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Pope traces history of Christmas celebration, notes influence of St. Francis

December 23, 2009

In his final Wednesday public audience before Christmas, Pope Benedict XVI traced the history of the feast day. He reminded the audience in the Paul VI auditorium that Easter, not Christmas, was the “the most ancient feast of Christianity.” The tradition of celebrating the Nativity developed later.

At first the celebration of Christmas replaced the Roman pagan feast of Sol invictus-- the return of the Sun after the darkest day of the calendar year. “This highlighted the fact that the birth of Christ is the victory of the true light over the darkness of evil and sin,” the Pope remarked. The Christmas celebration as we now know it was advanced by St. Francis of Assisi, whose devotion to the Christ-child helped the world to understand “that we can establish an intimate rapport of profound affection with Him, just as we do with a newborn child.”

“God becomes a defenseless child to overcome man's pride, violence and thirst for possession,” the Pope continued. "People who have not understood the mystery of Christmas have not understood the decisive element of Christian existence: that those who do not accept Jesus with the heart of a child cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven.”


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