An ancient Christmas carol you may have never heard

Most of us are familiar with Christmas carols like "Silent Night," "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," and "Once in Royal David's City." Though these hymns are old and venerable, they are rather new compared to others. The church has been writing hymns since its inception, and that includes hymns to commemorate the Lord's Nativity. Here is an example, chanted in Arabic by Nader Hajjar.I don't know exactly how old it is, but there's a reference at the end linking Christmas to Theophany (same … [Read more...]

How to read icons of the Nativity

The church has long used iconography to teach and proclaim the gospel. And the Icon of the Nativity, laden thick with theological symbolism and biblical references, can help us better understand and appreciate the mystery of the Incarnation.I have here two examples of the icon, with some explanation for the key imagery. The first is by Theophanes the Cretan, an iconographer who worked in the first half of the sixteenth century. The second is from the Russian Novgorod school of the late … [Read more...]

The real story of the Christmas angels

Luke tells us that on the night Jesus was born, shepherds near Bethlehem were watching their sheep. Suddenly, an angel appeared before them -- radiant, shockingly luminescent, and bright. Awash in the otherworldly light, the glory of God pooling around them, the shepherds were terrified. “Do not be afraid,” said the angel, “for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2. … [Read more...]

What a stomach bug taught me about Christmas

It started the the day before with Felicity puking. Then Fionn came down with it.After he threw up more than a dozen times, he woke up several more times with night terrors. And then Jonah joined in. Ah, yes. There's nothing quite like a stomach bug for the holidays.The next morning, while I was cleaning things up and getting ready for the day, Pandora played carols in the corner. "Silent Night" started. Don't mock me, I thought. It was not a silent night. All was not calm. And all was not … [Read more...]

St. Nick’s best gift

The memory of few saints is as cherished as that of St. Nicholas. Known as Nicholas the Wonderworker, he is remembered in the church on December 6 and closely associated with the Christmas season.While the legends around this humble bishop have swollen beyond recognition, the popular picture of the jolly fat man circling the globe dropping gifts to worthy children has some slender basis in fact.According to the tradition of the church, Nicholas was born at the end of the third century to … [Read more...]

Preparing our hearts for the birth of Christ

Today marks the start of the Nativity Fast in the Orthodox Church. Like Western Advent, it is a time leading up to Christmas for the faithful prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.The period of fasting and preparation mirrors the fast before Easter, or Pascha as we usually call it. Also forty days, from the November 15 to December 25, it is like a little Lent. And not without reason. Christmas and Easter are intertwined. The feasts show the symmetry of God's providence, that the birth … [Read more...]

Merry Christmas! In March?

Today is March 25. Merry Christmas!Well, sort of. Let me explain. There is a widespread belief -- or maybe a suspicion -- that Christmas is little more than a baptized version of a pagan winter solstice celebration. The idea is that the church "christianized" the celebration so recently converted pagans would celebrate Jesus instead of Saturn or Sol or what have you. … [Read more...]