Nativity, the birth of a child, speaks directly to the human heart. Today, even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of our large cities, the presence of an infant brings a smile to the face of passing strangers. A babe in the arms speaks directly to the human heart, invites wonder and restores -perhaps for only a moment- a deep sense of regard for the creation. This is the gift of recognition, the first "gift" of the Christmas story.

     The second gift of the Christmas story is anchored in the human imagination. It is the hope, witnessed throughout human culture and in many historical epochs, that our life, our world, our understanding will be saved from darkness, destruction and death. The longing for a saviour, for a slavific event, tugs at the human heart. The story of the Nativity of Christ expresses the wonder of life and the hope of creation for Christians.

     We can read the Christmas story in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke in the Bible and see its narrative expressed in the crèche. At the center is the birth of Jesus, a Greek form of the Hebrew name "Joshu Read More

     Nativity, the birth of a child, speaks directly to the human heart. Today, even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of our large cities, the presence of an infant brings a smile to the face of passing strangers. A babe in the arms speaks directly to the human heart, invites wonder and restores -perhaps for only a moment- a deep sense of regard for the creation. This is the gift of recognition, the first "gift" of the Christmas story.

     The second gift of the Christmas story is anchored in the human imagination. It is the hope, witnessed throughout human culture and in many historical epochs, that our life, our world, our understanding will be saved from darkness, destruction and death. The longing for a saviour, for a slavific event, tugs at the human heart. The story of the Nativity of Christ expresses the wonder of life and the hope of creation for Christians.

     We can read the Christmas story in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke in the Bible and see its narrative expressed in the crèche. At the center is the birth of Jesus, a Greek form of the Hebrew name "Joshua" meaning "Yahweh is Salvation". Christians have given him the title Christ because they came to understand him as the "messiah", the longed for "the anointed one" of the Jewish faith, who would restore life (being, history and the community) to the Creator.

     Jesus is born of the Virgin Mary. This portion of the story has signalled for the Christians that Jesus is both the full expression of the human nature and that he is divine. Jesus is often called the Second Adam in Christian writings, a title which speaks of the restoration of "the image and the likeness of God" to the human nature. The Nativity narrative in the Gospels is filled out with the story of two visitations to the place where the babe has been born. The first is the visit of the shepherds, fondly sung about in carol. They come offering the gift of adoration. The second visit is of the three Magi. The gifts they bear, gold, frankincense and myrrh, symbolically herald the gifts of the Christ-child for the healing of the creation.

’Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of supermagnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left? It is from his birth that most of human race dates its calendars, it is by his name that millions curse and in his name that million pray.’

(Jaroslav PELIKAN, Jesus through the Centuries, New Haven: Yale University Press. 1985:1)


© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

The apocryphal Gospels, which postdate the Gospels by a century, have enriched the telling of the Nativity by introducing the notion of the marvellous: miracles abound and celestial apparitions and new characters appear. The Proto Evangelium of James is one of the apocryphal Gospels and in it a cave is mentioned:

And he [Joseph] saddled his ass and sat her [Mary] on it... And they came half the way... And he found a cave there and he brought Mary into it...

In the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the presence of the ox and the ass was explained as follows:

On the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Holy Mary went out from the cave and went into the stable where she put her child in a manger and an ox and ass worshipped him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by the prophet Isaiah: "The ox knows its owner and the ass his Master’s crib". Then was fulfilled that which was said through the prophet Habakuk:: "Between two beasts are you ‘known’".

From earliest Christianity, the cave of Bethlehem was a place of pilgrimage and the focus of a cult. Origen reports that in the IIIrd cen Read More
The apocryphal Gospels, which postdate the Gospels by a century, have enriched the telling of the Nativity by introducing the notion of the marvellous: miracles abound and celestial apparitions and new characters appear. The Proto Evangelium of James is one of the apocryphal Gospels and in it a cave is mentioned:

And he [Joseph] saddled his ass and sat her [Mary] on it... And they came half the way... And he found a cave there and he brought Mary into it...

In the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the presence of the ox and the ass was explained as follows:

On the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Holy Mary went out from the cave and went into the stable where she put her child in a manger and an ox and ass worshipped him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by the prophet Isaiah: "The ox knows its owner and the ass his Master’s crib". Then was fulfilled that which was said through the prophet Habakuk:: "Between two beasts are you ‘known’".

