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Holiday Almanac: Christmas dawns, celebrating Jesus’ birth

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Nativity scene in stained glass at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Church, Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

Nativity scene in stained glass at Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Church, Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

Christians worldwide celebrate today as Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, whom they worship as the Son of God. The founding events are set in Israel of 20 centuries ago.

As told in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, a Jewish couple named Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a Roman census. Rebuffed from every inn in the crowded village, they settled in a stable, where Jesus was born.

In nearby fields, angels announced the birth to shepherds, who rushed to the stable to worship the child. And from the East, magi or wise men followed a special star to Jesus’ home and offered gifts of gold, incense and rare spice.
Roman Catholic churches began Christmas with Midnight Mass; Eastern Orthodox churches hold Divine Liturgy. Protestant Churches often celebrate with carols and special cantatas.

Church youths like to stage “Living Nativity” scenes, recreating the first Christmas — a custom said to have been founded by St. Francis of Assisi. A few churches unpack high-tech gear or rent civic auditoriums for elaborately staged pageants.

Christmas traditionally was from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6 — the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in the carol of the same name. That tradition still thrives among Latin Americans, who will celebrate Jan. 6 as Three Kings Day, when they believe the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem.

— James Davis

Written by Jim Davis

December 25, 2014 at 9:00 am

Holiday Almanac: Good Friday mourns death of Jesus

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Bas-relief in Angelina's sanctuary, Santa Catarina, Brazil, By Ezequiel Gruber on SXC

Bas-relief in Angelina’s sanctuary, Santa Catarina, Brazil, By Ezequiel Gruber on SXC

Christians today mourn the death of Jesus Christ as Good Friday. Despite his agonizing death on a cross, the holiday is called “Good” because Christians believe Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for all humanity’s sins. ‘‘The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” the New Testament calls him.

In Catholic churches, the traditional Good Friday service includes the Stations of the Cross, a series of meditations based on the 14 recorded events between Jesus’ condemnation in a Roman court and his burial. The Stations are represented with plaques or bas-reliefs around the church auditorium.

Catholics also hold a ‘‘veneration of the cross” ceremony, during which churchgoers approach the altar to kiss the feet of a statue of the crucified Jesus.

Sometimes observed by ecumenical Protestants is Tre Ore, a three-hour service examining each of the ‘‘Seven Last Words” Jesus uttered from the cross. The service is useful for having seven or more ministers take part.

Another type of service is Tenebrae, in which a church is slowly darkened to illustrate Jesus’ death, then relighted to show his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

— James D. Davis

 

Written by Jim Davis

April 18, 2014 at 8:30 am

Holiday Almanac: Palm Sunday

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Photo: Diane Groves via sxc.hu

Palm Sunday today starts Holy Week, the most solemn yet joyous time on the church calendar. The day takes its name from an impromptu welcome given Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on the last week before his crucifixion.

According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey, with people paving the street before him with coats and palm fronds. That week he preached in the Temple and celebrated Passover with his disciples. Their observance of the Seder, the ritual meal of Passover, has become known in churches as the Last Supper.

Churches commonly celebrate Palm Sunday with special musical programs and Easter pageants. They often pass out palm leaves, sometimes tied into the shape of a cross. In Catholic and some Episcopal churches, extra palm leaves are burned and the ashes saved for Ash Wednesday the following year.

Holy Week ends with Maundy Thursday, commemorating the birth of the Holy Communion ritual; Good Friday, mourning Jesus’ death; and Easter Sunday, celebrating his Resurrection.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

April 13, 2014 at 5:25 am

Holiday Almanac: Purim, Jewish victory over arch-enemy

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Jews worldwide celebrate Purim today. The joyous Jewish Festival of Lots celebrates their deliverance from a would-be mass murderer 2,500 years ago.

Pastries like this one, called hamantaschen, are common treats for Purim. (Photo: eran chesnutt via sxc.hu)

Pastries like this one, called hamantaschen, are common treats for Purim. (Photo: eran chesnutt via sxc.hu)

The story, told in the biblical book of Esther, takes place in Persia, where many of the Jews were living in exile. There Esther, a Jewish woman, won a beauty contest and married King Ahasuerus.

