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Matthew and Luke lived at the time of Jesus. Matthew was one of the followers of Jesus. He was a hated tax-collector, before he met Jesus and his life changed. In his view of the life of Jesus, he shows how many prophecies made years before in the 'Old Testament' scriptures pointed to the coming of Jesus.

summary of Matthew's gospel – chapter 1

The family line of Jesus Christ

1) Here are the names of the people in the family line from which Jesus Christ came. He came from David's family. He came from Abraham's family.

Jesus' family line:

(2-16) Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Perez (his mother was Tamar), Zezron, Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon, Salmon, Boaz (his mother was Rahab), Obed (his mother was Ruth), Jesse, David the king, Solomon (whose mother was Uriah's wife), Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jeconiah and his brothers (at the time the people of Israel were carried away to Babylon), Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim, Eliud, Eleazor, Matthan, Jacob and Joseph who was the husband of Mary. Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is called the Christ.

17) There were fourteen families from Abraham to David. There were fourteen families from David to the time the people were taken to Babylon. And there were fourteen families after that until Christ was born.

The birth of Jesus Christ

18) This is the way Jesus Christ was born. Mary, his mother, was promised to Joseph to be his wife. But before they were married, she found out that she was going to have a baby. It was by the Holy Spirit.

19) Joseph, the man she was to marry, was a good man. He did not want her to be made ashamed. So he planned to leave her without telling people about it.

20) While he was thinking about this, he had a dream. An angel of the Lord came to him. He said, `Joseph, David's son, do not fear to take Mary to be your wife. Her baby is by the Holy Spirit.

21) 'She will have a baby son. Name him Jesus, because he will save his people from the wrong things they have done.'

22) All of this had been told long before by the Lord through his prophet. It came true.

23) The prophet said, `A young woman who has not slept with a man is going to have a baby son. His name will be Emmanuel. That means "God is with us".'

24) Joseph woke up and did what the angel of the Lord told him to do. He took Mary to be his wife.

25) But he did not make love with her until her first son had been born. He named him Jesus.

 

summary of Matthew's gospel chapter 2

The visit of the wise men

1) Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, in the country of Judea. Herod was the king. After Jesus was born, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem.

2) They asked, `Where is the child who has been born to be King of the Jews? We saw his star rising and we have come to worship him.'

3) When King Herod heard this, he was very troubled. All the people in Jerusalem were troubled also.

4) He called all the chief priests and the scribes of the Jews for a meeting. He asked them, `Where is the Christ to be born?'

5) They told him, `In Bethlehem in Judea. That is what the prophet, the man of God long ago, wrote:

6) "Bethlehem in the country of Judah, you are not the least among the leaders in Judah. A leader will come from you who will rule over my people Israel".'

7) Then Herod called the wise men to talk with them secretly. He found out from them what time they saw the star.

8) He sent them to Bethlehem. He said, `Go and ask everywhere until you find the child. When you have found him, come and tell me, so that I myself may go and worship him.'

9) After they heard what the king said, they went away. And the star, which they had seen rising, went in front of them. It stopped above the place where the child was.

10) When they saw the star, they were very glad.

11) They went into the house, and there they saw the child and Mary his mother. They kneeled down and worshipped him. Then they opened their bags and gave him gifts. These gifts were gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

12) In a dream they were told not to go back to Herod. So they went home by a different road.

Going to Egypt

13) After the wise men had gone, Joseph had a dream. An angel of the Lord came to him and said, `Get up. Take the child and his mother, and go quickly to the country of Egypt. Stay there till I tell you, because Herod will try to find the child and kill him.'

14) Joseph woke up. He took the child and his mother in the night and went to Egypt.

15) He stayed there until Herod died.

What the Lord told through his prophet long ago, came true. He said `I called my son out of Egypt.'

The killing of baby boys

16) Herod saw that the wise men had fooled him. He was very angry. He sent men to kill all the baby boys in the town of Bethlehem and around it. They killed all the boys who were two years old or less. Herod remembered what the wise men had told him about the time they first saw the star.

17) So what the prophet Jeremiah said, came true.

18) He said, `A voice could be heard in the town of Ramah. Rachel was crying for her children. She would not let anyone comfort her because her children were dead.'

The return from Egypt

19) Herod died. Then Joseph had a dream. An angel of the Lord came to him in Egypt.

20) The angel said, `Get up. Take the child and his mother and go to the country of Israel. The men who wanted to kill the child are dead.'

21) Joseph woke up. He took the child and his mother and went to the country of Israel.

22) But he heard that Archelaus was king of Judea in his father Herod's place. So he was afraid to go there. In a dream he was told what to do. He went to the country of Galilee.

23) He went and made his home in the town of Nazareth.

The prophets of God long ago had said, `He shall be called a man from Nazareth.' What they had written came true in this story.

Christmas story as reported by Luke

Christmas - How did it start?

Matthew and Luke lived at the time of Jesus. 

Luke was a doctor, and became a follower of Jesus later. He wrote 'the gospel of Luke', and the follow-on 'book of Acts'. He explains how he did much research to put together an honest and true story of the life of Jesus.

 

summary of Luke's gospel, chapter 1

The story written to Theophilus

1) Many people have tried already to write down the things that have happened among us.

2) These things were told us by men who saw them happen from the time they began to happen. And these men helped tell the good news.

3) I have tried to find out all that has happened from the beginning. And so, Theophilus, great ruler, I myself will write you the whole story.

4) Then you will know that the things people have told you are true

An angel tells that John will be born

5) When Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah. He was one of a group of priests, and Abijah was their leader. Zechariah's wife Elizabeth came from the family of Aaron.

6) Both of them were good people as God saw them. They obeyed all the laws and the things that the Lord said they should do.

7) But they had no children. Elizabeth was not able to have a baby and they were both very old.

