Reflections at Christmas
Christmas may be celebrated differently around the world, but its central message is the same
by Vicky Scott (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider four aspects of Christmas: Rest, Reflection, Rejoicing and Resolution.
Preparation and materials
You will need the lyrics for a carol such as ‘Hark! the herald angels sing’ printed out in large print. The paper should then be cut into strips so that each strip shows one line of the carol. The lyrics are available at: http://tinyurl.com/juww6qq
You will also need the following words printed on separate cards: Rest, Reflection, Rejoicing and Resolution.
Optional: you may wish to play the YouTube video ‘Hark the herald angels sing’, in which case you will also need the means to play it during the assembly. It is 3.48 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCt1s44cfMM
Ask if any of the students enjoy hearing Christmas music playing in the shops and on the radio as Christmas approaches. Ask which students have heard of the well-known Christmas carol ‘Hark! the herald angels sing’.
Show the strips of paper to the students and ask for volunteers to put the carol’s lyrics in the correct order. This could be a one-off event, or excitement could be created by printing out the lyrics twice so that two groups can compete. Alternatively, for a quieter, more controlled game, you could blindfold the students who are holding the strips of paper and choose another student to arrange them in the correct order for the carol.
Ask the students to give you a brief description of their average Christmas Day: when gifts are given, what time the main meal is eaten, what this consists of, whether anything is left out for Father Christmas and so on. Compare the answers and then highlight the differences between family traditions at this time of year. Perhaps some celebrate more on Christmas Eve. Perhaps some eat turkey whereas others have chicken or lamb. What do the vegetarians have? Stress the joy of individuals and families expressing themselves differently.
Although Christmas was originally marked in the calendar as the day to remember the birth of Jesus, it is no longer celebrated solely by Christians. Millions of people around the world use this festival as a time of celebration.
Christians consider that this important day represents the birth of their saviour, Jesus. They believe that his coming to Earth, to live as a human, is the only reason that they are able to forge an intimate relationship with God and thus Christmas is very important for them.
However, many people, even if they do not have any religious convictions, still celebrate this day as a cultural festival. They perceive it as a time to give presents, eat and drink, as well as meet up with their family.
Christians and people of other faiths, or who have no religious convictions, adhere to the traditions of their country at Christmas. The Australians celebrate Christmas Day on 25 December, in a similar fashion to us in the UK (except that it is summer there and many people go to the beach!). In the Philippines, they have their Christmas meal after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. They eat a traditional meal that consists of cheese, hot chocolate and ham, and open their gifts in the early hours of 25 December. In Mexico, gifts are not given on Christmas Day. Instead, Mexicans exchange Christmas gifts on 6 January, which is traditionally believed to be the time when the wise men presented their gifts to baby Jesus. In some French-speaking areas of Canada, Christmas is celebrated on 26 December. In Brazil, Christmas Eve is the more important day, especially around the time of midnight. In various locations across Europe, such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary and Germany, celebrations are also focused around Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. In some of these places, people choose to fast for the whole day so that they can more fully appreciate the feast in the evening. They typically eat fish, soups and potatoes at their meal as well as distributing gifts at this time.
The festival of Christmas is celebrated almost everywhere around the world, even if it has to be done so unofficially in some countries. There are several common elements, including a shared special meal, the company of friends and family and the exchange of gifts.
Time for reflection
Let’s think about ways in which we can use this festival to grow spiritually, as well as around the middle! We are going to think about four words, all beginning with R.
Rest. Use the time off from school or work and spend it with family and friends.
In the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph were very tired after their long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and longed to find a place to rest their weary bodies. There were no five-star hotels for the birth of a global superstar – Jesus – just a rather humble and smelly cattle shed. Christians believe that Jesus came to offer peace for our hearts, which are so often restless with the worries and distractions that we live with. Let’s try to remember that Christmastime is not just about receiving, but also giving. A simple act such as offering to peel the carrots or do some of the washing-up may really help the adult who is preparing the very important Christmas dinner.
Reflection. Use this time off to consider the past and look forward to the future.
After Mary had given birth to her son, Jesus, she was amazed by the visitation of the shepherds and their proclamation concerning her son’s life. Each of us will have heard various people’s thoughts about our lives. We may have experienced many positive and negative predictions about how we will develop and succeed or fail in the future. However, it is really our thoughts and actions that will map out the path we will individually walk.
Use this Christmastime to think about how you have developed and grown over the past year. Have you had a positive year? Can you see your life going in the right direction next year? Or has your year consisted of pain and disappointment? Whichever it is, think about what you can do to make the next year better. Who can you go to for help to alter the areas you’re struggling in and what can you do differently next time?
Rejoicing. In the Christmas story, Jesus was visited by many people. When the wise men arrived, they bowed down, worshipped him and presented him with gifts. The shepherds, who had been visited by angels announcing the birth of Jesus, were also filled with joy and praised God.
At Christmastime, Christians are thankful for the birth of Jesus. However, even if you don’t adhere to this belief, we all have things to be thankful for, whether they are individuals in our lives, specific possessions or opportunities presented to us. Why not be thankful for all that you have and focus upon the blessings in your life – your loved ones, your gifts, your talents and your friends? Love is stronger than hate. Light is stronger than darkness. Christians believe that the message of Jesus’ amazing birth, life, death and resurrection show this to be true, no matter how dark the world can sometimes appear to be.
Resolution. At the time of Jesus’ birth, some of the most isolated and undervalued people in society would have been shepherds. This makes it even more amazing that they should be one of the select groups who were called to visit Jesus, their future king! The lives of those shepherds would have been changed forever. They must have resolved to believe that God is interested in ordinary people. We can learn from this that God loves and values all kinds of people – rich and poor, tall and short, men and women, celebrities and ordinary working people.
Think about what you want to be different this coming year. How can you realistically bring about increased happiness to yourself and others? Think about a resolution and perhaps write it down later: something that you would like to do differently next year. It is important to be realistic, rather than making a pledge that you will never achieve and thereby end up feeling disappointed. Small, frequent steps forwards are far better than occasional giant leaps forwards and then backwards.
Christmas represents various things for people around the world. It started from a day of celebration for Christians, but has become a day for celebrating life and blessings for many religions worldwide. Whichever applies to you, make sure that you use the time to enjoy your holiday, while at the same time making it enjoyable for those around you!
Thank you for Christmas.
Thank you for the gift of Jesus and the difference that he made to the world.
Please help us to be a blessing to others this Christmastime.
You may wish to play the traditional carol, ‘Hark! the herald angels sing’. This is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCt1s44cfMM