Imagine our surprise when, on our trip to Indochina last fall, our group of travelers arrived in Saigon in early December to find it decorated for Christmas! Windows of one major department store were topped with thick mounds of carved styrofoam snow. Our hotel lobby held a giant blue Christmas tree and a life-sized Santa Claus who swiveled his hips while he sang “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” When I asked our guide why a mostly Buddhist country celebrates Christmas in such a big way, he replied, “Christmas is universal now. It’s all about shopping.”
That’s pretty much what it’s about for many Westerners too, along with decorating our homes, reuniting with loved ones, preparing special foods and exchanging gifts. Amidst all the bustle I wonder how many of us actually experience the love, joy and peace that is the promise of Christmas, or profoundly connect with its underlying meaning. And what is that meaning? To understand it we need the symbolic language of mythos.
The Christmas story takes place in a stable filled with animals at the Winter Solstice, the darkest time of year. Throughout the world, a common association for the symbol of darkness is our own instinctual animal nature and all the ignorance, chaos, and moral irresponsibility that goes with it. Psychologically, this setting is a reference to unconsciousness, the state in which we all begin our lives and often end them as well.
The plot centers around a virgin who gives birth to a baby boy. Virgins and babies symbolize innocence and the abundance of undeveloped possibilities, like the pure state of a soul ready to receive Spirit. Birth represents new life with its potential for growth. And is there significance in the fact that the baby is a boy? Yes. Mary, like the Hindu goddess Durga, symbolizes the feminine source of all energy, and Jesus represents an extraordinarily hopeful new masculine form of ego-life that has manifested from the maternal matrix. From a psychological perspective, the significance of Jesus is that 2,000 years ago he introduced into the Middle-Eastern world an unprecedented (for that place and time) new capacity for a deeply personal, intimate experience of the Great Mystery of life.
At the end of the story three (the number of forward movement that overcomes duality) kings (the masculine principle, sovereignty, and worldly power) arrive after a long and arduous trek from the Far East. Guided by a star, (stars are attributes of all Queens of Heaven and represent the highest attainment, the presence of divinity, hope and light), they bring rare and precious gifts for the tiny baby. The kings symbolize the hard work of individuation and the religious outlook of unified consciousness it brings. This way of being sees the sacredness in everything and reveres every form of life down to the smallest and seemingly least important. Finally, the word Christ is a translation from the Hebrew word messiah. A messiah is a redeemer, someone who will improve the state of humanity and the world.
Like the myths of every religion, the value of this story does not hinge on external fact, but psychological truth. Christ mass celebrates a momentous evolutionary leap forward in consciousness from a primitive, instinctual, self-serving survival mentality into an advanced self-awareness capable of self-control and compassionate living. The secret meaning of Christmas is this:
Like the spirit man Jesus, you and I can experience a rebirth into an expanded level of consciousness capable of improving the state of humanity and the world!
May the enlightenment of your mind be quickened during this holiday season, and may the love in your heart be abundant and overflowing. Merry Christmas.