From the moment of birth, the power of story shapes our lives and provides a sense of identity and belonging. Story tells us who we are, what our name is, who our ancestors were, and reveals our cultural identity and ethnicity. However, story also enhances and sheds light on our pilgrimage through earthly existence to discover spiritual meaning and the destiny of the psyche or soul, which transcends physical death and is eternal. As children, we are, perhaps, nearer this Divine source than we realize, for the child lives in the magical world of the imagination where symbolic images remain alive and the senses are still attuned to the stirrings of the voice of nature that penetrates the veil between the visible and invisible realms. Sadly, as we begin to mature and become fostered by our cultural heritage, these connections and memories that link us to an unseen presence begin to fade.
As the days shorten and we approach the time of the winter solstice, we are given the opportunity once more to see how the Christmas Story, which is full of archetypal and symbolic meaning, can bring fresh new insight and remind us of this forgotten realm of existence that lies beyond material consciousness. Originally, the solstice celebration was a pagan festival that celebrated the return and rebirth of the sun as it began its journey back across the sky and promised the herald of spring, new crops, and a time of bounty. For the ancients, the death and rebirth of the sun was also seen to symbolize the life of the human being that also followed the rhythms of nature where death was always followed by resurrection.
At the heart of Christmas, the metaphor of new birth still carries a mythic tracing, beneath the celebrations of a modern-day materialistic society, and offers the same possibility to rediscover the sacred eternal dimensions of life that existed in the consciousness of our early ancestors, and still lingers in the collective psyche of present day individuals. The spiritual meaning of Christmas can be found in the ritual enactments of an ancient myth, which serve to bring the message of hope and rebirth contained in the nativity back to life, as each passing year comes to a close. There seems to be an inherent desire within the human being to experience such a reminder and sense of connection to our Divine legacy. This may be why such a festival continues to be celebrated by many different cultures at a period in world history where the numinosity of life is often stripped away from all that is sacred.
Although we may not know the exact historical truth of the story, Christmas is a living myth that still plays an important part in our spiritual development. Such a commemoration provides an opportunity to transcend profane and linear time and enter the mythical primordial world where nothing changes and past, present and future come together as one. Each time we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the original story of the humble birth of Jesus, which was said to have occurred in a geographical area of the world where the boundaries of the East — the land of deep spiritual awareness and the West — home of reason and materialism meet.
Certainly, the symbolism of the Three Kings from the East bearing gifts reflects the spiritual wisdom that rejoiced in the birth of the baby, who symbolized the gift of new life. Their three offerings (the number three symbolizing the oneness of all things that exist in the natural world) in the form of gold, frankincense and myrrh recognized the holy infant as personifying: the King of the World, the Priest and the Prophet. The Star of Bethlehem, which many Christians believed to be a miracle sign to announce the birth, guided the way to the newly born child. Stars symbolize the spirit or soul and the conflict between the light of spiritual awareness and the darkness of material forces — the star illuminates this darkness and acts as a guiding light or beacon that manifests within the unconscious of each individual. The simple shepherds who “watched by night” and saw a great “light” also symbolized how out of the darkness the light can dawn.
Perhaps the symbol that we most associate Christmas with, is the Christmas tree. Regardless of religious orientation, this tree shines in many homes at this time of the year. Numinosity, or a sense of the sacred, is often portrayed through the archetypal image of light and the ritual act of trimming the tree keeps this archetypal pattern alive, and can enable the magic and wonder of this celebration to still remain as a living symbol. Although the Christmas tree’s origins have little association with Christmas itself, the image is one that personifies a mythological mid-winter tree that is ablaze with light particles. The legend concerning the origins of such a tree were said to relate to Martin Luther, who was walking through a forest one winters day, and saw an evergreen tree illuminated by the light of shining stars. Adorning the midwinter tree with lights then becomes an act of devotion common over the world to many people from varying cultures.
All the rituals involved at Christmas and the image of the tree sparkling with light is a mythological celebration that gives rise to a form of living psychic energy, which manifests from the ancient symbolism of the light. So, as we gather with our families and friends, and exchange gifts around the Christmas tree, we have the opportunity to reflect and rekindle the magical childhood awareness within ourselves of the true spirit of Christmas. For as the old year comes to a close, and a new year heralds unbound possibilities for growth and celebration of life, we are reminded of the birth that brought “tidings of great joy” and the promise of the everlasting life of the soul.