The true meaning of Christmas | Sunday Observer

The true meaning of Christmas

25 December, 2022

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ. (1 Timothy 2:5)

Christmas is here again. Christmas, which celebrates the Birth (and also the Life and Times) of Jesus Christ, Son of God, will be celebrated today by more than 2.5 billion Christians worldwide, including those in Sri Lanka. But it has become a worldwide celebration that transcends geographical, ethnic and religious boundaries that cascades well into the New Year.

While scholars, historians and theologians debate on the exact dates and events surrounding the birth of God’s Emissary, what is indisputable is that December 25 is now firmly entrenched in our psyche as an eventful day that literally changed the world. Jesus was not born into luxury – legend has it that he was born in a manger in Bethlehem. His life was somehow spared in the infamous “Massacre of the Innocents” whereby King Herod the Great of Judea allegedly ordered the execution of all male infants below two years, with the aim of killing Infant Jesus. Again, historians differ on this account.

No easy life

The veracity of this gruesome story notwithstanding, Jesus did not have an easy life in his early days and even later, as exemplified by his Crucifixion. But in between, Jesus spread the message of God to people far and near for nearly 40 years and became a beacon of light to countless souls who were in spiritual darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12).”

One of the best examples that we can derive from the Life of Jesus is his simplicity and frugality. He may have moved in the circle of Kings, but he broke bread with the common masses. He did not opt for a life of luxury, but travelled far and wide on foot to enlighten his followers. This is apt today when there is so much misery in this world, with as many as 800 million people going to bed hungry every day.

Sri Lanka too is going through a difficult period and it is no secret that many people cannot afford three square meals a day. Thus helping the poor in our neighbourhoods must be a major plank of Christmas this time around. In fact, His Eminence Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has appealed to all Christians (and all others regardless of religion) to refrain from celebrating Christmas with unnecessary decorations and fireworks but instead concentrate on helping the underprivileged who find it difficult to eke out a living at this time.

Timely appeal

This is a timely appeal that we must all heed. According to the Bible: “He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14: 12-14)”. This is just what we have to do this Christmas – share the joy of the day with those who have no means to celebrate as we do.

Unfortunately, Christmas has become a commercial commodity worldwide, including here in Sri Lanka. There is no room in this commercial realm for the poor and less privileged. But the time has come to change it – for good. The Churches and priests must play a greater role in this regard. Many people even call Christmas “X-mas” in this WhatsApp age when every phrase or word is shortened. This takes the sanctity away from this Silent and Holy Night.

Santa Claus

In fact, at the rate that Santas have invaded the Christmas landscape, one could be forgiven for thinking that Christmas marks the birthday of Santa Claus, not of Jesus Christ. A survey conducted in the USA found that a large number of children actually think Christmas marks the birthday of this jovial and bearded character clad in red, riding on a sledge pulled by a herd of reindeer, distributing gifts among well-behaved children. Even in Sri Lanka, which does not experience any kind of winter, one can see a good number of Santas wandering about in shopping malls and other areas.

Who really is Santa Claus? Is he a completely mythical character or someone who actually existed once upon a time? There is a healthy debate on this point, though there is no doubt whatsoever that he adds an element of colour and amusement to the festivities. What we do know is that region he is supposed to come from - Lapland – actually exists. Lapland is Finland’s northernmost region, a sparsely populated area bordering Sweden, Norway, Russia and the Baltic Sea. he legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a person named St. Nicholas.

It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends over time. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and travelled the countryside helping the poor and the sick. Over the course of many years, Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6.

Meaning of Christmas

By the Renaissance period, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. The name Santa Claus evolved from his Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. This is how the legend of Santa Claus began and now it is an integral part of Christmas. But maybe the time has come for Santa and his pack of nine reindeer (Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is the most famous) to take a back seat in our Christmas festivities as they add no real meaning or depth to them.

But this does not mean that Christmas should be a colourless, dull affair. It is a fun time especially for the children. They get to decorate the Christmas Tree and get gifts from the above-mentioned Santa, who apparently comes down the Chimney. Christmas Day also brings everyone together to the table for a lunch or dinner – it is hard to believe, but in some households the family members actually do this only once or twice a year. Otherwise, the usual practice is to stare at the TV consuming so-called “TV dinners”, with little or no conversation among the family members.

This brings us to another theme of Christmas – togetherness. As shown above, it is the time of the year when everyone comes together not only to celebrate the Life of Christ, but also their own. Remember, Life is a gift and every moment among your loved ones is precious. And Christmas is also the ideal opportunity to forgive anyone – friend, relative or colleague - who has a rift with you. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37)”.


This togetherness must actually spread to the whole country. Sri Lanka has been at war with itself for the better part of the past 75 years, with two Southern insurrections and one 30-year battle against terrorism in the North and the East. We are a scarred nation in more ways than one – and even if the physical scars go away after a few years, the mental ones will remain. Addressing our past wounds and healing those is the only recourse available to go forward at this crucial stage. We must pray that we get the insight to set historic wrongs right.

We will not have a bright future unless we come to terms with certain dark chapters in our history. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power. (James 5:16).”

This will lead to reconciliation and lasting peace in our land, for our dream of becoming a developed country by 2048 (the 100th anniversary of Independence from Britain) will not come true if we continue to fight among ourselves based on man-made differences such as ethnicity and religion. We hope that the efforts currently under way in this regard would come to fruition at least by next Christmas. “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11).”

Let’s become better souls

But at the end of the day, Christmas is all about healing oneself. We must direct the search light inwards this Christmas, to see where we went wrong in the past year and strive to correct them. In short, we must be determined to become better souls who have the interests of others at heart. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matthew 10:28)”. If all of us think in this manner, the whole country and indeed the entire world will be a much better place to live in.

Feliz Navidad to all.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)