Haman, the king’s prime minister, hated the Jews after Esther’s cousin Mordecai refused to bow to him. Because of this, Haman persuaded the king, who was unaware Esther was Jewish, to sign an iron-clad decree for the Jews’ extermination.

After Esther bravely pled her people’s case, Ahasuerus changed his mind but could not rescind the decree. However, he issued another order allowing the Jews to defend themselves. They killed thousands of their enemies, and Haman was hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.

Purim takes its name from the Hebrew word for ‘‘lots,” for the method in which Haman had decided the date of the slaughter — which became, instead, the day of the great Jewish victory.

Boisterous celebrations lift Purim above its formal status as a minor religious holiday. Jewish community centers often sponsor Purim festivals, with carnival rides and games. Synagogues hold costume parties, with children dressing as their favorite Purim characters. And refreshments include hamantaschen, triangular pastries in the traditional shape of Haman’s hat.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

March 16, 2014 at 4:08 am

Holiday Almanac: Ash Wednesday begins Lenten season of prayer

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Praying hands by Jesper Noer, via sxc.hu

Praying hands by Jesper Noer, via sxc.hu

Christians in several traditions will observe today, March 5, as Ash Wednesday, the start of six weeks of Lent. The season is a period of solemnity before Good Friday, the traditional observance of Jesus’ death, which will be on April 18 this year.

Ash Wednesday takes its name from ashes daubed on the faithful as a sign of penitence, with the traditional words, ‘‘Remember you are dust and will return to dust.”

Lent is a somber season marked by prayer, introspection and repentance. For Catholics, it also includes fasting and abstinence from meat on Fridays for those 14 years and older.

Eastern Orthodox Christians, who still use the ancient Julian calendar, actually began Lent on Monday this week. However, they will join Protestants and Roman Catholics in celebrating Easter on April 18. The overlap occurs roughly every four years.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

March 5, 2014 at 5:29 am

Holiday Almanac: The Twelfth Day of Christmas

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Photo credit: luis tapia via sxc.hu

Photo credit: luis tapia via sxc.hu

Monday, Jan. 6, will be Epiphany, the traditional “Twelfth Day of Christmas,” recalling when Christians say Jesus’ divinity was revealed.

For Western churches, especially Roman Catholic, Epiphany is Three Kings Day, when they believe the Wise Men visited the young Jesus. In South Florida, Hispanics celebrate Three Kings Day, with floats and bands in an exuberant parade along Miami’s Calle Ocho.

For Eastern Orthodox churches, Epiphany marks Jesus’ baptism, when a dove settled onto him and a voice from heaven declared him “my beloved son.” Some parishes, or groups of parishes, gather for a colorful “‘Blessing of the Waters” ceremony, in which youths retrieve a cross that has been thrown into a waterway.

Most liturgical churches will hold formal Epiphany observances on Sunday, Jan. 5. Many parishes use incense as a fragrant reminder of the magi’s gifts to jesus. Eastern Orthodox priests use the day to bless their baptismal fonts by dipping a cross into the water.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

January 2, 2014 at 4:37 am

Holiday Almanac: Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birth

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Believers worldwide celebrate Dec. 25 as Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, whom they worship as the unique Son of God. The founding events are set in Israel of 20 centuries ago.

aDSC_0023, reducedAs told in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, a Jewish couple named Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a Roman census. Rebuffed from every inn in the crowded village, they settled in a stable, where Jesus was born.

In nearby fields, angels announced the birth to shepherds, who rushed to the stable to worship the child. And from the East, magi or wise men followed a special star to Jesus’ home and offered gifts of gold, incense and rare spice.

Roman Catholic churches begin Christmas the previous night with Midnight Mass; Eastern Orthodox churches hold Divine Liturgy. Protestant Churches often celebrate the holiday with special cantatas and carols.

Church youths like to stage “Living Nativity” scenes, recreating the first Christmas — a custom said to have been founded by St. Francis of Assisi. A few churches unpack high-tech gear or rent civic auditoriums for elaborately staged pageants.

Christmas traditionally was from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6 — the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in the carol of the same name. That tradition still thrives among Latin Americans, who will celebrate Jan. 6 as Three Kings Day, when they believe the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem.

— James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

December 25, 2013 at 4:15 am

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