It’s December, and that means holiday celebrations. Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, or Winter Solstice, holiday festivities and preparations take center stage this month. We delight in celebrating the holidays, especially gathering with family and friends and sharing a good meal and conversation around the table. We both enjoy the evergreen scent of the Christmas tree, the celebratory holiday lights, finding a special gift for one other, and the joy on our children’s faces on Christmas morning. Our daughter Stella has already selected her favorite (healthy) Christmas cookie recipe for Santa and eagerly anticipates the daily blessing on her advent calendar. At the same time, on a deeper level, our thoughts turn to the spiritual meaning of this holiday season. After all, the meaning of the word “holiday” originally meant “holy day.”
For both of us, reflecting on the underlying significance of the holiday season makes Christmas that much more meaningful. We share the belief that the true nature of human existence is to transcend our finite worldly view, and the holiday season provides us with an opportunity to deepen in our spirituality. When used as a time of reflection, Christmas and Hanukkah can bring us more in touch with our inner spirit. This is also the time of the Winter Solstice, which calls us to journey within, as Sister Moon with Her radiance lights up the night in celebration of the season. In the poetic words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.”
The Christmas story captures the heart in a way that transcends the intellect. The images of angels and a young mother, of shepherds and a stable, and of wise men following a bright star to celebrate the birth of the infant Jesus certainly makes it captivating. But, consider God coming into the world without a place in which to be born. As the story is told, an exhausted Mary and Joseph searched all of Bethlehem, eventually finding a rustic stable for the birth of the Son of God. It’s obvious that God deliberately chose simplicity and humble beginnings for his Son, instead of wealth and grandeur. This, too, is part of God’s message—by allowing his Son to be born into a stable, he made it clear that a meaningful life has nothing to do with wealth or fame. The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the incarnation of God in Jesus, the self-revelation of God to the world in human form for the reconciliation of humanity to Himself.
Although we thoroughly enjoy the celebratory aspect of Christmas, we both feel that this holy day isn’t just about decorating your home, or giving or attending parties, but to first and foremost celebrate Christ’s birth. For Christians, the birth of Jesus was the birth of hope and salvation. For those of other faiths, or even no faith at all, Jesus can be honored as a great prophet, a man who taught us how to live, and above all else to “love one another.” Reflecting on the teachings of Jesus reminds us that it’s not enough to merely give gifts, but that we must also give love to one other, including not only our families and friends, but extending to all of our brothers and sisters of the world, and encompassing all living creatures.
As an herbalist, I’m naturally interested in the plants that we associate with Christmas. The evergreens that we use for Christmas trees and wreaths symbolize life and eternity. Holly, with its green prickly leaves and red berries, is a reminder that the Child born in the stable would eventually wear a crown of thorns and shed blood for us. Mistletoe, long associated in the pre-Christian pagan world with healing, became a symbol of the healing within Christianity. And the poinsettia, with its star-like flowers, is a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem. Those of us that serve humanity by offering the miraculous healing powers of plants are truly blessed, and we pray for all those in need of healing.
We wish for you and yours a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and blessings of the Winter Solstice. May this Holiday season be filled with joy and renewal,