Culture and Community: Interfaith Observances at Christmas



There are many images of Christmas, and it seems that Christmas means something different to everyone. Life is change, and so mundane perception of Christmas changes, also. Christmas is a a holy time for the devotees of Jesus Christ. At the time of the Christian observance of Christmas, Shepparton Interfaith Network brings attention to the festivals in other religions occurring at this time. There are also Jewish, Parsee and Sikh and African observances at this time. We also bring you an Australian Christmas Blessing.



Christmas Celebrations

In modern times Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day, which falls on December 25.

However, it’s believed that this date was chosen to offset pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus or Natalis Invicti. (Pope Julian was responsible for this.) Some believe that celebrating the birth of the “true light of the world” was set in synchronisation with the December solstice because from that point onwards, the days began to have more daylight in the Northern Hemisphere.

Christmas is also referred to as Yule, which is derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival.



Nativity Scene – St Francis stands in the background.

The First Nativity

During the Christmas season in 1223, St. Francis sought permission from Pope Honorius III in order to put on a public display to honour Christ on this holiday. The Pope agreed to Francis’ request. St. Francis convinced his friends and his followers to help him with the show. He wanted to put on a live presentation of the show for all of the people of Assisi. He chose the Greccio Cave as destination for the event. He included live actors to play the role of Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. He also had a donkey and an ox displayed in the show as well. St. Francis hosted the event, narrated the accompanying story and then preached a sermon.

The Nativity was a big time production for its day. People all over the region of western Italy came to the event. They wanted to see this show which was being advertised by everyone. The event was a huge success. When it had ended people everywhere were celebrating and having a good time. Pope Honorius III was so influenced by the Nativity that he made it a point to have the pantomime (live show) of the Nativity to be performed back in Rome. Soon, churches all over the region started to follow suite.


 

Channukah

For the first time since 1986, Channukah coincides with the Christian festival of Christmas. Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods.

In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in God. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God.

When they sought to light the Temple’s Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.

 

 

At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (“attendant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, they light just one flame. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Chanukah, all eight lights are kindled.

Special blessings are recited, often to a traditional melody, before the menorah is lit, and traditional songs are sung afterward.

A menorah is lit in every household (or even by each individual within the household) and placed in a doorway or window. The menorah is also lit in synagogues and other public places. In recent years, thousands of large menorahs have cropped up in front of city halls and legislative buildings, and in malls and parks all over the world.

 

Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg of Afula, Israel, lights a 25-foot steel menorah during Chanukah 2008 in front of the Gateway of India in Mumbai (Photo by Serge Attal/Flash90)


 

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a seven day festival that celebrates family, community and culture. Although started in the USA to promote the goodness of the African American peoples, Kwanzaa has spread to other countries with Swahili and African populations. Kwanzaa takes place from 26th December to 1st January.

Kwanzaa is a seven day festival that celebrates family, community and culture. Although started in the USA to promote the goodness of the African American peoples, Kwanzaa has spread to other countries with Swahili and African populations. Kwanzaa takes place from 26th December to 1st January.

The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase ‘matunda ya kwanza‘ which means ‘first fruits’ in the Swahili language (an Eastern African language spoken in countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe). Kwanzaa is mostly celebrated in the USA.

Kwanzaa is a seven day festival that celebrates family, community and culture. Although started in the USA to promote the goodness of the African American peoples, Kwanzaa has spread to other countries with Swahili and African populations. Kwanzaa takes place from 26th December to 1st January.

During Kwanzaa a special candle holder called a kinara is used. A kinara hold seven candles, three red ones on the left, three green ones on the right with a black candle in the center. Each night during Kwanzaa a candle is lit. The black, center, candle is lit first and then it alternates between the red and green candles stating with the ones on the outside and moving inwards. This is quite similar to the lighting of the menorah in the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah.

The seven days and candles in Kwanzaa represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa (Nguzo Saba):

  • Umoja: Unity – Unity of the family, community, nation and race
  • Kujichagulia: Self-Determination – Being responsible for your own conduct and behaviour
  • Ujima: Collective work and responsibility – Working to Help each other and in the community
  • Ujamaa: Cooperative economics – Working to build shops and businesses
  • Nia: Purpose – Remembering and restoring African and African American cultures, customs and history
  • Kuumba: Creativity – Using creating and your imagination to make communities better
  • Imani: Faith – Believing in people, families, leaders, teachers and the righteousness of the African American struggle

 

 


 

Zarathosht Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathushtra)

Zoroaster is famous throughout the world as the principal founder of Zoroastrianism. A pious, noble and compassionate person, Zoroaster was a great messenger of Ahura Mazda and eventually became the Prophet of Iran. The message of the Prophet was simple – lead a high moralistic life that would pave way for immortality and eternal bliss. He also asked people to follow the doctrine of the God of Righteousness, Ahura Mazda.

On the top of Mount Sabatam, Zoroaster experienced Samadhi or communion with Ahura Mazda, the Supreme Lord of the Universe. Thereafter, Zoroaster had prophetic divine visions. Upon conversations with Ahura Mazda, Zoroaster received wisdom in the form of the seven revelations, which turned him into the Prophet of God. He, thence, became the renowned messenger of Ahura Mazda. In his spiritual path, Zoroaster had direct conversations with archangels, who helped him immensely.