8) Zechariah was doing his work one day as a priest to God. It was time for his group to do the work in the temple.

9) The priests had a certain way of dividing their work. This day it was Zechariah's turn to go into the temple of the Lord and burn the incense [which smells sweet when it is burned].

10) All the people were talking to God outside the temple at this time.

11) An angel of the Lord came to Zechariah. He was standing on the right side of the incense table.

12) When Zechariah saw him, he was surprised and afraid.

13) But the angel said, `Do not be afraid, Zechariah. You have been talking to God. He has heard you. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son. Name him John.

14) `You will be glad and happy. Many people will be glad when he is born.

15) He will be great in the way the Lord calls people great. He must not drink wine or any strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is born.

16) He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.

17) He will go ahead of the Lord. He will have the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. And he will bring back the people who do not obey, so that they will want to do what good people do. He will make people ready for the Lord.'

18) Then Zechariah said to the angel, `How can I know that this will happen? I am an old man and my wife is also old.'

19) The angel answered him, `I am Gabriel and I stand before God. I have been sent to talk to you and to bring you this good news.

20) Now listen. You will be silent and not be able to talk until the day that all this has happened. This is because you did not believe what I told you. At the right time all that I said will come true.'

21) the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the temple. They were surprised that he stayed in so long.

22) When he came out, he could not talk to them. They knew that he had seen something in the temple. He made signs to them with his hands and did not talk.

23) When his time for doing the work of a priest was finished, Zechariah went home.

24) After that, his wife Elizabeth found she was going to have a baby. For five months she stayed away from people.

25) She said to herself, `The Lord has done this for me. At this time he has remembered me so that I need not be ashamed among people anymore.'

An angel tells that Jesus will be born

26) Elizabeth was now in her sixth month. God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee.

27) The angel was sent to a young woman there. Her name was Mary. She was promised to a man named Joseph, to be his wife. He was of David's family line.

28) The angel went into the house and said to her, `Be happy! God has blessed you more than other women. The Lord is with you!'

29) What the angel said troubled Mary. She wondered what this greeting meant.

30) The angel said to her, `Do not be afraid, Mary. God has blessed you.

31) You will have a baby son. Name him Jesus.

32) He will be a great man. He will be called the Son of the Highest One [a name for God]. The Lord God will make him king where his father David was king.

33) He will be king over the people of Israel for ever. He will never stop being king.'

34) Then Mary said to the angel, `How can this happen? I have no husband.'

35) The angel answered, `The Holy Spirit will come to you. The power of the Highest One will be over you. That is why the holy child who is to be born will be called the Son of God.

36) `Your cousin Elizabeth is also going to have a baby son, though she is an old woman. This is the sixth month for her. She is one whom people said would not have a baby.

37) But God can do anything.'

38) Mary said, `I am the Lord's servant. Let it be as you have said.' Then the angel left her.

Mary visits Elizabeth

39) At that time, Mary got ready and went as quickly as she could to the hill country. She went to a town in Judah.

40) She went into the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

41) When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby in her moved. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

42) She said in a loud voice, `God has made you happy and blessed you more than all other women. He has blessed your baby.

43) Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44) Listen! When I heard your greeting, the baby inside me moved because he was glad.

45) She who has believed what was told her is blessed. What the Lord said to her will come true.'

Mary's song of praise

46) Mary said, `My heart is praising the Lord.

47) And my spirit is happy because God has saved me.

48) He has remembered his servant even though she is not a great person. From now on all people of all times will say God has blessed me.

49) He who has all power has done a big work for me. His name is holy.

50) `He is kind to people of all times who respect him.

51) He has shown how strong he is with his arm. He has taken away people who were proud in their hearts.

52) He has moved big rulers from power, and those that were not great he has made great.

53) He has given hungry people good things to eat, and sent away the rich people with nothing.

54) He has helped his servant Israel.

55) He has remembered to be kind just as he said to our fathers of long ago. He promised to be kind to Abraham and his children's children for ever.'

56) Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Then she went home.

John is born

57) The time had now come for Elizabeth's child to be born. She had a son.

58) When her neighbours and family heard that the Lord had been so kind to her, they were glad, too.

59) On the eighth day people came to circumcise [make a special mark on] the child. They were going to name him Zechariah like his father.

60) But his mother said, `No, his name is to be John.'

61) They said to her, `But no one in your family has that name.'

62) They made signs to the father to find out what name he wanted the child to have.

63) He asked for something to write on. He wrote, `His name is John.' They were all surprised.

64) Right then he opened his mouth and his tongue was free. He began to speak and to praise God.

65) Everyone who lived around there began to wonder at these things. And everywhere in the hill country of Judea, all these things were talked about.

66) All those who heard them thought much about them. They said, `What will this child be some day?' They said this because the power of the Lord was with him.

Zechariah praises God

67) Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke words from God.

68) He said, `Praise the Lord God of Israel! He has remembered his people, and set them free.

69) He has chosen one from the family of his servant David. He has given him power to save us.

70) That is what he promised through his holy prophets of God long ago.

71) He said he would save us from our enemies and set us free from those who hate us.

72) `He said he would be kind to our fathers. He said he would remember his agreement with them.

73-75) `That was what he promised our father Abraham he would surely do. He promised to set us free from our enemies. He promised that we should be without fear. He promised that we would worship him and be holy and good before him as long as we live.

76) `You, my child, will be called the prophet or messenger of the Highest One. You will go ahead of the Lord to make his way ready.

77) You will tell his people how to be saved by being forgiven for their wrong ways.

78) `Our God is kind. A light from heaven will shine.

79) That light will shine on those who are in darkness, and are going to die. That light will show us how to walk in peace.'

