians on December 25. That list includes the Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Albania, Cyprus and Finland—as well as the Orthodox Church in America.

For a variety of traditional reasons, Orthodox churches in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Armenia, Egypt and Ethiopia hold their Nativity (Christmas) observance in January. This variance primarily involves the older Julian calendar, which pushes Christmas to January 7, but further wrinkles in the tradition affect some Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians. The very last Eastern Orthodox Christmas will be celebrated by the Armenians living in Jerusalem, who travel to Bethlehem for an hours-long, centuries-old liturgy in the Church of the Nativity that takes place as late as January 18 or 19.

FOOD & RECIPES

From Martha Stewart, try baking something beautiful.

From Rachael Ray or Food Network, find an array of professional recipes.

From AllRecipes, gather favored suggestions for dinner, breakfast and dessert.

From Food & Wine, cook up something fancy or unique.

 

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Categories: Christian

It’s Easter! East and West rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus

Sunlight through window, dove, white garment over stone bench

Image by Grace Oasis, courtesy of Vimeo

SUNDAY, APRIL 16: Both Eastern and Western Christians rejoice in the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter, or Pascha—the focal point of the entire Christian calendar. Hot cross buns, chocolate bunnies and brunch souffles fill tables and baskets of plenty on this joyous day, as families and friends gather. Lilies adorn altar spaces and remind churchgoers both of resurrection (blossoms from dormant spring bulbs) and that Jesus enjoyed a form of lily himself, as is evidenced in the Gospel of Luke. The 50 days following Easter are called Eastertide.

Urbi et Orbi: The pope’s Urbi et Orbi (to the City (Rome) and the world”) blessing, along with Easter Mass, will be available live on YouTube.

Holy Week 2017: Interested in the papal schedule for Holy Week? It was released by the Vatican and is available here.

News 2017: In Jerusalem, the newly restored tomb of Christ, which has been under restoration for almost one year, is reportedly still at risk—but this time, at risk of “catastrophic” collapse, warn scientists, if foundation renovations are not underway soon. (Read more from National Geographic.) A shrine known as the Edicule, enclosing what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus Christ, sits inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem; however, as celebrations are underway for the completion of the first renovation, recent surveys have uncovered an unstable foundation beneath the sacred monument. Exactly how to proceed with the difficult archaeological work, however, has yet to be determined.

AROUND THE WORLD: FROM BUNNIES TO LAMBS

Bunny and basket and umbrella on vintage greeting

An Easter greeting. Photo by ArtsyBee, courtesy of Pixabay

Easter in America may be characterized as much by the Easter Bunny and pastel-hued candies as it is by Christian joy in Christ’s Resurrection: Egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many American families.

For many Christians, shared meals may involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle. A traditional Easter menu also often features lamb—a symbol of Christ at this time of year as the Paschal Lamb—although these days, Easter hams far outpace cuts of lamb, even on the tables of the faithful.

Hosting your own Easter brunch or dinner? Find recipes at Food Network and AllRecipes, decorating tips from Martha Stewart, and free Easter-themed printables from HGTV.

Easter marketsAustria hosts a whole heap of traditional Easter markets and festivals every year, from the market at Innsbruck to the Salzburg Easter Festival, with plenty of concerts, artisan shows and spring-centered celebrations in between.

ACCORDING TO THE GOSPELS:
THE WITNESS OF AN EMPTY TOMB

The New Testament describes the events of the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe verify him as the Son of God. There is no recorded “moment of resurrection,” but rather, a discovery by Mary Magdalene (and others) early on Sunday morning that Jesus’ tomb was empty.

In his crucifixion, Jesus died on a Roman cross. That evening, according to Christian tradition, Joseph of Arimathea asked the Roman official Pilate for the body, wrapped it in linen cloth and laid it in a tomb.

Saturday passed, and early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene (and, some Gospels attest, other women in attendance) visited the tomb of Jesus. Much to their surprise, the tomb’s stone was moved, and a messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Gospel accounts vary regarding the messenger’s specific message and the women’s response, but all emphasize that the empty tomb was witnessed. To this day, sunrise services are popular in some regions on Easter Sunday, echoing the traditional stories of the empty tomb.

Basket of shiny, marblized, vibrant eggs photographed outside

Photo by Alexas_Fotos, courtesy of Pixabay

Did you know? Ukrainian legend has it that after Christ rose, He threw Satan into a pit and chained him with 12 iron chains. Throughout the year, Satan chews at the chains, but just as he gets to the final chain, Easter arrives and the people shout, “Christ is risen!” If devotees ever cease this Easter acclamation, the end of time has come.