From earliest Christianity, the cave of Bethlehem was a place of pilgrimage and the focus of a cult. Origen reports that in the IIIrd century, pilgrims were shown not only the cave but also the crèche, in other words, the manger that had served as Christ’s cradle. From the VIth century, chapels with a statue of the Virgin holding the Infant Jesus, meant to reproduce the cave, were built in several Roman churches.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Artisitc dipiction of the cave

Glass figurines in a rock-strewn landscape created by gluing shells on fabric.

Photo: Musée national des arts et traditions populaires (MNATP), Paris, France

Glued canvas, shells, spun glass, paper
© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


For much of the ancient Church and for Eastern Orthodox Christians the birth of Christ heralded the restoration of a sanctified cosmos. The incarnation of God in Jesus was not simply to save the human soul. Rather it restored all creation—in wonder and joy—to the human being. Creation was seen again to be God’s delight. The cosmos was not only created by God, it was, in the words of the patristic theologian Gregory of Nyssa, "the energy of God." That is why, in the images of the Nativity of Christ, we see human beings, animals and all of nature rejoice.
For much of the ancient Church and for Eastern Orthodox Christians the birth of Christ heralded the restoration of a sanctified cosmos. The incarnation of God in Jesus was not simply to save the human soul. Rather it restored all creation—in wonder and joy—to the human being. Creation was seen again to be God’s delight. The cosmos was not only created by God, it was, in the words of the patristic theologian Gregory of Nyssa, "the energy of God." That is why, in the images of the Nativity of Christ, we see human beings, animals and all of nature rejoice.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Selecton of Fresco

It depicts the Christ child - the incarnation of God and the fulness of the human nature - with his mother in a cave, the most ancient image of the stable of his birth. The vaulted mountains, an ancient Byzantine motif, express the joy of the cosmos at its restoration. In one narrative we have the washing of the infant Jesus. The other depicts the Temptation of Saint Joseph. Some interpretations suggest the old man is Satan tempting Joseph to question the paternity of the child.

Photograph: David J. Goa, 1995

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


The icons of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection join the icon of the Nativity in summarizing the meaning and purpose of Christmas. In Eastern European folklore the Crucifixion of Christ took place on the burial ground of Adam and Eve. It is their skull and bones we see at the base of the cross. Since it is through Adam and Eve that death came to triumph over life, it is through the Cross of Christ (the Tree of Life) that Life comes to triumph over death. The "tree of the cross" is the tree of the restoration of paradise, a type of the medieval paradise tree. This dimension of the Christian understanding is extended in the icon of the Resurrection where we see Adam and Eve being called forth from the darkness of death by the risen Christ.
The icons of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection join the icon of the Nativity in summarizing the meaning and purpose of Christmas. In Eastern European folklore the Crucifixion of Christ took place on the burial ground of Adam and Eve. It is their skull and bones we see at the base of the cross. Since it is through Adam and Eve that death came to triumph over life, it is through the Cross of Christ (the Tree of Life) that Life comes to triumph over death. The "tree of the cross" is the tree of the restoration of paradise, a type of the medieval paradise tree. This dimension of the Christian understanding is extended in the icon of the Resurrection where we see Adam and Eve being called forth from the darkness of death by the risen Christ.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Icon of the Resurection

Ukrainian Orthodox icon of the Resurrection that shows the Gates of Hell shattered, with locks and keys scattered below the figure of Christ, who holds a cross. Adam and Eve are depicted being called forth from death, along with the righteous of the Old Testament.

Artwork: Heiko C. Schlieper, Photo: Harry Korol, 1995

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Crucifixtion Icon

Greek Orthodox Crucifixion icon depicting Christ nailed to the cross. A Greek inscription on the upper cross bar translates to read "The King of Glory". Surrounding the cross are Greek symbols for: "Jesus Christ". In the upper corners are two medallions with inscriptions above which read "The Moon" and "The Sun" respectively.

Photograph: Harry Korol, 1995 Artwork : Unknown

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Identify how people, events, and ideas of the past shape the present; 
  • Describe some Christmas religious ideas in Canada and their historical development, with examples;
  • Recognize the broader context, in time and space, of one Christian tradition, of the Christmas story;
  • Recognize the relevance of the Christmas story to Christians today.

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