80) The child grew. He became strong in spirit. He lived in the desert until the day when he came to the people of Israel.

summary of Luke's gospel, chapter 2

The birth of Jesus Christ

1)About that time, Augustus the Roman ruler made a law. All the people in the world must have their names written down in a book.

2) This was the first time names were written in a book in this way. Quirinius was the ruler of Syria at that time.

3) Everyone went to his home town to have his name written in the book.

4) Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea. This was David's town, and Joseph came from David's family line.

5) He went to have his name written in the book. Joseph took Mary with him. She was promised to Joseph to be his wife. She was going to have a baby.

6) While they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.

7) This was her first child, a son. She wrapped him in a cloth and laid him in a box where cows feed. There was no room for them in the house for strangers.

The angels bring the good news

8) In the same part of the country, men were taking care of sheep. They were in the field watching their sheep at night.

9) An angel of the Lord came to them and a bright light from the Lord shone all around them. They were very much afraid.

10) The angel said to them, `Fear not! Listen, I bring you good news! This news will make you very glad. It is for all people.

11) A saviour has been born for you today in David's town. He is Christ the Lord.

12) This is the way you will know him. You will find a baby wrapped in a cloth, lying in a box where cows feed.'

13) All at once a great number of angels from heaven were with the angel. They were praising God.

14) They said, `Praise God in the highest heaven! Peace on earth and loving mercy towards all people!'

15) The angels left them and went back to heaven. The men who were taking care of the sheep said to one another `Let us go to Bethlehem and see what has happened. It is the Lord who has told us about it.'

16) They went quickly. They found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the box where cows feed.

17) When they saw the child, they told what the angel had said to them about him.

18) All those who heard them were surprised at what the shepherds had told them.

19) Mary remembered all these things and kept thinking about them.

20) Then the men who were taking care of the sheep went back. They praised and thanked God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as they had been told it would be.

The circumcision of Jesus

21) When the child was eight days old, it was time to circumcise him. They named him Jesus. That was the name the angel gave him before the baby began to grow inside Mary.

Jesus is brought to the Lord in the temple

22) The time came when Mary was no longer unclean by the law of Moses. Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to bring him to the Lord.

23) This is what is written in the law of the Lord: `Every boy who is the first child of his mother will be holy for the Lord.'

24) They also came to make a sacrifice as an offering to God. The law of the Lord said, `A pair of doves or two young pigeons.'

25) A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was a good man and he loved God. He was watching and waiting for the one who would save Israel. The Holy Spirit was on him.

26) The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.

27) He came into the temple, led by the Spirit. The parents brought in the child Jesus to do what the law said they should do about him.

28) Then Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God.

29) He said, `Lord, now you are letting your servant go in peace, just as you said.

30) I have seen with my own eyes the one you have sent to save people.

31) You have made this way for all peoples to be saved.

32) He is a light which will shine for those who do not know God. He is the one who will bring praise to your people Israel.'

33) Joseph and Mary were surprised at the things Simeon said about Jesus.

34) Simeon blessed them. He said to Mary, the mother of Jesus, `He will be a sign that people do not believe in. He will make many people in Israel fall and rise.

35) (Yes, a long knife will cut your heart too.) What people think will be made known.'

36) Anna, a woman prophet of God, was there too. Her father's name was Phanuel. She was of the tribe of Asher. She was very old. She had been married and lived with her husband for seven years.

37) Then her husband died. Now she had been alone for eighty-four years. She did not leave the temple, but worshipped day and night. She talked with God and fasted [did not eat food for a time].

38) While Simeon was talking to Mary, Anna also came along and thanked God. She talked about Jesus to all the people who were waiting for the one who would set Jerusalem free.

Going back to Nazareth

39) The parents did everything that the law of the Lord said they should do. Then they went back to Galilee to their own town, Nazareth.

 

Go to Christmas story as told by Matthew

Return to Christmas - How did it start?

It is interesting to see how different countries celebrate Christmas. We asked some of our friends to explain what happens in their countries. This is what they told us:

Belgium

On 6th December Sinterklaas or Saint-Nicholas is celebrated, which is an entirely different holiday from Christmas. Santa Claus in Belgium is called de Kerstman or le Père Noël and he does come around on Christmas day to bring children presents. There are different cultures in Belgium, the Northern part being Vlaanderen (speaking a Dutch dialect), the Southern part being Wallonie (speaking a French dialect) and the Eastern part speaking German.

Small family presents are given at Christmas too, under the tree, or in stockings near the fire-place, to be found in the morning. Christmas breakfast is a special sweet bread called 'cougnou' or 'cougnolle' - the shape is supposed to be like baby Jesus. Some families will have another big meal on Christmas day.

Brazil

Father Christmas is called Papai Noel. Many Christmas customs are similar to USA or UK. For those who have enough money, a special Christmas meal will be chicken, turkey, ham, rice, salad, pork, fresh and dried fruits, often with beer. Poorer people will have chicken, rice and beans and will also drink beer and coke. For dessert people enjoy some Brazilian sweets Brigadeiro made of condensed milk and chocolate. Both rich and poor have Christmas trees. A poor person's Christmas tree is made of plastic or is just a dry tree branch. As we don't have snow in Brazil, poor people put cotton over their Christmas tree branch to simulate snow. Christmas time varies a lot from south to north region.

Finland

Finnish people believe that Father Christmas (Santa Claus) lives in the north part of Finland called Korvatunturi, north of the Arctic Circle. People from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland. (It is only fair to say that the people of Greenland say that really, Father Christmas lives in Greenland!) There is a even big tourist theme park called 'Christmas Land' in the north of Finland, near to where they say that Father Christmas lives.E veryone cleans their houses ready for the three holy days of Christmas - Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Christmas Eve is very special, when people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup made from dried fruits (plums, raisins, apples, pears, apricots and figs). It´s eaten in the morning or at lunchtime. They will then decorate a spruce tree in the home. At midday, the 'Christmas peace declaration' is broadcast on radio and TV from the Finnish city of Turku by its Mayor.