THE EASTER EGG: A SYMBOL & A TRADITION

The Easter egg shines with spring symbolism, and even ancient civilizations associated the egg with new beginnings. Today, children around the globe search for hidden eggs on or near Easter, and decorating those eggs can be as simple or elaborate as the artist allows.

WHITE HOUSE EGG ROLL 2017 UPDATES: On Monday, April 17, the President and First Lady will host the 139th annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The White House Easter Egg Roll is a tradition that dates to 1878, and today, it has grown from local children rolling eggs on the White House lawn to the largest event held at the White House.

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Palm Sunday: Christians begin Holy Week with fronds and Jesus’ Jerusalem entry

Sunlight through palm fronds on tree

Palm fronds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, APRIL 9: Christians around the world enter Holy Week in preparation for Easter on Palm Sunday, marked by the ancient story of Jesus’ donkey ride into Jerusalem. Biblical accounts and artists through the centuries describe overjoyed people in the streets of Jerusalem celebrating Jesus’s entry by throwing down of cloaks and palm branches in his path, in imitation of a custom used only for those of highest honor. Described in all four Gospels, Jesus’ ride was a popular event. Yet how quickly events will turn within a week, Christians recall today, amid the waving fronds.

As Jesus rode slowly into Jerusalem, according to Christian tradition, the gathered crowd began singing from Psalms: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Today, Christians regard this entry as the fulfillment of a prediction in Zacharias; as such, many churches distribute their own fresh palm branches. In climates where palm branches aren’t available, other tree branches—yew, box and willow, for example—may be distributed instead. A church-wide procession often follows the blessing of the branches.

What happens to those branches after they’re distributed? In many congregations, members save them in their homes. Traditional Catholics tend to tuck them behind a crucifix. Some countries pride themselves on the historical tradition of tying elaborate shapes with the fresh palms. In Mexico and Italy, especially, many will weave the palms into elaborate patterns and shapes and hang them above holy pictures, behind a crucifix or on the wall.  In Elche, Spain—the site of the largest palm grove in Europe—palm leaves whitened and dried, after which skilled craftsmen braid them into extravagant shapes and figures.

Interested in braiding your own palm fronds? Learn how, with help from this YouTube video tutorial.

In many churches, the branches from today’s services are saved until the next year’s Ash Wednesday, when they are burned as a source of ashes.

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Easter: Western Christians rejoice in Resurrection

White lily with cross in background

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, MARCH 27: Raise the lights, ring the church bells and joyously sing “Alleluia”—it’s Easter! Christians the world over shout in exultation on Easter Sunday, as the faithful celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate Pascha, the Orthodox term for Easter, on May 1, this year.)

Western Christians across the globe revel in the Resurrection of Jesus today, rejoicing in the promise of new life. Following the solemn 40-day reflections of Lent and the Easter Triduum—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday—Christians awaken to a new day. Donning their finest clothing in pastel hues, more than 1 billion men, women and children head to church for the festive Easter service, which often showcases shining brass instruments and rows of blossoming Easter lilies.

Did you know? The week beginning on Easter Sunday is known as Easter Week, or the Octave of Easter.

The New Testament tells Christians that the Resurrection of Christ is the core of their faith, and on this grand day, crowds flow into and out of churches, bells are rung in praise and adherents joyously profess their faith.

THE EMPTY TOMB

Gospel accounts say that early on the Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene (and, though accounts vary, other women as well) traveled to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. Upon reaching the tomb, an earthquake shook the ground; the stone was moved from the tomb, and a holy messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Though no specific moment of Resurrection is recorded, Mary Magdalene’s encounter has, since the 2nd century, been celebrated as Easter. The Resurrection is described as having occurred c. 30 CE.

Eggs painted in various colors, detailed, in basket

Photo in public domain

THE (NOT SO HUMBLE) EASTER EGG

The springtime egg has symbolized the season’s new life since before the life of Jesus, drawing back to ancient civilizations. Nonetheless, the egg holds a place of prominence in many secular Easter traditions. Children around the globe search for hidden eggs, and decorating eggs can range from simple to elaborate—as much as the artist allows. In the UK, the Guardian holds an annual for the most beautifully decorated Easter egg. International chocolatiers mold sweet concoctions in the shape of delicate eggs, with the most exquisite replications selling for hundreds of dollars.

RECIPES & RESOURCES

Looking for a great recipe or ideas to spruce up your Easter table?

Find delicious recipes, from appetizers to brunch to dessert, at Food Network, AllRecipes and Hershey’s.

Give eggs extra style, or try an Easter craft, with ideas from HGTV and Martha Stewart.

Kid-friendly Easter coloring pages, cards, games and more are at the UK’s Activity Village.

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