Christmas means different things to different people.
OPINION: For those of the Christian faith, it marks the coming of Jesus, the Son of God. For them, the only day more holy than tomorrow is Easter.
For non-Christians and those who hold no religious beliefs, Christmas is still a day for celebration. It is a chance to get together with family and friends for a few days, and it kicks off the summer holiday season.
For young children, Christmas is the day they discover whether the assurances they have given Santa about their impeccable behaviour during the past year and their detailed requests for presents have had the desired result.
(Although the young boy who asked for a real tiger and promised to prevent it from eating his cats, as reported in this newspaper, is sure to be disappointed. Santa would not be able to bring such a ferocious creature on his sleigh for fear it might dine on Donner, Blitzen or, heaven forbid, Rudolf during the long flight from the North Pole.)
Across New Zealand at the break of dawn tomorrow, households will come to life as little ones race out of bed, check that Father Christmas knocked back the milk and cookies dutifully left out for him, and start ripping into the wrapping on the gifts in their stockings, much to the delight of mum and dad.
Christmas Day is a great time to be a kid, and that makes it a great day for families to be together.
No-one knows for certain the actual day on which Jesus was born some 2000-odd years ago. At various points in the early church's history, there was talk of marking the event in March, April or May, and it is believed the first formal celebrations coincided with Epiphany on January 6 before December 25 was finally chosen more than three centuries after Jesus died.
The choice of day is thought to have been in part because of its proximity to the northern hemisphere's long-established pagan winter solstice celebrations. The early church's canny leaders hoped to spread their new religion by piggy-backing on existing festivals.
However, the actual day on which Jesus was born is immaterial for devout Christians. They believe the essence of the story of Christ's life is far more important than the details.
The story also has elements to inspire non-Christians.
It is the story of a heavily pregnant young woman and her husband, a couple of limited means, forced to take refuge in a stable after a long and trying journey. It is the story of an innkeeper who, though unable to offer the pair a bed, gives them a warm, dry place for the night instead of coldly turning them away as others had done. It is the story of lowly shepherds and rich and powerful Magi drawn to the scene and equally in awe of what they found.
Most of all, it is the story of a new beginning. In many European languages, the term equivalent to "Merry Christmas" translates literally as "good birth". The Christmas story centres around a new child coming into the world, an event greeted with great joy and hope in all cultures and creeds.
The Dominion Post wishes all our readers a safe and happy Christmas.
- The Dominion Post