In the evening, a traditional Christmas dinner is eaten. The meal will include casseroles containing liver, rutabaga, carrot and potato, with cooked ham or turkey. Some families eat liver pate. Rawpickled slightly salted salmon, herrings and salad called rosolli. Mushroom salad is also common. Rosolli is cold salad made from peeled, cooked and diced potatoes, carrots, beetroot and diced apples, onions and pickled cucumber. Season with salt (some people use also pepper). Whipped cream (+ salt, vinegar and beetroot colour to make it pink) is served with rosolli. Food traditions during the Christmas period depend on which part of Finland people live.

In Lapland and in Finland's islands there are different foods. Other foods include cooked peas, different kind on salads, roe, cold fish-dishes, pates, other casseroles such as beetroot casserole with cheese or with blue cheese, sweet and spiced breads, carelian pies, and cheeses. Gingerbreads, spiced cakes, different kind of cakes and cookies and others to eat with coffee or milk. You eat these at "day-coffee" time on the Christmas eve (after the Christmas peace declaration which everybody watches on TV, or before going to the church and graveyard), in the evening.

Christmas smells include mulled wine, gingerbreads, spices - cinnamon being the most common - Christmas tree, burning candles and hyacinthe. Poinsettia and hyacinths are the most popular Christmas flowers. On Christmas eve many go to church, on the afternoon or late afternoon (time depends of local churches) - this is new tradition.

The real and old Christmas church service is early on the morning of Christmas day. Many go there too. Graveyards are very beautiful places on the Christmas eve, since there are lot of soft white snow and the only lights come from candles people bring to the graves of loved ones. If relatives are buried in other graveyards, there are places in graveyard you can lit your candle to remember them. Many families will visit cemeteries and graveyards to place a candle onto the burial graves of family members. Cemeteries are very beautiful at Christmas-time.

Having a sauna of course is part of celebration. People go there before church and graves, or after them.

After sauna is the festive dinner. The high moment! After that comes Santa Claus (if there are children) or the presents that are under the Christmas tree are opened. In some families where there are no small kids, the presents are not put under the tree, but collected to big sacks, which are carried near the front door. Then a family member might say, "Did I heard sound of reindeers and bells …" or "Did I hear Santa Claus." When they go to check, there are big sacks full of presents there. So it was Santa after all! Then people drink coffee and eat cakes, cookies and other sweet things. Enjoy present and play games. Small kids go to bed but others stay up late.

Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve, usually with a family member dressing as Father Christmas. As children grow older, they come to realise that 'Father Christmas' is really a bigger brother, sister or family member.

France

In France, Christmas is always called 'Noël. Everyone has a Christmas tree, sometimes decorated in the old way with red ribbons and real white wax candles. Fir trees in the garden are often decorated too, with lights on all night.

Father Christmas is called Père Noël. The Christmas meal is an important family gathering with good meat and the best wine. Few people send Christmas cards. More people send New Year cards to wish everyone good luck and joy for the New Year. These days Christmas lunch is a starter of fois gras (a strong tasting pate made from goose liver) followed by lunch of seafood - usually including lobster and oysters. Decorations in houses are minimal but British traditions are catching on here and all the big shops and town centres have Christmas decorations including trees.

Germany

Germans love to decorate their houses at Christmas. Many houses will have little wooden frames holding electric candles in their windows, and coloured pictures of paper or plastic which look beautiful from the outside at night. Often too, they will have an 'Adventskranz' - a wreath of leaves with four candles. (Advent - meaning 'coming' - is the 4 week period before Christmas). On each Sunday of Advent, another candle is lit. Most homes will also have little wooden 'cribs' - a small model of the stable where Jesus was born, with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and animals.

Father Christmas - Der Weihnachtsmann - brings presents in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve (December 24th), after people have been to a church meeting. The presents are then found under the Christmas tree. One person in the family will ring a bell and call everyone to come to the room. On Christmas Day, fish (carp) or goose will be cooked.

Hungary

Susanna Denes contributed the following:

Santa Claus ('winter-grandfather, Tel-apo or Mikulas) comes on the 6th of December. Children should clean and put their shoes outside next to the door or window before they go to sleep. Next day candies and/or small toys appear in them in red bags. For children, who don't behave well, a golden birch placed next to the sweets, a symbol for spanking... (but don't worry, it is just for fun, and not for actual punishment.)

On 24th of December, children go to their relative or to the movies, because little Jesus brings the tree and the presents that evening to their house. It is customary to hang edible things on the tree, like golden wrapped assorted chocolates and meringues beside the glass balls, candles (real or electrical), and sparklers.

Families usually cook festive dinner for that night. An example would be fresh fish usually with rice or potatoes and home made pastries as dessert. After dinner, the tree would be viewed by the children for the first time. It was very exciting. Christmas songs are sung and then the gifts under the tree are shared.

Older children attend the midnight mass with their parents. (During communism, children had to hide at the back of the church. Teachers could have lost their jobs for attending the mass. Later (in mid 1970's) most of the Communist Party leaders of the town attended it too.) Next day the children attack the edible part of the tree. Festive food is enjoyed on the second and third day too.

Latvia

Latvians believe that Father Christmas brings presents on each of the 12 days of Christmas starting on Christmas Eve. Usually the presents are put under the family Christmas tree. (What a good idea to spread Christmas out longer!) It was in Latvia that the first Christmas tree was decorated. The special Latvian Christmas Day meal is cooked brown peas with bacon (pork) sauce, small pies, cabbage and sausage.

New Zealand

Lou writes:

Christmas starts for us with gifts under the tree, to be opened Christmas morning. Then its onto a Christmas lunch either at home or at one's parents place. Turkey or chicken with all the trimmings is eaten, then come tea time, it is a Bar-B-Q for friends and family to get together,and have a few beers or wines with the meal!!

