Why do we have Christmas?

by Fr. Shay Cullen

Birth of Jesus Christ | Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

A little child named Maria once asked, “Mama, why do we have Christmas?” We should have an answer to that, but many do not. Maria was told, “It is a time when we learn from Jesus to help others who have less than us.” Later that day, her mother saw Maria giving her lunch and her toy to a beggar child at their gate. She knew Christmas was about receiving gifts, giving them, and learning important truths that would last for life.

Many people experience Christmas as a holiday, a break from work; it’s a tradition, they say, a time for visiting relatives and family. For many, except the very poor, it is a holiday with lots of food, drink, and gift-giving. For others, it is just a fiesta, a time to enjoy and celebrate. However, Christ has been taken mainly out of Christ-mas. He is rarely seen in the dancing lights and has been replaced by reindeer and Santa Claus images. If seen, he is hanging on a crucifix, cruelly executed for speaking the truth and being a champion for the poor and the oppressed.

That is because Christmas is an orgy of materialistic spending and over-indulging in the modern capitalistic world. It has become an extravaganza of excess and possessiveness. Billions of people do not know about Jesus of Nazareth, and neither do many so-called “Christians.” They don’t believe or live his values or even know or read his words or follow his example. Yet, they benefit in many ways from his positive influence in making society more human and teaching us to love and help each other.

For enlightened people, Christmas has purpose and meaning and is a time for reflection and doing good for others. For them, it is a special time to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth as the greatest person who ever lived and walked the face of the earth. He is largely forgotten and ignored by many. Yet, the values and truths he taught live on and have come to influence and guide civilization and have inspired millions of people for more than two thousand years: to live with integrity and value and create humane, more caring societies.

Jesus was born in dire poverty in an unequal society. He did not create materialistic wealth and no great inventions that changed mankind. He brought spiritual truths and experiences. Jesus shared with mankind the power of belief. He gives people a deep, powerful conviction about what is right and just, reasonable and truthful, that forms their minds, hearts, and personalities. He motivates and inspires them to live lives of integrity and good by helping others.

He said, “No one has greater love than this, that a person will lay down their life for their friends.” the power of belief in goodness and truth drives people to sacrifice their lives for others, working to make goodness and truth triumph over evil. This is having faith and love for your neighbor and living out an ideal.

All can choose to follow Jesus of Nazareth, believe in him, and act for justice so that goodness and truth will eventually overcome evil. That is what Christmas is all about, and that little girl understood it.

The Christmas story is not just about a child born two thousand years ago in dire poverty to poor parents in a dirty stable with animals for company. It was a new beginning of the great struggle of good against evil, right against wrong, and truth against lies. That struggle goes on everywhere today, evident between the rich and the poor.

An excessive, un-shared, (likely stolen) surplus wealth of the irresponsible and greedy rich people is mainly spent on pleasure and vice by the powerful oppressive rulers. As a result, millions suffer hunger and dire poverty, which makes the gross inequality unjust and evil, and it must be challenged peacefully and truthfully. Family dynasties stifle freedoms, oppress the poor, and keep them in the slavery of grinding poverty. This is the source of social evil and injustice.

The downtrodden cannot ever rise from the hunger and suffering caused by jack-boot tyranny unless they come to know and believe with unshakable faith that they are children of God with exalted human dignity and constitutional rights and must act to win their freedom. Who will help them? These are the challenges and truths inspired by the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, truths about their rights and dignity that are not shared with them. That deprivation of truth is part of their poverty.

The Philippines is close to suffering the greatest inequality in the world. It ranks 102nd out of 160 nations and 19 out of 25 in the Asia-Pacific region. It is the sixth place from rock bottom on the poverty table, all the while; the rich grow more prosperous. Corruption and evil is the reason for this inequality.

It will be a bleak hungry Christmas for 25 million Filipinos and totally miserable for 16 million in dire poverty. While one percent of the Asian wealthy own 25 percent of all the wealth, the poor in Asia has increased by eight percent to 1.4 billion hungry people. In the Philippines, it is estimated that the rich make up just one percent of the population, yet they own 45 percent of the total wealth of the Philippines.

The life, teaching, and message of Jesus of Nazareth are that human dignity, social justice, and a life free of hunger and want what the Kingdom of God on earth is supposed to be. He taught freedom, friendship, and love for all persons, living with integrity as good Samaritans. All can choose to follow Jesus of Nazareth, believe in him, and act for justice so that goodness and truth will eventually overcome evil. That is what Christmas is all about, and that little girl understood it.

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