“To fully appreciate the festival of Christmas, we must come to understand what it has meant to man as a spiritual experience since the beginning of recorded history. We know that this sacred season has been held in the deepest veneration by the peoples of many races and nations, and that it has descended to us as a beautiful heritage of tradition. In these days, we are inclined to question the origin of our beliefs, and we would like to know how and where the Christmas celebration originated; in what ways it has been changed and modified with the passing of time; the sources of the various symbols now associated with the season; and perhaps most of all, why we should perpetuate the old rites and customs.
Originally Christmas was not a festival imposed upon man by some special system of belief. It came from his own heart, and he has preserved it down through the ages because it was strangely and wonderfully meaningful to him.”
“The spirit of Christmas descends to us largely through a group of symbols long associated with the festivities of the season. These symbols may well be termed archetypal, for they reveal the gradual growth of fundamental ideas subjected constantly to new interpretations.”
“Many countries have popular legends by which they claim the distinction of having given the Christmas tree to the world. The pine, fir, or evergreen has long been associated with the idea of immortality because it remains green through the long winter period, and is thus a fitting symbol of the inevitable victory of life over death. Sprigs of acacia, cypress, cedar, or fir were used to decorate ancient altars, and there are references to them in the Bible.”
“Music has long been associated with the Christmas Season, but the early chants, litanies, and hymns written in Latin were hardly suitable for secular use. According to legend, the Gloria In Excelsis, the hymn supposedly sung by the angels on the occasion of Christ’s nativity, was the first Christmas carol. It is believed that songs in the popular languages and with simple but reverent wordings were introduced by St. Francis of Assisi, who desired to bring the Christmas mystery closer to the lives of the people. Carol singing spread slowly but surely throughout Europe.”
“The mistletoe is a parasitic plant which attaches itself to trees with great tenacity and generally lives as long as the tree itself survives. In Germany, the word for mistletoe signified “all-heal,” and the plant was held to possess mystical and magical virtues. The ancients believed that mistletoe was nourished by the air and light, and by the rays of the moon. When it was cut, it must never touch the earth, or its powers would be destroyed. There has long been a religious symbolism relating to this plant, which may have been derived from the idea that it symbolized the impermanent relationship between the body and the soul. Like the soul, the mistletoe is attached to a body, but has a separate existence in space, and it also receives into itself strange energies and forces moving in the air. The presence of mistletoe in the homes of our ancient forebears was considered as a benediction and, if true lovers stood beneath its branch, it brought good fortune. Here is one of the most beautiful of the old Christmas customs, devoutly religious in its original meaning. It would be no exaggeration to say that to stand under the mistletoe means actually to stand under the wing of the holy spirit of life, or to accept the guardianship of the power of the soul.”
“The time-honored custom of exchanging gifts at Christmas is associated with the Roman Saturnalia. During this festival, the citizens of Rome exchanged presents, greeting cards, and boxes of food. They seem to have originated our idea of a Christmas box with assorted contents.
For nearly fifteen centuries, the concept of Christmas-giving and sharing was comparatively free from what we call “commercialism.” In older times, there were neither means nor circumstances which invited extravagance. Gifts were considered important principally because they represented the personal thoughtfulness, skill, and industry of the giver.”
“With all the talk against Christmas and the sober resolutions not to become involved in the frantic cycle of buying, giving, and receiving, there is one thing we should always remember. The importance of Christmas depends upon ourselves. It is a festival of the spirit and, if our souls are filled with the deeper meaning of the season, it will not be merely a burden. If we understand the old symbols and capture their messages of hope and inspiration, no one can spoil our Christmas.”
“According to the symbolism of this sacred season, faith and gratitude, hope and joy, love and peace, which together form the grace of the spirit, were made flesh and dwelt among us in the grotto at Bethlehem by a mystery which we can experience but never fully explain in words. We know that this spirit also abides in our own hearts, and through us its perfect works are made manifest. Love finds its fulfillment in the constant giving of its life and light. Our Christmas depends upon the purity and beauty of the simple affection which we bestow upon this season and all that it means to ourselves and others. If we so understand and so appreciate, our Christmas will always be beautiful.”