The Hidden Meaning of Christmas


Imagine our surprise when, on a trip to Indochina several years ago, our group of travelers arrived in Saigon to find it decorated for Christmas! Outside a major department store, workers were carving thick slabs of styrofoam into mounds of look-alike snow beneath the window displays. Our hotel lobby held a giant blue Christmas tree and a life-sized Santa Claus who swiveled his hips while singing “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 family, preparing special foods, and exchanging gifts. Of course, this can be deeply comforting and pleasurable for some of us, but I often wonder how many of us actually experience the underlying meaning of Christmas.

The story takes place in a stable filled with animals at the Winter Solstice, the darkest time of year. A stable is a shelter for instinctual animals. Psychologically, darkness refers to the undifferentiated chaos in which we all begin our lives. In humanity’s mad, egocentric rush toward refined knowledge and complete control over matter, we have lost our connection with instinct, soul, and heart. But like every symbol, all the connotations of darkness are not negative. Taschen’s The Book of Symbols tells us:

“Yet, what appears to be only absence, emptiness and obscurity may actually point to a luminosity, presence and fullness of being  peculiar to darkness’ domain.  Is it not, after all, alive and stirring?” p. 102

I’m getting the spirit in the dark

I’m getting the spirit in the dark

People moving, aw, ain’t we grooving?

Just getting the spirit in the dark.

~Aretha Franklin, Spirit in the Dark

The plot centers around a virgin who gives birth to a baby in a stable beneath an unusually bright star on a dark night. Virgins and babies symbolize innocence and the abundance of undeveloped possibilities, like the pure state of a soul ready to receive Spirit. If we can be as humble and accepting as virgins and babies in the midst of darkness, it will gradually reveal its concealed treasures, symbolized by the giant star: the spark of awareness of our individual, sacred worth. Marie Von Franz thought of the star as “an image of the soul outside the ‘event horizon’ of space and time—existing beyond death in a state of unextended intensity…” Taschen, p. 20

Birth represents new life with its potential for maturing into an enlarged life of meaning, increased empowerment, and wholeness. And is there significance in the fact that the baby is a boy? Yes. Mary, like the Hindu goddess Durga, represents the protective mother of the universe, the source of all energy. Jesus represents the awakening of a new masculine form of enspirited life that had emerged from the primal darkness of the maternal matrix. From Soul’s perspective, the significance of Jesus is that 2,022 years ago he introduced our hope for a meaningful union with the Spirit that dwells within us.

You darkness, that I come from,

I love you more than all the fires

that fence in the world . . .

~Ranier Maria Rilke, You, Darkness

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 the star—stars are attributes of all Queens of Heaven and also represent the highest attainment, the presence of divinity, hope and light—they bring rare and precious gifts for the baby. The kings symbolize the hard work of individuation and the religious outlook of unified consciousness, a way of being that sees the sacredness in everything and reveres every form of life down to the smallest and seemingly least significant.

Yet light, too, has a shadow side in the psychology of humanity, for as the fourth century Christian writer, Gregory of Nyssa, realized,

“. . . it is only after one has quenched the brilliant light of the reasoning mind that one may enter most immediately into the presence and knowledge of god: ” Moses’ vision of God began with light, afterwards God spoke to him in a cloud. But when Moses rose higher and became more perfect, he saw god in the darkness.” Taschen, 102.

Dark and light, unconscious and conscious, soul and spirit, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity. . . . no words or creeds hold all the answers to life’s sacred mysteries. When self-righteously viewed as the ultimate good, they deny the alchemical God Mercury’s unifying nature which defies all categories and crosses all borders, whether between heaven, earth, and the underworld, or between individuals.

Like myths of every religion, the Christmas story does not hinge on external fact, but on psychological reality. Christ mass celebrates a momentous evolutionary leap forward in human consciousness from an emphasis on self-preservation into an advanced self-awareness based on self-preservation joined with species-preservation, that is capable of authentic being, living, and loving. The hidden meaning of Christmas is that you and I can experience a rebirth into Christ-awareness of ourselves and each other.

May your respect for Nature’s miraculous world of matter, your gratitude for the miracle of your life, and the love in your heart be quickened during this blessed holiday season. Merry Christmas.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at 

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19 Responses

  1. Blessings Jeanie,
    As our family, children, grandchildren, and cousins, gathered around the table on Christmas Even after our Church service of an adaption of “Lessons and Carol” we talked about why we honor the birth of Christ. Your post captured so beautifully what I tried to say, I forwarded it to everyone in the family Christmas day.
    Thank you for your wise words,

    1. Sally,
      Thank you for your trust in my words, but know I trust that your words were every bit as sufficient as mine, and far moreso, because they came from your heart and were directed to people you love who love you back. Communications from love to love are the most meaningful and memorable of all….and make the most difference.
      I so appreciate your support,

  2. Some celebrate shopping, some the meaning of peace, love and goodwill. Me, I am missing the love built of deep connections and carefull tending like the newborn babe who sniffles to riminds her Mother that she has been unattended too long.
    This blog reminds me to follow the star and bring my chrished ones to sit and nuture what is on the planet for me to see and share. The gift of each other!. Eyes that smile, skin that is soft, kisses that smack and words that fill my head with nods that hear old vibrations and new stories fill with outlandish parts of otherworldly creations.
    Blessed are the days of replinishment and remembering how deep, rich and eternal our source is. Ann

    1. Dear Ann,
      Deep connections and careful tending…of the gift of each other…are what life is all about, as no one knows better than you. This time of year makes me especially grateful for my cherished ones and reminds me that understanding otherness is matched only by patiently and reverentially loving it anyway.