Portugal

People adhere to the tradition that Father Christmas brings presents to children on Christmas Eve. The presents are left under the Christmas tree or in shoes by the fireplace. A special Christmas meal of salted dry cod-fish with boiled potatoes is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve.

Romania

On the 6th December St Nicholas comes and puts small gifts in children shoes that have been polished and placed near the windows and if children have been naughty they get a little stick.

Usually people in the country side grow their own pigs which are sacrificed for Christmas on the 20th of December, and the meat is cooked in different ways for the Christmas meal, like home made smoked/unsmoked sausages. Each part of the pig is used in different ways to make different dishes. Mince is made and together with rice, onions and spices is used for the stuffed cabbage or vine leaves, which are called 'sarmale'. So pig is traditional for Christmas meal.

On Christmas Eve usually children go around houses and sing carols and get fruit, sweets or money in exchange. On Christmas Day everyone has a big family meal and visit relatives. In the country side people dress as bears and goats and go and sing special traditional songs at each house in the village.

People from Transylvania serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve, and next day for lunch. Most likely the reason for that custom is that stuffed cabbage is the best on the second and third day after it was cooked. Moms can prepare the food a day earlier, leaving more time for decorating and organizing. Very practical.

On 25th December, the whole family used to attend church and ate stuffed cabbage for lunch.

Russia

In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was the important time - when 'Father Frost' brought presents to children. With the fall of Communism, Christmas can be openly celebrated - either on December 25th; or more often on January 7th. This unusual date is because the Russian Orthodox church uses the old 'Julian' calendar for religious celebration days. Special Christmas food includes cakes, pies and 'meat dumplings'.

Sweden

The most important day is Christmas Eve. A special Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve - ham (pork), herring fish, and brown beans - and this is the time when families give presents to each other. Many people attend a church meeting early on Christmas Day.

United States

The USA is so multi-cultural that you will find many different ways of celebrating Christmas.

One friends writes about Christmas meals,

"Our family (Eastern European origin) favor turkey with trimmings. My grandparents and their relatives preferred keilbasi (Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups. My husband's Italian family insisted on lasagna!"

Another friend wrote:

All year long children are told to behave, or they will get coal in their stocking. On Christmas Eve, they hang highly stylized stockings on the mantle of the fireplace, then go to bed early so that they will find presents in the morning. They are told that at midnight Santa will come, bringing a huge bag of toys. He will come down through the chimney, leave candy in the stockings and presents under the Christmas tree (anything from a Pine or Fir to a Spruce), then 'plug one nostril' and shoot up through the chimney. (This comes from the story " A Visit From St. Nicholas," where St. Nick laid a finger "aside of his nose." He wasn't plugging up his nose - he was making a sign for secrecy.) Cookies are traditionally left for him, and a carrot is commonly left for Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer, very much a part of Christmas tradition (Santa will land on the roof with his sleigh and nine reindeer). On Christmas morning, things such as cinnamon rolls or coffee cake are served for breakfast, and for dinner there is typically ham (and occasionally regal plum pudding). That is it for celebration — Boxing Day is never celebrated, Epiphany is only celebrated by Catholics, and Advent not commonly celebrated.

Another American reader wrote in with the following:

Advent is celebrated in almost all Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. I was Roman Catholic until I was 15, as were my grandparents, and we always followed the four weeks of preparation before Christmas in our church services. I found the same to be true in my father's Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, my friend is United Methodist Church, my in-laws are Presbyterian USA congregations, and for myself, as a member and pastor of the United Church of Christ for the last 16 years. We also recognize Epiphany in mainline Protestant churches. On the first Sunday following January 6, our service tells again the story of the Magi who came to Jesus presenting their gifts following his birth. As a child, I fondly remember leaving carrots and sugar for all of the reindeer, along the milk and cookies for Santa!

In many countries of the world, the celebration of Christmas on December 25th is a high point of the year. But why? Can it have any real meaning for us today? Is there a 'real' Christmas message?

Christmas celebrations in the West today

 From November onwards, it is impossible to forget that Christmas is coming. Coloured lights decorate many town centres and shops, along with shiny decorations, and artificial snow painted on shop windows.

In streets and shops, 'Christmas trees' (real or plastic evergreen 'conifer' trees) will also be decorated with lights and Christmas ornaments.

Shopping centres become busier as December approaches and often stay open till late.Shopping centre speaker systems systems will play Christmas 'carols' - the traditional Christmas Christian songs, and groups of people will often sing carols on the streets to raise money for charity. Most places of work will hold a short Christmas party about a week before Christmas. Although traditional Christmas foods may be eaten, drink (and plenty of it) means that little work will be done after the party!

By mid-December, most homes will also be decorated with Christmas trees, coloured lights and paper or plastic decorations around the rooms. These days, many more people also decorate garden trees or house walls with coloured electric lights, a habit which has long been popular in USA.

Christmas trees

In many countries, most people post Christmas greeting cards to their friends and family, and these cards will be hung on the walls of their homes. In UK this year, the British Post Office expects to handle over 100 million cards EACH DAY, in the three weeks before Christmas.

Christmas cards

The custom of sending Christmas cards started in Britain in 1840 when the first 'Penny Post' public postal deliveries began. (Helped by the new railway system, the public postal service was the 19th century's communication revolution, just as email is for us today.) As printing methods improved, Christmas cards were produced in large numbers from about 1860. They became even more popular in Britain when a card could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one half-penny - half the price of an ordinary letter.

Traditionally, Christmas cards showed religious pictures - Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, or other parts of the Christmas story. Today, pictures are often jokes, winter pictures, Father Christmas, or romantic scenes of life in past times.

