Christian Christmas and Universal Christmas

It could be that perhaps we do not like too much this Christmas with its illuminated streets, consumerist propaganda, over-played carols, unenthusiastic reunions, obligatory gifts…, or that we even dislike it. Yet, if we could free it from commercial exploitation, our deceitful ambitions, even from our boring liturgies, empty words and outdated dogmas, if we could open our eyes and look at it from its universal depth, Christmas could touch our hearts, light up in them a small flame of peaceful creativity, make it more humane for our own good and the common good of the Earth.

I am talking not only about the Christian Christmas, but also about the universal Christmas, that of the sun in each year’s solstices and the miracle of each day’s dawn, the Christmas of azaleas in bloom, the Christmas of each wanted and awaited birth in each of its forms, the Christmas of rebirthing goodness and hope in the world in spite of everything. Blessed be the universal Christmas of Life in all its forms!.

Blessed be also the Christmas of Jesus of Nazareth with its endearing images that are engraved in my heart since I was a child: the manger, the grotto, the shepherds and peasants, the fields of Bethlehem, the choir of angels in the middle of the night, the star that guides the wisemen from Persia, the chests of gold, frankincense and myrrh. That was my first Christmas, and even today it is the first one for the child that I still am. But for the 70 year-old man into which I turned without realizing it, Jesus’ Christmas is, no more, no less, my closest and most inspiring icon of theuniversal Christmas. And I do not know whether this Jesus’ Christmas should be call a Christian Christmas, because Christianity came one hundred years later, and because, deep down, there is only one Christmas.

It was celebrated with different names long before Jesus. Millennia before, many peoples celebrated the winter solstice around December 21 in the Northern hemisphere and around June 20 in the Southern hemisphere, when the inclination of the sun’s rays over the Earth is maximum and the night begins to be shorter and the day longer. It was, and it continues to be the feast of the sun and of the Earth, the feast of its fruits given as common food, the feast of life.

The Maya, Aymara, Inca and Mapuche peoples celebrated, and still celebrate, the return or the new rising of the sun. So do New Zealand’s Maoris, Mali’s Dogos and Lapland’s Samis. Likewise in Japan, China, India and Persia. And the Slavic peoples, like Russians and Ukranians, as well as the Celts. The Germans and the Scandinavians remember the birth of Frey, their god of the sun, of the rain and of fertility, representing the divinity by an evergreen tree. In Rome they celebrated “the Christmas of the undefeated Sun” on December 21, and practitioners of the Mithraic cult throughout the entire Roman empire commemorated Mithra’s birth in a cave on December 25.

As Christianity spread and became dominant from Constantine on, it occurred what it has occurred in all times, cultures and religions: the new religion assimilated the old festivity and it gave it a new name, motif and meaning. Thus, the feast of Light and of the rebirthing of nature became the feast of the birth of Jesus, the new Light –the same Light- that illuminates and consoles life. Nothing is lost, everything is transformed. Calendars and names, rituals and their specific meanings change, but the same Sun returns over the Earth. The life-giving mystery of the living Light is revealed, becoming present again.

Nobody knows anything about the birth of Jesus, except that he was the son of Mary and Joseph (or maybe of an unknown father) and that he was born in Nazareth in a large and poor family. He was free and brotherly, compassionate and healer. That is why his followers recognized him as the Christ or the Messiah, the one they were expecting who should announce the good news to the poor, heal the sick, free the captives. And with time, poets like Luke created beautiful, symbolic narratives of his birth. There were also those who confessed him as the Word or the divine Logos, creator of the world. “The Word became Flesh”, as we read in the Gospel by John. In the 4th century the actual Creed was elaborated to proclaim Jesus as the only Son of God, “of the same nature as the Father”, who “was incarnated of the Virgin Mary”. And thus, the birth of Jesus began to be celebrated in a ritual manner.

I still do celebrate it, but I cannot believe the Creed to the letter. I cannot reasonably think about an Omnipotent God, Creator prior to and external to the world who, in the 13.700 million years of this universe in expansion with hundreds of billions of galaxies that most likely house innumerable planets with life, in this universe which perhaps is only one among countless other universes, became incarnate only once, precisely in planet Earth, in an individual of this transient species that is Homo sapiens, 2000 years ago, in a Jewish male called Jesus, who had been conceived without male gametes y came to Earth to atone for our sins.

I can no longer believe in the incarnation dogma to the letter, but I celebrate Jesus’ Christmas. Every day during these holidays I will bow and tenderly look at our home Bethlehem. Bet-lehem, the house of bread. Lovely Bethlehem in a world full of desires and suffering. I will join our small Christian community of Aizarna and will sing with it out of my heart and my mouth the words of the Christian Creed: “He was incarnated of the Virgin Mary”, without holding on to the traditional and outdated meaning of the words. I will celebrate the Christian Christmas of Jesus, symbol of the Christmas of the heart without borders, the Christmas of humanity, the Christmas of the planet, the Christmas of the infinite Cosmos, made of fire or of light, of animated matter, mysterious matrix from which universes, suns, planets, azaleas, robins and lambs are born, and this admirable and contradictory Homo sapiens who perhaps will disappear before reaching the equilibrium he seeks, his eternal divinity: the happy creative goodness.

Some will say that this Christmas I celebrate is not Christian. I do not know what they call Christianity. As far as I am concerned, I believe that being a Christian does not require to literally accept doctrines that today are incomprehensible, in today’s senseless hierarchical institutions, and that Christianity will disappear, it is already disappearing. I think that being a Christian, after all, consists on creating and caring for life, so marvellous and fragile, brotherly and sisterly happy life, following the Spirit or the inspiration of Jesus, blessed be He.

Aizarna, December 22, 2022

Translated by Mertxe de RenobalesScheifler