  3. A lovely re-post Jeanie thank you. It’s wonderful that there are writers such as you who point out to what is under the surface; to what may not be readily discerned.
    Love and all good wishes for a blessed Christmas. Susan

  4. Thank you, Susan. I wrote the original version in 2010, reposted it in 2012, and now,10 years later, have revised it considerably to reflect what I’ve learned since then. Redoing this one was a work of love, for the subject is very dear to me insofar as I increasingly experience the sacred interconnectedness of all life. Thank you for being part of mine. Love, Jeanie

  5. It’s true, my lovely Jeane. Your description meets all my perceptions about Christmas. It is indeed a worldwide ceremony, of course, not necessarily for shopping, but as I found it even in Iran those days, this is a celebration for awakening our hearts. As I first shared photos of our (family) decorated tree on FB, my brother-in-law, who still lives in Iran, thought I had changed my religion from Islam to Christ. I had to explain to him that I celebrate this because of its goodness and beauty, which has nothing to do with the creed! I wish you and your loved ones, from the button of my heart, a beautiful, peaceful season and a time full of love and happiness. For ever yours, Aladin.

    1. A worldwide celebration for awakening our hearts! I really like that. A celebration of goodness and beauty which, in the depths, really isn’t about a particular creed. It’s about feeling love and gratitude for others and behaving with benevolence even to people who are very different from us. Yes, this is a universal feeling and a universal need. Looked at this way, Christmas is essentially one manifestation of the archetype of our yearning for happiness, love, hope, and peace! Thank you for sharing these thoughts with me, Aladin. Yours, Jeanie

      1. Christmas is essentially one manifestation of the archetype of our yearning for happiness, love, hope, and peace… That is a knowledgeable and wise look! You are highly appreciated, my lovely Jeane.

  6. Dear Jeanie, another year has passed, or twelve, should I say! Wishing you Winter Solstice blessings, a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year. Thank you so much my dear friend, my soror mystica, for the love, friendship and support you’ve gifted me this year.

    Thank you for reposting this rich symbolic Christmas post, most especially the exquisite Rilke quote. Hmm, shopping seems to be the ‘cover’ story, rebirth the ‘true’ one, as the fruit of our soul is re-birthed at this time of the year. Fruit that returns us to the light of these dark winter nights.

    Together with the lavish foods and lavish presents that adorn our Christmas tables, let us all remember to gift each other love, kindness, care and compassion. Myself, I’ll be taking things slow, resting up, reading lots, and preparing for Twelfth Night and another birth. Love and light, Deborah.

    1. Dear Deborah,

      Yes, our essential longing for and joy when we experience rebirth! Perhaps this is the essence of the archetype I’m searching for. Certainly rebirth is an archetype, just as birth and growth are archetypal. They happen to all of us and we all understand them, though we each have our own experience of them. Your fruit metaphor works for the same reason: fruit being the rewards for undergoing the birth/death/rebirth cycle consciously and with love and gratitude. Thanks for these great insights.

      I’m taking this slow too, pacing myself to be fully prepared and ready to relax when the family comes over for dinner this Sunday. We shopped over the weekend, I read all day yesterday (the best, most extraordinary book ever!!! “About Blady” by Sir Laurens Van Der Post. Then today I made two batches of Christmas cookies which anyone who wants to will decorate on Sunday. I’m enjoying this season very much this year.

      Wishing you all the blessings of the season, Jeanie

  7. Beautiful. Thank you.
    Reminds me of a few lines from a prayer, Rassoul, by Hazrat Inayat Khan …

    … The sun at the dawn of creation
    The light of the whole universe,
    The fulfillment of god’s purpose,
    Thou, the Life Eternal, we seek refuge in thy
    loving enfoldment …

  8. And thank you, Ashen, for Hazrat Inayat Khan’s prayer. It’s an exquisitely apt poetic expression of the true meaning of Christmas that resonates deeply. Loving blessings to you, Jeanie

  9. Jeannie, this is a beautiful and different commentary on the birth of Christ. Thank you for sharing this.
    Blessings to your family. X0. Donna

  10. Thank you, Jeanie,
    Vic and I saw a similar scene in Taiwan–Chinese, Buddhism, and Santa Claus.

    I always remember a quote Marion Woodman loved and often repeated from TS Eliot:
    “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

    My sons and I will have a quiet Solstice. I still haven’t gathered the candles, but I know where to look and we have a simple menu which won’t require hours of preparation. Love and peace to you and your family, Elaine

    1. Thank you for the quote. It’s so apt for this post. I’m so glad you’ll be celebrating the Solstice with your sons. It sounds like a fully satisfying and meaningful ritual for you. Love and peace to you and your family, Jeanie

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