Father Christmas

'Father Christmas' (also known as Santa Claus, 'Saint Nicholas') has become the human face of Christmas. Pictures will be seen everywhere of the old man with long white beard, red coat, and bag of toys. Children are taught that he brings them presents the night before Christmas (or in some countries on December 6th - St. Nicholas' Day), and many children up to the age of 7 or 8 really believe this is true. In most countries, it is said that he lives near the North Pole, and arrives through the sky on a sledge (snow-cart) pulled by reindeer. He comes into houses down the chimney at midnight and places presents for the children in socks or bags by their beds or in front of the family Christmas tree.

In shops or at children's parties, someone will dress up as Father Christmas and give small presents to children, or ask them what gifts they want for Christmas. Christmas can be a time of magic and excitement for children.

Who was he?

Father Christmas is based on a real person, St. Nicholas, which explains his other name 'Santa Claus' which comes from the Dutch 'Sinterklaas'. Nicholas was a Christian leader from Myra (in modern-day Turkey) in the 4th century AD. He was very shy, and wanted to give money to poor people without them knowing about it. It is said that one day, he climbed the roof of a house and dropped a purse of money down the chimney. It landed in the stocking which a girl had put to dry by the fire! This may explain the belief that Father Christmas comes down the chimney and places gifts in children's stockings.

Boxing day

In English-speaking countries, the day following Christmas Day is called 'Boxing Day'. This word comes from the custom which started in the Middle Ages around 800 years ago: churches would open their 'alms boxe' (boxes in which people had placed gifts of money) and distribute the contents to poor people in the neighbourhood on the day after Christmas. The tradition continues today - small gifts are often given to delivery workers such as postal staff and children who deliver newspapers.

Making sense of Christmas

Today in the West, not many people consider the religious meaning to Christmas. Most people in UK or Europe will not go to a religious church meeting, even at Christmas. It has become a busy race to spend money on presents, and get ready for the Day. In UK, our shops stay open till late Christmas Eve and often open again on Boxing Day with the cut-price 'sales'. (Not much holiday for the poor shop workers!) A visitor from another world would think that Christmas was a festival to the gods of money and shopping.

What do you want from Christmas?

Many people do hope for more than presents at Christmas. We want to somehow return to a time in our childhood (or some other good time in the past), when life was simpler and made more sense, before the troubles of adult life arrived. We feel sure that behind all the fun and decorations, there must somehow be a message, something more, some key to life, hope and happiness.

So can we look beyond the way Christmas is celebrated today, and find any real meaning, any message for our lives today?

How did the story end? or did it?

How did Christmas start?

Since about 400 AD, Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus. 'Christ' means 'Messiah' or 'Anointed One' - the title given to Jesus - and 'Mass' was a religious festival.

In the West today, the real meaning of Christmas is often forgotten by those who celebrate the festival. It has become a non-religious holiday! More children believe in Father Christmas than in Jesus. Christmas Day is a time for eating and drinking too much, for partying and watching television, for spending lots of money and giving expensive gifts. Many people get into debt at Christmas.

The real Christmas story is found in the Christian Bible. It is told in two different books: Matthew and Luke chapters 1 and 2. If you have no Bible, you can read these chapters online. You may think that the story of the birth of Jesus, and the way that the West celebrates Christmas today, do not seem to have many connections. These chapters tell how Jesus was born as a baby to Mary. This was no ordinary birth! She was not married, she was a virgin, (yes, really!) and an angel had told her she would bear a special baby. Her husband-to-be, Joseph, did not believe her at first. Who would? Then an angel told him in a dream that it was true! Probably no one else believed it. So when they had to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem (near Jerusalem), to register their names with the ruling Roman government, they probably escaped many hard words from other people.

Nativity

Arrival in Bethlehem brought worry and upset: there was no room for them to stay at the hotel. There was only space in the stable - the animal house for travellers' donkeys and horses. Jesus was born that night, and as they had no bed for him, they used an animal feeding box filled with the dry grass the animals ate.

Christmas cards and pictures today make it all seem very pretty. In truth, it must have been dirty and frightening for a young couple, far from their home and families. Possibly the birth was premature after the stress of the journey. This was a very poor place for Jesus to start his life on earth.

God's plan?

Christians believe that it was exactly God's plan that things happened this way. They say that it shows that Jesus came as a humble, poor person and not as a strong, rich king. They also claim that the birth of Jesus was told many years before in the books of the prophets.

Five hundred years before, the prophet Micah had said, "But you Bethlehem, though you are small, out of you will come for me, one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

The prophet Isaiah had written, "A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, "Wonderful Counsellor," "Mighty God," "Eternal Father," "Prince of Peace." His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace … He will rule as King David's successor, basing his power on right and justice, from now until the end of time."

These are only two of many prophetic words that told of the birth and life of Jesus, written hundreds of years before His birth.

The shepherds are frightened

At that time, sheep farmers were seen by other people as low and of no value. Yet it was to these shepherds that the birth of Jesus was first announced in an amazing dramatic way:

"That night there were some men looking after sheep in the fields nearby. Suddenly they saw a great light. It was an angel, who said,
 'Don't be afraid. I have good news for you, and for all people. Someone great has been born today. He is Christ, the great King you have been waiting for. He will save you from all that is wrong and evil. You will find him dressed in baby clothes, lying on a bed of dry grass.'"

