The importance of Christmas in the year 2020
After a dampener of a year that has taken lives, torn apart livelihoods and made us re-evaluate the things we take for granted, is this the most important Christmas of our generation? We asked ACU’s Vice-President, Fr Anthony Casamento, to reflect on the challenges of 2020, and to explore how the Christmas message can help us to emerge from the year with hope and joy.
As the year nears its end, we tend to allow ourselves some space to reflect on what’s happened. What do we gain from the type of reflection that we engage in at Christmas time?
“Christmas is a time of joy, a time that we celebrate of birth of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, Jesus is foretold as Emmanuel, which in Hebrew means ‘God is with us’. Christmas serves as a yearly reminder that indeed God is with us — He is part of our world and part of our lives.
That’s probably more important than ever this year, when a lot of people might be asking, ‘Where is God? And why is everything so bad at the moment?’ I think what Christmas does is that it provides us an opportunity to pause and reflect, and to remember again that God is always with us. In the good times and the bad, God continues to be part of our world.”
You mentioned that Christmas is a celebration. Does that itself have the potential to lift the collective mood?
“I think it does. At this time of year, we come together to celebrate — whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or any other religious festivities. Celebrations by their nature bring people together, and the act of coming together with our loved ones this year will have added significance because of what we’ve experienced over the last 12 months, first with the bushfires and then with the pandemic. As humans, we need to be connected. The varying lengths of the lockdowns we’ve all experienced have reminded us of the importance of our social interactions with others. Christmas will allow us to connect with others and to celebrate in that connection once again.
I also think that the nature of the Christmas celebration is important. Christmas hope is embodied in the birth of Jesus Christ. If you look at any newborn child, there’s so much hope and so much potential for that child, and when you consider that this is the Son of God, then that hope is expounded even more. The potential to realise our lives through hope is increased with the presence of the Child Jesus.”
What does hope and faith offer us in difficult times?
“Hope and faith always helps to get us through the darkest of times. Sometimes, it’s all we have. If you look back through history, we have celebrated Christmas during world wars, we celebrated Christmas during the Spanish Flu and through other significant crises, and I think the reason for that is that Christmas has the power to bring joy and hope into our lives … in other words, the power to heal us from our anxieties and fears.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the world has endured testing times, and we’ve done it with courage, resilience and compassion. I saw a photo today of a doctor in the United States embracing a man suffering from the virus, and for me that was a picture of solidarity and beauty; the beauty of humanity to care for one another.
We’ve all made great sacrifices to protect life, to protect health and to advance the common good, and this is the type of solidarity and togetherness we will reflect on at Christmas.
If you think about the circumstances of Jesus’s birth, He wasn’t born in a rich house in Bethlehem; He was born in a feeding trough. And who got invited? Not the glitterati of Bethlehem. Instead it was a random group of people — the shepherds, the Magi — all witnesses to the birth of Jesus. I think the message of Christmas is that in the randomness of life, this great joy, this great hope, this great potential is amongst us, and we can be nourished and healed by that.”
In Australia we are fortunate that many of us will be able to gather with family and friends over Christmas with relatively few restrictions. What would you say to people — Christians and non-Christians —who maybe have Christmas in mind as a light at the end of their own dark tunnel?
“I would say that Christmas provides us with the inspiration to delve deeper into what it means to build a happy life. In some respects, this year has been an opportunity to hit the pause button. Most of us would agree that prior to COVID we were operating our lives at a million miles an hour. This year, we’ve been forced to pause and to reflect.
One of the things we should reflect on is: What is important to us?
I’ve spoken to lawyers, politicians, mums and dads, doctors and police officers this year, through lockdown and isolation, and they’re all saying that the best part of this year has been the time spent with family. Going for a walk with loved ones, sitting down to eat meals together as a family, forgetting about everything else and just taking the time to be with one another has been one of the few positives to come from 2020.
The Christmas message allows us to take the opportunity to refocus. Let’s take this opportunity to really value the time we have with those we love, or those we live with, and reflect on what is important.
It’s about being grateful for and enjoying what we have. Enjoying the gifts we have in our daily lives and in our community, instead of always searching for the next best thing. Because the reality is that when you’ve got family and you’ve got loved ones and you’ve got people around you who love you, you’ve got the best thing you can have.”
Christmas is a religious tradition, and yet it tends to go beyond people’s ideas about religion and faith. Why do you think that is so?
“I think it’s because the story of Christmas is a story of joy, a story of hope, and a story of love. God loved us so much that He sent His son into our world so that we could live our lives to the fullest. Irrespective of whether you’re Christian or not, whether you believe or not, Christmas is a time where everyone shares values of family and giving and sharing with those less fortunate.
Amid all this joy and celebration, it’s important to remember that there are people in our country who will spend Christmas alone. People from broken families or destructive relationships, people who are suffering from illness, people who have nowhere to lay their head at night or can’t feed themselves, or even just those who are far from home … we have to remember that Christmas is a time of giving, and we need to stop and share with those who are unable to celebrate like we can, and to hold them in our hearts.”
This has been difficult year … it’s taken many lives and torn apart livelihoods, and it’s made many of us appreciate the things we tend to take for granted. Is this the most important Christmas of our lifetime?
“I think people will take stock of everything in their life this Christmas maybe more than other years. If you’re not working, this is going to be a different Christmas for you. If you’re far away from loved ones, it will be different for you.
We haven’t faced a global crisis on this scale for so long, a crisis that has touched every corner of our globe. It has touched our health and our wellbeing and it’s also touched our society. It has touched our economy, it has touched people who were put off work, it has touched us by tearing us away from our loved ones.
The fact that it has touched all of us means it will be a significant Christmas for all of us. Having said that, every Christmas is significant because every year it reminds us of the birth of Jesus Christ, the offering of a new beginning and the promise of hope for better times, which is essentially what the Christ message is.
My hope and my belief is that people will be more open to accepting the real message of Christmas this year, not the commercial Christmas message. The real message of Christmas is one of hope, of new beginnings, of joy and of the better times to come.”
Reverend Anthony Casamento has been Vice-President of ACU since August 2017. Before this, Fr Anthony was Director of Identity and Mission at ACU from 2011, having commenced as Chaplain to the North Sydney (MacKillop) Campus in 2010.
Find out more about ACU’s mission and values.