After being stunned by the visit of archangels, King Vishtaspwas convinced of the supernatural powers of the Prophet. He made Zoroaster, the Prophet of Iran. This marked the beginning of Zoroastrianism. Right from the king to the queen, chieftains, king’s brother and the father-in-law of Zoroaster, all became loyal and faithful followers of the new religion. With the royal patron at Zoroaster’s aid, Zoroastrianism spread far and wide. Both the masses and classes started believing in the new faith, making it the religion of the Iranian Kingdom.

The success of Zoroastrianism rubbed the King of Turan at the wrong end, resulting in two bitter religious wars between Iran and Turan. In the first war, both the king and his brother, Zarir defeated the enemies. However, in the process, Zarir, a gallant young man, was treacherously killed. In the second war, the King Aryaspof Turandestroyed the temples, killed the priests and burnt the Zend Avesta, but was finally defeated by Ispendiar, the son of King Vishtasp.

While Zoroaster was praying before the altar in the temple of Nush-Adar, with a rosary in his hand, he was attacked by Bratrok-resh, a Turanian. The latter killed the Prophet of Iran with his sword. At the time of his death, Zoroaster tossed his rosary at Bratrok-resh. A fire emerged and engulfed Bratrok-resh, finally destroying him. Zoroaster was seventy-seven at the time of his death.

 



Prophet Zarathushtra (var. Zoroaster)

 


 

Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh


The birth of Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Sikh Guru is celebrated on the 23rd day of the month of Poh of the Nanakshahi calendar followed by Sikhs to determine dates of important Sikh events, it corresponds to January 5 on the Gregorian calendar.

Gobind Singh was born on December 22, 1666, his father was Guru Tegh Bahadur, the 9th guru of Sikhism. Gobing Singh at the age of nine became the 10th Guru, and last Guru of Sikhism. As a child he was very admired by everyone for his leadership skills and the wisdom he displayed. His studies included Punjabi, Sanskrit, Braj, Arabian and Persian languages. His father died in 1675 at Chandani Chowk, he was beheaded for not accepting to become a Muslim under the orders of the Emperor.

Since his father had declared that his son Gobind Singh would become the next Guru after his death, at the early age of nine, Gobind Singh became Guru of the Sikhs. He instilled a martial spirit into his followers so that they would not fear the persecutions of the Emperor. During his life he wrote many poems about love, worship of one god, equality and putting away superstition and idolatry.

As the threats to Sikhs grew around Guru Gobind Singh, he decided to do something that would mark forever Sikhism. He sent letters to all followers to meet at Anandpur for the annual harvest festival of Vaisakhi. He then talked to everybody that came to his call. He asked for anyone who would be ready to die for God, he had to ask the question three times before one of the followers came forward to him, Daya Ram offered his head in sacrifice. He was led by the Guru inside a tent. He then returned with a bloody sword in his hands and made the same question to everyone. Another volunteer came forward, and the same thing happened, they went inside the tent and the Guru came out with the sword full of blood. This happened three more times.

Finally the five volunteers came out of the tent dressed as the Guru and unharmed. They were the first Khalsa, the Panj Piare, the five beloved ones. The Guru them himself asked the new Khalsa to initiate him into the new formed Khalsa to become the fifth member of this group. The Khalsa were the spearhead of defense of Sikhs against any aggression.

Guru Gobind Singh was assassinated as he intended to make peace with Bahadur Shah I. He left a great number of writings and told his disciples to consider Guru Granth Sahib, the collection of all writings from the previous Gurus as their eternal Guru and that this book would be the passage to meet the Gurus and understand their teachings.

Before his passing, Guru Gobind Singh designated the Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib as the successor and perpetual guru for the Sikh community.

 

 


 

The Australian Christmas Blessing

The Outback Cross is the brainchild of landscape photographer Ken Duncan, and it is said that five local indigenous groups are supporting the idea of the Cross being a symbol where energy flows out to the rest of the Earth.

It is said that the cross points in all directions – North, East, West and South, and can help one find balance within themselves, if meditated upon.

The Outback itself in Australia is known as the Dreamtime; the indigenous peoples say “It is dreamtime there, t’churng’a!” (pronounced Alcheringa). Alcheringa is both spirit and spirit country. The country owns the people, and the people serve the country through their rituals, their right conduct, and through their families. When a child is born to the indigenous peoples, it is given a spirit ancestor, which will be honoured and respected, even venerated in the life of that soul.

It is at this time of Christmas, when a new-born child is recognised by signs and wonders, angels singing on high, and shepherds coming to adore. Later, wise men – known as Magi – will arrive and worship the newborn child with gifts which indicate a sacred future and a future of service to man, service to God.

At this time of contemplating the birth of a child in a family, we recall how the birth of that child blesses the family with Divine Love. This gift is given to all families, everywhere. Every family is a holy family, saturated with the Love of God.

We wrote earlier that the Outback is both spirit and spirit country, Alcheringa. And we shared that indigenous peoples serve the country with ritual, right action and their families. It is the family that builds the connection to spirit, the connection to community and connection to the spirit world.

An Australian Christmas Blessing:
May you experience the love of Spirit in your children,
May you experience the love of Spirit in your family,
May you experience the love of Spirit in your country,
May you experience the love of Spirit in your right conduct, and
May you experience the love of Spirit in your service to your fellow men and women.

 

Goorrialla, the Rainbow Serpent. There is Joy in nature, the Creation of this World is magnificent, wondrous and needs looking after, our brothers and sisters need looking after. We need to see the world in all it’s splendour of colour. The colour of the Rainbow Serpent has the colours of Christmas and beyond. Traditionally mainly reds, whites, gold & greens are used – here, Rainbow Serpent shows that Christmas includes all of creation.

 

 

 

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