The story of the wise men

After Jesus was born, wise men came to look for Him, from an area which is now in either Iran or Saudi Arabia. Although they are often called the "Three Kings", the Bible does not say how many there were, or that they were kings. Three is only a guess because they brought with them three gifts Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

Three wise men

They were certainly men of learning - probably today we would call them philosophers or scientists. They had seen an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special king. (The star they saw was probably a exploding "supernova" and is known from astronomical records.) They followed the direction of the star and eventually found the place where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying. To bring honour to the child, they brought rich gifts: gold, frankincense (a resin which burns with a beautiful smell), and myrrh (plant oil with a very strong sweet smell). These gifts tell us in pictures three key things about Jesus:

 Gold: a gift fit for a King

 Frankincense: burnt in worship of God

 Myrrh: a sign of mortal humanity (human-ness) - it was used to bury the dead

Jesus a refugee

Herod, the evil king of the area, heard about the child, saw Him as a threat, and sent soldiers to kill Jesus. But God told Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the baby and escape to Egypt. They lived there till King Herod died and then went back to live in Nazareth. We read nothing more about the life of Jesus, except for one story when he was 12, until He reached 30. By the way - note one important thing: Jesus was not a white European, and Christianity is not a Western religion. Christmas cards from different countries often show Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the landscape of that country, and with the racial appearance of that nationality, be it black African, Indian, or Japanese. This is good and right - Jesus came to identify with every racial group. He is "Everyman" for us all.

The end of the story?

Jesus was indeed "the man born to die". But that was not the end of the story. It is still going on, and you can be part of the story, if you wish.

No other person has had such an effect on human lives as Jesus. He came back to life again, and millions say they know Him today as a friend and helper in their lives. You owe it to yourself to find out more about Him. Is He who He claimed to be? Can He help us in our lives today? You have nothing to lose! Christmas is the time to stop and think about these important questions.

Finding help in our lives

Can God really meet our needs today?

In many countries of the world, the celebration of Christmas on December 25th is a high point of the year. But why? Can it have any real meaning for us today? Is there a 'real' Christmas message?

Christmas celebrations in the West today

From November onwards, it is impossible to forget that Christmas is coming. Coloured lights decorate many town centres and shops, along with shiny decorations, and artificial snow painted on shop windows.

In streets and shops, 'Christmas trees' (real or plastic evergreen 'conifer' trees) will also be decorated with lights and Christmas ornaments.

Shopping centres become busier as December approaches and often stay open till late.Shopping centre speaker systems systems will play Christmas 'carols' - the traditional Christmas Christian songs, and groups of people will often sing carols on the streets to raise money for charity. Most places of work will hold a short Christmas party about a week before Christmas. Although traditional Christmas foods may be eaten, drink (and plenty of it) means that little work will be done after the party!
By mid-December, most homes will also be decorated with Christmas trees, coloured lights and paper or plastic decorations around the rooms. These days, many more people also decorate garden trees or house walls with coloured electric lights, a habit which has long been popular in USA.

In many countries, most people post Christmas greeting cards to their friends and family, and these cards will be hung on the walls of their homes. In UK this year, the British Post Office expects to handle over 100 million cards EACH DAY, in the three weeks before Christmas.

Christmas cards

The custom of sending Christmas cards started in Britain in 1840 when the first 'Penny Post' public postal deliveries began. (Helped by the new railway system, the public postal service was the 19th century's communication revolution, just as email is for us today.) As printing methods improved, Christmas cards were produced in large numbers from about 1860. They became even more popular in Britain when a card could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one half-penny - half the price of an ordinary letter.

Traditionally, Christmas cards showed religious pictures - Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, or other parts of the Christmas story. Today, pictures are often jokes, winter pictures, Father Christmas, or romantic scenes of life in past times.

The old man with the sack 'Father Christmas' (or 'Santa Claus') has become the human face of Christmas. Pictures will be seen everywhere of the old man with long white beard, red coat, and bag of toys. Children are taught that he brings them presents the night before Christmas (or in some countries on 6th December - St.Nicholas Day), and many children up to the age of 7 or 8 really believe this is true. In most countries, it is said that he lives near the North Pole, and arrives through the sky on a sledge (snow-cart) pulled by reindeer. He comes into houses down the chimney at midnight and places presents for the children in socks or bags by their beds or in front of the family Christmas tree.

In shops or at children's parties, someone will dress up as Father Christmas and give small presents to children, or ask them what gifts they want for Christmas. Christmas can be a time of magic and excitement for children.

Who was he?

Father Christmas is based on a real person, St. Nicholas, which explains his other name 'Santa Claus' which comes from the Dutch 'Sinterklaas'. Nicholas was a Christian leader from Myra (in modern-day Turkey) in the 4th century AD. He was very shy, and wanted to give money to poor people without them knowing about it. It is said that one day, he climbed the roof of a house and dropped a purse of money down the chimney. It landed in the stocking which a girl had put to dry by the fire! This may explain the belief that Father Christmas comes down the chimney and places gifts in children's stockings.

Boxing Day

In English-speaking countries, the day following Christmas Day is called 'Boxing Day'. This word comes from the custom which started in the Middle Ages around 800 years ago: churches would open their 'alms boxe' (boxes in which people had placed gifts of money) and distribute the contents to poor people in the neighbourhood on the day after Christmas. The tradition continues today - small gifts are often given to delivery workers such as postal staff and children who deliver newspapers.

Making sense of Christmas

Today in the West, not many people consider the religious meaning to Christmas. Most people in UK or Europe will not go to a religious church meeting, even at Christmas. It has become a busy race to spend money on presents, and get ready for the Day. In UK, our shops stay open till late Christmas Eve and often open again on Boxing Day with the cut-price 'sales'. (Not much holiday for the poor shop workers!) A visitor from another world would think that Christmas was a festival to the gods of money and shopping.

What do you want from Christmas?

Many people do hope for more than presents at Christmas. We want to somehow return to a time in our childhood (or some other good time in the past), when life was simpler and made more sense, before the troubles of adult life arrived. We feel sure that behind all the fun and decorations, there must somehow be a message, something more, some key to life, hope and happiness.

So can we look beyond the way Christmas is celebrated today, and find any real meaning, any message for our lives today?

How did Christmas start?

