Mbabane, Swaziland | 24 December 2014
Another year over and a new one soon to begin.
Christmas, so they say, is a time for reflection. A time for giving. A time for coming together. A time to be with friends and loved ones. A time for renewal and forgiveness.
For many charitable souls, Christmas is a time for helping strangers; a time to offer some light and share one’s humanity for a few moments.
For me, Christmas means eating too much turkey, drinking too much wine, and spoiling my nieces with cheap gifts. Kids can be easily amused.
The extent of my charity usually extends as far as listening (and pretending to laugh) at Dad’s bad jokes during Christmas lunch. That might be a bit unfair. Occasionally he lets a funny one slip out.
Christmas, a word stemming from Old English meaning ‘Christ’s Mass’, is celebrated and commemorated in different ways by different cultures.
And considering it is a time for reflection, I thought I would reflect upon the origin of the word that has such power of modern times. For words and language, like cultures and humans, evolve over time and take on new meanings, allowing fresh air to blow in. Some of the old is kept and mingles in with the new, while some of the old is swept aside to make way for difference and — for one of a better term — nativity.
The word we today know as Christmas was first recorded in 1038AD. Back then, according to language historians, it looked something like Cristemasse.
The ‘Christ’ part of the word stems from the Greek word, Crīst, which itself was translated from the Hebrew word for ‘Messiah’.
The ‘Mas’ part comes from the old Latin word missa, which means the celebration of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist, so I’m told, refers to The Holy Communion or The Lord’s Supper. According to some New Testament books The Holy Communion was instituted by Jesus Christ during his Last Supper.
(I do apologise if I am telling you things you already know. You must forgive me: I come from a secular society where these things are not taught so well these days — for better or worse. Or perhaps I just didn’t listen in religious education classes.)
But learning as I am now, I do hope Jesus looks down upon me on Christmas day impressed with my excessive intake of wine on His day. One can only hope.
Speaking of JC, while historians still argue over his exact birthday, most agree that a special man exhibiting charismatic attributes, was born between 7 and 2BC.
It was in the middle of the 4th Century AD when the Western Christian Church placed Christmas Day on December 25, a date later adopted in the East.
And of course there are many other calendars, apart from the Christian one we are familiar with. And, indeed, many other ancient and profound religions apart from Christianity.
Some of these religions — such as Judaism and Islam — still celebrate Jesus Christ as a messenger, of sorts, but not the One Messiah who has been sent by God.
Whoever he was, Jesus has left his mark.
And while I won’t pretend to get too sentimental at this time of year, there is one song, written by the great English rocker John Lennon, which always grabs at the strings of my heart during the festive season.
Let me echo his words and wish people of all faiths and creeds: ‘A very Merry Christmas / And a happy New Year / Let’s hope it’s a good one / Without any fear’.