Wendy Stokes is the author of “The Lightworkers Circle Guide – A Workbook for Spiritual Groups”. It is available from the publisher, O-Books, as well as all good bookshops, and eBay, Abe Books and Amazon. The book explains how to facilitate a circle for spiritual meetings and workshops. Her royalties are donated to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust which helps to protect endangered species.
For more about Wendy Stokes – her impressive background, her writing, and her other work – please visit her website at http://www.wendystokes.co.uk/.
We Can Explain The Symbols of Christmas
Each Christmas, we remember a story that began two thousand years ago in the Middle East. The story involves a very poor young woman, in the final stages of her first pregnancy, suffering the discomfort of a long donkey ride with her husband walking beside her. They must travel many miles carrying their blankets and their food and water bags across a desert region to pay taxes to an oppressive occupying nation. When they arrive at their destination, all the hostels are full, and the mother-to-be lies down to bear her baby in a cold, dark cave where animals usually seek shelter. She places the self-delivered child in a manger, a basin into which animal food is usually placed.
The important part of this tale is the child, a symbol of new beginnings and hope for a better future. We are told that wise and wealthy men, possibly kings, followed a bright star in the Eastern sky which they believed foretold a Jewish royal birth. Though we do not know from which country these travelers originated, it has been suggested that they could have been Zoroastrian priests from Persia, as they were known to be scholars, astrologers, diviners, and interpreters of dreams. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold was chosen because the new-born child was of royal blood, frankincense to represent the perfume of prayer and priesthood, and myrrh because it was used to bless a holy person. Three is the number of expansion and collective action. The bright star represents aspiration, and the East is the place of dawn and light. We are told that on a local hillside, a crowd of angels, symbols of spiritual communication, informed the shepherds, the men who protected the land and animal life, that royalty had been born, and therefore majesty and power could be returned to the dispossessed people of this land.
On the evening of the 5th of January, the Christmas decorations are traditionally removed. The Christmas season usually lasts only twelve days from midnight on Christmas Eve until the evening of the Epiphany, a word which means “revelation”. In ancient days, the Jewish custom dictated that women remain separated for many days to recover from the birth of a child, a time during which they were considered unclean. Then, a cleansing bath took place and thanksgiving; the mother was ritually blessed and the child also. On this day, the 6th of January, we celebrate the visit from the gift bearers, and, if we are able, we travel to their shrine at the magnificent twelfth century cathedral at Cologne in Germany where their relics are displayed.
In addition to the Christian story, we have our modern traditions with new symbols. We decorate our homes with tinsel and sparkling baubles to provide a colorful welcome to our guests. Plum pudding, made from nourishing fat, will fill the stomach of anyone who has not had sufficient meat at the meal-table. This was an important supplement in days gone by when food was an expensive luxury. The Christmas evergreen tree represents nature’s kind abundance: wood for heat, light, and cooking, a roof for shelter, and a chair upon which to sit, a home for birds, pine scent to keep insects away. The yule log is a symbol of warmth and plenty. We burn candles to dispel the darkness of short winter days, just as many faiths celebrate the return of the sun by having a light ceremony at this, the darkest time of the year. The loud bang of the Christmas cracker exorcises unwanted spirits, and also supplies an entertaining joke after the Christmas dinner.