THE CHRISTMAS STORY
This week we celebrate the most beloved of all Christian holy days: Christmas. Surprisingly this feast developed rather late in Western Christian history, its present form and popularity owing more perhaps to Charles Dickens than to traditional Christian practise.
In the early days of the Church it was Easter that received the greatest attention. In fact, the earliest writings in the Bible show no awareness of the details of Christ’s birth at all, suggesting the Christmas story as we know it developed rather late in the process. But the 4th and 6th centuries saw great controversies about the meaning of the Person of Christ which drew attention to the Incarnation—literally Christ’s “enfleshment”—which is celebrated at Christmas.
While early dating of Christ’s birth placed the feast on May 20, Roman practise eventually settled on December 25, perhaps to counteract the pagan feast of the Nativity of the Sun God. In the East however, even where December 25 became the normative date for Christmas, many churches placed greater emphasis on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, and many still regard that day as the greater festival.
Christmas in the West traditionally has been celebrated by three Masses: at midnight on Christmas Eve, at dawn on Christmas Day, and again later in the day. Popular custom allows us to offer a variety of worship services to meet a variety of needs, as we do: the Pageant for families, a late-night Christmas Eve service, and the quieter Christmas morning service.