Since about 400 AD, Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus. 'Christ' means 'Messiah' or 'Anointed One' - the title given to Jesus - and 'Mass' was a religious festival.

In the West today, the real meaning of Christmas is often forgotten. It has become a non-religious holiday! More children believe in Father Christmas than in Jesus. Christmas Day is a time for eating and drinking too much and watching television.

But the real Christmas story is found in the Christian Bible. It is told in two different books: Matthew and Luke chapters 1 and 2. If you have no Bible, you can read these chapters online. You may think that the story of the birth of Jesus, and the way that the West celebrates Christmas today, do not seem to have many connections.

Mary says 'yes'

These chapters tell how Jesus was born as a baby to Mary. This was no ordinary birth! She was not married, she was a virgin, (yes, really!) and an angel had told her she would bear a special baby. Her husband-to-be, Joseph, did not believe her at first. Who would? Then an angel told him in a dream that it was true! Probably no one else believed it. So when they had to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem (near Jerusalem), to register their names with the ruling Roman government, they probably escaped many hard words from other people.

Arrival in Bethlehem brought worry and upset: there was no room for them to stay at the hotel. There was only space in the stable - the animal house for travellers' donkeys and horses.

Jesus was born that night, and as they had no bed for him, they used an animal feeding box filled with the dry grass the animals ate.Christmas cards and pictures today make it all seem very nice. In truth, it must have been dirty and frightening for a young couple, far from their home and families. Possibly the birth was premature after the stress of the journey. This was a very poor place for Jesus to start his life on earth.

God's plan?

Christians believe that it was exactly God's plan that things happened this way. They say that it shows that Jesus came as a humble, poor person and not as a strong, rich king. They also claim that the birth of Jesus was told many years before in the books of the prophets.

Five hundred years before, the prophet Micah had said,

"But you Bethlehem, though you are small, out of you will come for me, one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

The prophet Isaiah had written,

"A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler.

He will be called, "Wonderful Counsellor," "Mighty God," "Eternal Father," "Prince of Peace." His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace....

He will rule as King David's successor, basing his power on right and justice, from now until the end of time."

These are only two of many prophetic words that told of the birth and life of Jesus, written hundreds of years before His birth.

The shepherds are frightened

copyright New Tribes At that time, sheep farmers were seen by other people as low and of no value. Yet it was to these shepherds that the birth of Jesus was first announced in an amazing dramatic way:"That night there were some men looking after sheep in the fields nearby. Suddenly they saw a great light. It was an angel, who said,

'Don't be afraid. I have good news for you, and for all people. Someone great has been born today. He is Christ, the great King you have been waiting for. He will save you from all that is wrong and evil. You will find him dressed in baby clothes, lying on a bed of dry grass.'"

The story of the Wise Men

After Jesus was born, wise men came to look for Him, from an area which is now in either Iran or Saudi Arabia. Although they are often called the "Three Kings", the Bible does not say how many there were, or that they were kings. Three is only a guess because they brought with them three gifts.

Gold, frankincense and myrrh

They were certainly men of learning - probably today we would call them philosophers or scientists. They had seen an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special king. (The star they saw was probably a exploding "supernova" and is known from astronomical records.) They followed the direction of the star and eventually found the place where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying. To bring honour to the child, they brought rich gifts: gold, frankincense (a resin which burns with a beautiful smell), and myrrh (plant oil with a very strong sweet smell). These gifts tell us in pictures three key things about Jesus:

Gold: a gift fit for a King

Frankincense: burnt in worship of God

Myrrh: a sign of mortal humanity - it was used to bury the dead

Jesus a refugee

Herod, the evil king of the area, heard about the child, saw Him as a threat, and sent soldiers to kill Jesus. But God told Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the baby and escape to Egypt. They lived there till King Herod died and then went back to live in Nazareth. We read nothing more about the life of Jesus, except for one story when he was 12, until He reached 30. By the way - note one important thing: Jesus was not a white European, and Christianity is not a Western religion. Christmas cards from different countries often show Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the landscape of that country, and with the racial appearance of that nationality, be it black African, Indian, or Japanese. This is good and right - Jesus came to identify with every racial group. He is "Everyman" for us all.

The end of the story

Here is a newspaper cartoon printed some years ago, showing Father Christmas reading the Christmas story to a child. "But how did it end?" the child asks. Behind them, you can see the cross (execution pole) on which Jesus was killed at the age of 33 years.

Jesus was indeed "the man born to die". But that was not the end of the story. It is still going on, and you can be part of the story, if you wish.

with permission: courtesy The Guardian/Observer

No other person has had such an effect on human lives as Jesus. He came back to life again, and millions say they know Him today as a friend and helper in their lives. You owe it to yourself to find out more about Him. Is He who He claimed to be? Can He help us in our lives today? You have nothing to lose! Christmas is the time to stop and think about these important questions.

Christmas in Cyperspace

More on the real meaning of Christmas.

A top collection of stories, poems, classic literature, calendars, traditions and customs, music and carols, dramas, clipart and more.

Searching for the meaning of Christmas

Another very useful site with many links and lots of information on every part of Christmas. A large section on Christmas customs in many other countries.

RealAudio drama presentation - 'The 12 Voices of Christmas'

If you have a soundcard and RealAudio plug-in, you can listen to the Christmas story, and hear the voices of Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and the other people who saw the birth of Jesus. A great new way to look at the Christmas Story!

"Saint Nicholas: discovering the truth about Santa Claus

As an adult, we have already discovered the truth about Santa--but many children still wonder, with a world of questions. What do you tell them? The St. Nicholas Web site is designed to help. The St. Nicholas Center wants to help your children learn about the real "St Nicholas, lover of the poor and patron saint to children. Kids will enjoy games and fun--and the whole family will gain a deeper perspective on the real St. Nick!

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