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Christmas Light in Winter's Darkness View Comments
By Kathleen M. Carroll

WE ALL KNOW the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. In Scripture, each Gospel writer tells the story a little differently. Matthew begins his Gospel with “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah...” before setting down his telling of the Nativity story. Luke gives the most detailed and comprehensive account of the birth of Jesus, with great emphasis on the Marian aspect of the story.

Mark and John both begin with Jesus’ encounter with John the Baptist, skipping over the story of Jesus’ life prior to the events that led to his public ministry. John’s Gospel, in fact, presents a mystical account of Jesus’ entry into the world with the words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). For most of us, however, the Gospel stories, our traditions and even a few elements contributed by pious and not-so-pious authors have merged into one big story about the birth of Jesus.

We know that Jesus was conceived by the Virgin Mary and born in Bethlehem in the humblest of surroundings. We know that wise men from the East followed a star to honor the newborn king, that Joseph had dreams that helped him protect the child and his mother. Our songs and traditions incorporate some or all of these elements into our celebrations and occasionally embellish a detail or invent new stories altogether. “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example, will not be peeking at you from the pages of any Bible.

Christmas wasn’t quite “Christmas” that first year, though. It was simply Jesus’ birthday. While his mother and earthly father and a few foreign gentlemen had an idea that this was no ordinary child, most people were not attaching the word “Christ” to him just yet.

So while Jesus was growing up, he and his family didn’t celebrate Christmas. Their family life centered on the holy days of the Jewish faith they all embraced. Though the Gospel writers don’t always go to great pains to spell this out for us (there is really very little about Jesus’ childhood in Scripture), it is evident in the stories about the presentation in the Temple (remember Simeon and Anna?) and in the finding in the Temple (after Jesus’ three-day disappearance). We can’t say with certainty that Mary and Joseph didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth day, but the word birthday appears just once in the Bible (Genesis 40:20), to refer to the pharaoh’s birthday.

When did the celebration we call Christmas really start? About 300 years after the birth of Jesus.

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Kathleen M. Carroll is managing editor of books for St. Anthony Messenger Press.

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Oliver Plunkett: The name of today's saint is especially familiar to the Irish and the English—and with good reason. The English martyred Oliver Plunkett for defending the faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution. 
<p>Born in County Meath in 1629, he studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1654. After some years of teaching and service to the poor of Rome he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. Four years later, in 1673, a new wave of anti-Catholic persecution began, forcing Archbishop Plunkett to do his pastoral work in secrecy and disguise and to live in hiding. Meanwhile, many of his priests were sent into exile; schools were closed; Church services had to be held in secret and convents and seminaries were suppressed. As archbishop, he was viewed as ultimately responsible for any rebellion or political activity among his parishioners. 
</p><p>Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. After deliberating for 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in July 1681. 
</p><p>Pope Paul VI canonized Oliver Plunkett in 1975.</p> American Catholic Blog God had a plan even before he created Adam and Eve. God is never caught off guard. He knows all. He sees all. And he is working all things together for the good of his children. Nothing can stop his plan of mercy and love.

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