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Understanding Christmas Celebrations

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Featuring in national media to discuss decorations, trees and understanding Christmas, our Founder and CEO Peter Mousaferiadis was quoted in Body + Soul magazine, a supplement to the Herald Sun in Melbourne, Daily Telegraph in Sydney and Courier Mail in Brisbane along with the Adelaide Advertiser and Hobart Mercury. Peter was presented alongside notable Australian personalities, such as The Block’s Shaynna Blaze, sharing his views on Christmas traditions. His full submission to the magazine is outlined here.

History of Christmas

Many people today associate Christmas and its symbols with the Catholic faith, however, it has a much more complex history that is often overlooked. 

Despite the obvious link to the birth of Jesus Christ referenced in the name, the origins of the festival are most likely Pagan.

Nordic and Scandinavian cultures celebrated the midwinter festival Hjol, from which we get our modern word Yule. 

The festival spread through Europe, specifically to Germanic Pagan groups, which eventually found its way to Britain and, thus, Australia.

For the Nordic Pagans, these festivities commemorated the lengthening of days and nights and the symbols of candles, lights and the fir tree.

Despite the cold winter climate, the fir remained evergreen, reminding communities that light would return and the wheel of time that made up their yearly calendar would continue turning, marking a return to spring. 

By understanding Christmas and its origins, we can begin to see the beginnings of the festive activities we know today.

Like Hjol and the Germanic pagan traditions, these celebrations were carried out in the spirit of harmony.

Many of the traditions that we enjoy today, including bringing evergreen trees inside, exchanging gifts and sharing food and drink in each other’s company, directly link to northern European traditions.

Historical evidence even suggests that Jesus was born in the springtime but Christian missionaries adopted Yule celebrations in order to appease and convert Pagans. 

Imagine the confusion of Pagans in the Southern Hemisphere who celebrate Litha, the Midsummer solstice while their neighbours celebrate Yule, the traditional pagan winter solstice. Understanding Christmas from different perspectives can not only lead to greater awareness but also help develop empathy.

When is Christmas celebrated?

While the carol may designate there to be 12 days of Christmas, today’s society is much more open to celebrating months rather than days.

This year, more than any other, so many are delighting in seeing the festivities come early. Finally having the chance to celebrate together and reunite after lockdown is an important step in the healing process for many people.

Together, we can take the opportunity to embrace the principles behind the season of compassion, respect and trying to be understanding.

Many Orthodox churches honour January 7 as the day that Jesus was born. The customs of Christmas, the tree, the presents, the family gatherings are all shared but are they celebrated on different days.

Understanding Christmas through different perspectives

Christmas time is associated with renewal and fulfilment and can be an opportunity to explore new perspectives, stories and understandings. Through this process of learning about different traditions and symbolism at Christmas, we gain interfaith awareness and can take part in more inclusive celebrations. 

Part of Cultural Infusion’s mission is promoting intercultural understanding as an essential part of living with others in the diverse world.

Experience something different this Christmas season, step outside your comfort zone and discover how a different faith celebrates – consider visiting a mosque, or a temple. Celebrating diversity will enable you to see Christmas in a whole new light.

This time of year is an opportunity for families and communities to share in a moment of harmony, peace and understanding.

Through demonstrating respect and recognition of others, we can honour the foundation of these seasonal celebrations – the spirit of respect and compassion.

Consider how communities of other faiths celebrate and experience the season and to explore different types of festive spirit; perhaps by visiting a mosque, temple or a neighbour of an unfamiliar faith, in order to discover even more reasons and ways to celebrate. 

Together, we can all share in the spirit of the festivities rather than dwelling on our differences.