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The meaning of Christmas in Comox Valley

Christmastime means different things to different people. Father Anthony Divinagracia is among the Comox Valley people who shared their beliefs and customs with The Record. - Scott Stanfield
Christmastime means different things to different people. Father Anthony Divinagracia is among the Comox Valley people who shared their beliefs and customs with The Record.
— image credit: Scott Stanfield

Dec. 25 is more than presents under an evergreen tree, or lights and decorations that adorn homes and offices during the holiday season.

It's more than cards, dinners, snow in the yard, stockings in the living room, and greetings from friends and relatives.

"Christ is the real reason for celebrating Christmas, because Christmas is when we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child," says Father Anthony Divinagracia, the new pastor at the Anglican Church of St. John the Divine in Courtenay. "God sent his son Jesus into the world to be born. He's brought great joy to the world: wise men, shepherds and all the angels shared in the excitement of that great event."

Christmas is also the gift of life we receive through Christ’s death and resurrection, adds Father Marek Paczka at Christ the King Parish in Courtenay.

"It teaches us to value human life and generously share it with others," he says. "Since we don’t know much about life eternal, it remains to us as a promise — an unopened, mysterious gift that excites us, giving us hope."

Christmas comes from two words: Christ and Mass.

"We come to celebrate the new born Christ during Holy Mass," Paczka said. "This way Christ – the living bread — shares himself with us entering our life in a sacramental way. I hope and wish that this Christmas renews our hopes, strengthens our faith and affirms our commitment to the gift of life."

Christmas can also be a time of sorrow. Some might be saddened, especially when thinking of loved ones with whom the special day cannot be shared. They might not have extra money to buy presents, and turkey dinners might not be a reality.

"But still Christmas can be a season of great joy because it is a time that God is showing his great love for us," Divinagracia said. "We can know that we are all God's children, and heaven will be our home one day."

He suggests the Christmas season is an ideal time for parents to read biblical stories to their children.

"That would be a teaching moment for us, to teach our children about the law of love, that God is all about loving each other. Because Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these people, you do to me."

The Church of St. John the Divine holds a Christmas Eve service at 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. A Christmas Day service will be held at 11 a.m. The church is at 579 5th St. in Courtenay.

Christmas Eve Mass will be held at 5 p.m., 8 p.m. and midnight at Christ the King Parish at 1599 Tunner Dr. in Courtenay. Christmas Day Mass is at 10:30 a.m. in Courtenay and 2 p.m. on Hornby Island.

Unlike Christian holidays, Jewish holidays do not always fall on the same dates because they follow a lunar calendar. Hanukkah, meaning dedication in Hebrew, is an eight-day celebration that occurred Nov. 27 to Dec. 5 this year. Unlike many Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Bible.

"It's a very minor holiday," said Courtenay resident Judy Goldschmidt, who hails from Philadelphia. "Hanukkah, I think, got elevated in North American society so that Jewish kids wouldn't feel left out around the Christmas holidays, but as far as religious obligation of holidays, Purim and Hanukkah are minor."

There is no special prayer service for Hanukkah, which Goldschmidt says is more of an "at-home celebration ritual." Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil. Ritual foods are oil-based, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). Chocolate coins are also part of the tradition, as is the dreydel, a spinning top with four sides, each with a Hebrew letter.

Another minor Jewish holiday in January is Tu b'Shvat, marking the beginning of a new year for trees.

A "non-minor" holiday such as Passover requires attending a service, but perhaps the most important Jewish holiday is the weekly sabbath, which means to take a break.

The Jewish high holidays are Rosh Hashanah and, 10 days later, Yom Kippur. Goldschmidt also notes three pilgrimage-type holidays: Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot.

Last year at Passover, Goldschmidt worked with the Community Justice Centre, which hosted an inter-faith Seder (ritual dinner) at Zocalo Café. They will do it again this spring.

Christmas in the Ukraine is celebrated Jan. 7 according to the Gregorian calendar as in most orthodox Christian countries. But the "biggest, most meaningful day" of the Christmas season is Christmas Eve on Jan. 6, says Sharon McEwan, president of the Comox Valley Ukrainian Cultural Society.

"It's highly symbolic and religious. It's called Svyata Vechera. It translates to the holy supper."

The day starts with a fast, followed by a supper of 12 meatless dishes which symbolize the 12 disciples. The meal starts with a dish called kutya — which signifies prosperity for the coming year — followed by borscht, pickled herring, perogies, cabbage rolls and mushrooms. Food is placed on a table with straw underneath the tablecloth to signify a manger. Typically, if a family member died that year, an extra plate is set at the table in their honour. The table always includes three round braided loaves of bread, called kolach, with a candle stuck on the third. A lighted candle is also placed in a window as an invitation to strangers who might need a meal.

It's the duty of children to watch for the first evening star.

"Once it comes, then the meal can start," McEwan said.

The head of the family brings in a sheath of wheat, which is placed in a corner, where it remains until New Year's Day.

The meal is followed by music and singing Christmas carols. The next day starts with church followed by a meal.

"That's when the carolling starts. You would have carollers coming around door to door, and they would be invited in for food and drink," McEwan said.

Visiting continues until Jan. 22.

The Ukrainian club celebrates Jan. 6 at the Filberg Centre's Evergreen lounge.

In Asia, some countries celebrate Christmas, but most do not. The Philippines has the longest celebration during the Christmas season. Korea and Vietnam also have higher Christian populations than other Asian countries.

Because Christmas is not an official holiday in China, most offices, schools and shops remain open. But all the trappings of a Western Christmas can be found in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Lunar New Year is a time for family reunions in the Chinese community, representing happiness, wealth, luck, prosperity and longevity. It falls on Jan. 31. This year is the year of the horse. Families celebrate with a banquet on Lunar New Year's Eve, and children receive a red envelope containing money from relatives.

Aiguo Zhang of the Multicultural and Immigrant Services Association of North Vancouver Island recalls Christmastime celebrations each winter while growing up in China.

"Even if it's not a holiday," he said. "Especially young people, because they like a lot of Western cultural stuff. Just another excuse to have a party."

He said Lunar New Year, or spring festival as it's known in his homeland, is the biggest holiday in China, lasting about a week.

"Most celebrations start New Year's Eve," he said, noting festivities officially end after the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month in the lunar calendar.

"Before, when China was not very rich, not everyone can get new clothes, so they're always waiting for the new year to get new clothes, new shoes," Zhang said, recalling house decorations and red lanterns.

"In China, red shows good fortune, shows happiness and wealth. In China, from north to south, east to west, they have a bit of different tradition. But New Year's Eve is a time for the family reunion dinner."

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

 

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