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Articles

Christ Nativity – Christmas

When Adam and Eve, persuaded by the devil disguised as a snake, sinned against God’s command and tasted the fruit (apple) of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God rightfully punished them by expelling them from Paradise, where they had lived until then without a care. The original ancestors were left to care for themselves, recognizing stress, fear, illness, sorrow and even death.

 Happy and carefree in Paradise, Adam and Eve became unhappy and cursed.

However, man is a picture and image of God, and therefore the Creator did not entirely reject man from Himself. Rather, he gave him hope that in His time He will send the Saviour who will reconcile man with God, and Who will with His blood redeem man’s relationship from the original sin and by His resurrection destroy sin and death.                                                                      

        For a long time individual religious men anxiously awaited the arrival of the Saviour, and only when the time had come for the realization of the prophecy of the Old Testament prophets and the fulfillment of the calculations of the Prophet Daniel, on the 5508 years since the creation of the world, or the 753 years since the founding of Rome, "God sent His Only-Begotten Son, Who was born of a woman," nine months after the Annunciation, in Judea, in the image of man.                            

  At that time Judean rule had long ceased and the Hebrew people, after prolonged slavery to many masters, were under the rule of the Romans. Prior to the Birth of Christ, the Roman Emperor Augustus issued a proclamation that a census be taken within the Roman Empire. Everyone had to go to the city of their ancestors. Because Mary was from the house of David, who was from Bethlehem, and so was her guardian Joseph, they departed from Nazareth in Galilee, where they lived, for Bethlehem, at the time when Jesus Christ was to be born.                                                                                                      

          The tired travelers arrived in Bethlehem in the evening, and because of their poverty they could not find lodging. They sought shelter in a cave in the vicinity of Bethlehem, in which shepherds during a storm took refuge for their livestock.                                                            

       That night the Virgin Mary gave birth to her First and Only Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger. "Under the worst conditions, in a manger, lays He, Who today sits on the highest throne." During the night when Jesus was born, over Bethlehem and vicinity there was a great calm; only the shepherds of Bethlehem were awake, by their livestock in pasture. In one moment they saw a great light and the angels who came from heaven.  The shepherds were overcome with fear,  but the angel stood among them and said: "Fear not, God has sent me to bring you glad tidings, which will be to all people. At this moment is born in Bethlehem God’s promised Saviour of the world, Jesus. In a cave by the city you will find the swaddled Child, lying in a manger." Because the angel disappeared, the shepherds, filled with joy hurried to the cave and saw little Jesus and humbly bowed to Him. After that they told Joseph and Mary everything that God had revealed to them and what they had heard from the angels, and went forth praising and thanking God.                                                                    

                   At the same time, upon the land of Israel there appeared a great and shining star, which was unusual in that it did not move from the east to the west, as all stars do. Rather, it moved towards the south, and it was not as high as the other stars, but only as high as a bird’s flight. According to the belief of those times, every man had his own star in the sky, which was as big and bright as the man’s prominence and reputation on earth. This unusual star led the three Wise Men from the Par East, from Persia, to conclude that a very prominent man, and in all probability a king, was born. Therefore, the Persian Wise Men set forth following the star to search for the Newborn King, so that they may present themselves.                                   

              According to tradition, there were Three Wise Men: Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior. These Wise Men were guided by the movement of this unusual star. They traveled afar and in that way they arrived in Jerusalem. Here the star was lost to them , so they stopped off in the city, believing that a King of the Jews was born. Their luxurious garments, the title of Wise Men, as well as the place they had come from disturbed all the citizens of Jerusalem, and the news of the travelers reached the ears of King Herod Antipas, whom the news of the Newborn Judean King frightened very much. In fear that the Newborn King might seize his throne, he thought of killing Him while He is still a child, but he did not know where to find Him. Therefore, he gathered all his chieftans, priests and learned men, knowing that they possessed books of prophecy, and he asked of them: "Where is Christ supposed to be born?" "In Bethlehem of Judea, so said the Prophet Micah," they answered. Afterwards Herod secretly invited the Three Wise Men to the palace and asked them, when they find the Child, to return and tell him where He is so that he can go and present himself.                                                                                                                                        

        The Wise Men left that same evening, and as soon as they were out of Jerusalem the star reappeared and led them to Bethlehem, where it stopped over the cave where Christ was born. The Wise Men entered, and finding Joseph and Mary with Little Jesus, they fell down and worshipped Him and gave Him gifts: gold as to a king, frankincense as to God, and myrrh as to first priest and teacher. During the night God came to the Wise Men in their dreams and told them not to return to Herod, but to return by another route to their country, and that is what they did.                                                                                                                                                                                     

   Herod impatiently awaited the return of the Wise Men, but when he heard that they had returned by a different route, he was angered and ordered the soldiers in Bethlehem and vicinity to slay every male child up to two years of age, and thus Jesus also would be executed. At that time forty thousand innocent children were slain, and the cries and screams of the unfortunate mothers resounded on all sides. But Jesus was spared, because Joseph, by order of the angels, promptly took the mother and Child to Egypt and lived there until Herod died.                                                                                                                                                                          

               The Christian era began on the day of Christ’s Birth, and from that day on the Christian people and the rest of the world began to count the years.                                                                                                                                                                         

In memory of Christ’s Birth, from the time of the apostles, the Great Holy CHRISTMAS was established. St. John Chrysostom said that Christmas is the source of all Christian holy days, because if it were not for Christ’s Birth there would be no baptism, no Resurrection, nor any others.                                                                                                                      

   From the beginning, Christmas was not celebrated on the same day. It wasn’t until the 4th century, at the time of Czar Archadeus, that it was separated from Theophany and celebrated on December 25 by the Julian calendar (January 7 by the new Gregorian calendar) . On that same day the Romans had a holiday which was called "Dies natalis solis invicti," a day celebrating the sun which constantly returns toward summer and renews itself, so the celebration of Christmas was decided to be celebrated on that day so that this Roman holiday be eliminated. In order for the Christians to properly prepare for Christmas, a fast was established from November 28 to the evening of January 6 (November 15 to December 24) , which is not as strict as the Easter Fast. However, regardless of which day it falls on, Christmas is not a fast day.                                              

         The icon of Christ’s Nativity is portrayed in this way: a cave and in it a manger; the Holy Mother with Joseph and the Infant Jesus; the shepherds are bowing, and a bright star with its light illuminates the Newborn Christ. The angels fly on high, behind the manger are tied mules, and a lamb is in the foreground.                                                                                                                    

   At Christmas time, instead of the usual greeting, people greet each other with "Christ is Born" and "Indeed He is Born."     

    No other holiday has more national traditions than Christmas, which are observed on this day. The most popular customs are: the laying of the yule log, strewing the homes with straw, clucking and peeping (like chickens and peeps), baking chesnitsa and roast pig, the polozhajnik, and there are many other beliefs, maxims and proverbs.                                                            

    The Church has given a new meaning to the badnjak: gathered around the badnjak, the household is warming with love, sincerity and unity, and by its light it is dispersing the darkness of ignorance and superstition and enlightens with happiness and pleasure, health and abundance.                                                                                                                                        

          Earlier, when more people lived in the villages, and even now here and there, before the sun rises on Badnji Dan a member of the household goes into the forest and selects a tree, which must be a young oak. Before he strikes with the ax he first sprinkles it with wheat and says: "Good morning and a good Badnji Dan." He cuts into two places so that a wedge drops out, and that wedge he takes with him. The cut tree is pruned, he takes it home, and in the evening he places it on the fire. When it burns through, the bottom end is carried around to the pens and barns and the other end is set aside for the polozhajnik. That is why on that day a badnjak is lit and the day is called Badnji Dan. Today, of course, in the cities a badnjak is purchased at the market place from the villagers, but the symbol ism the same. But the ritual is shortened, or the badnjak is simply kept in the house.                                                                                                             

On Christmas Eve straw is strewn about the house, with which the house is transformed into that cave in Bethlehem in which Christ was born and in which straw was strewn for the livestock to lie on. In the villages the straw stay                                                                                                                                                                               

         An interesting and very old custom is when the straw, which will be strewn about the house, is carried around the house. One of the elders clucks, followed by the children who peep, while the happy head of the household throws various grains with which he supposedly is feeding his chicks. The true pagan meaning of this custom is not clear (some assume that by the clucking and peeping they are calling the souls of their deceased ancestors, which were believed to be in the bodies of animals) , but today this custom portrays: Just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and warms them with motherly love, so has Christ come to bring them together and unite them in one Christian society and warm them with love; and just as the chicks feed on wheat, so He has fed and inspired them with His knowledge, because He said: "Who is hungry come to me and I will feed you, who is thirsty come to me to drink the living water."                                                                                                               

          The chesnitsa which is made at Christmas time is thought to have derived its name in honor of Jesus Christ or because it is broken into so many pieces, as many as there are people in the home. The money which is put in the chesnitsa should be of gold or silver, or of pure metal which will not rust, because that is a gift to the Newborn Christ.        

For the polozhajnik and the stoking in the fire of the burned portion of the badnjak, it is thought that this represents the Wise  Men   from  the   East  who   looked  to  the   countless heavenly stars, according to which they received their knowledge. Thus the polozhajnik looking at those sparks from the fire expresses his wishes for the host and his home. Cajkanovic even thinks that the polozhajnik (polozhenik) is the incarnation of the mythical ancestor who appears at the most important moments in the lifei of his descendants–for Christmas, slava, birth, wedding, and in the event of a death.                          

     The first obligation of the polozhajnik is to wish for luck, health and progress for the host’s household. That is why upon entering the house (being careful to step over the threshold with his right foot) he walks up to the fire and at the end of the badnjak stokes the fire to break out the sparks and says: "thisi many sheep, and this much money, hogs, horses and oxen, cows and calves, life and health, luck and success, and every progress, may God grant it!" or something similar. After mirbozhanja (the host and polozhajnik kiss each other on the cheeks and say "Christ is Born" and "Indeed He is Born", etc.) the polozhajnik places a gift on the hearth (puts money on the east end of the hearth), sits a while, drinks (frequently) hot whiskey, greets everyone and leaves. Upon leaving, the polozhajnik is given a gift, stockings or a towel, an apple or cakes which were baked along with the chesnitsa.

At one time on Christmas, as a sign of happiness and good cheer, guns were shot off and Christmas songs were sung, such as "Bozic, Bozic Bata …" and "u Bozica tri nozica … A nice custom is that on Christmas Day, in church after matins, everyone kisses each other and many make peace with someone with whom they were estranged for a long time. There are so many Christmas customs that an entire book could be written about them. Because of the customs, Christmas is the most joyous and happiest of all holidays.