Gingerbread, mistletoe, and eggnog surely have a charm of their own. However, the true meaning of Christmas lies not in decorations and drinks. And yet, there are objects and places that whisper stories that help us understand what Christmas is about. Some of them are rather ancient.
Scattered across the globe, relics related to Christmas offer a tangible link to the Nativity, transporting us back to the manger and the dawn of Christianity. There are three remarkable churches where relics illuminate the spirit of Christmas, reminding us of its lasting presence and profound significance.
1. Bethlehem’s Milk Grotto:
The Cripta Lactea, known in English as the Milk Grotto, is nestled within Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Tradition claims that here, Mary nursed Jesus, and a milky sheen on the walls is said to be a testament to that sacred moment. Some other versions say a drop of Mary’s milk fell on the floor, and the cave changed its whole color to white. Each Christmas Eve a special Mass celebrates the bond between mother and child, reminding us of the mystery of the Incarnation as a full-fledged human story at the heart of the divine.
2. Cologne’s Magi:
In the majestic Cologne Cathedral, tradition claims the bones of the Three Wise Men are preserved. These rather enigmatic figures, guided by a star, embarked on a journey that mirrored our own quest for faith. Their relics, housed in a golden reliquary, draw pilgrims throughout the year, but especially during Christmas, when we celebrate their role in the Nativity story, inviting us to think about the gifts we ourselves bring into the world.
3. The Santo Bambino:
Atop Rome’s Capitoline Hill, the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli cradles a beloved treasure: the Santo Bambino, a 15th-century wooden statue of Jesus. Though not a relic, it holds a special place in the hearts of Romans, and of Christians in general: The image was carved from a single block of olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane by a Franciscan friar assigned to the Holy Land in the 15th century. Adorned in elaborate robes and jewels, the Santo Bambino is carried in a festive Christmas procession, its gentle gaze offering hope and blessings to all who seek them.
These are but a glimpse into the many churches around the world where Christmas relics reside. Each one is a testament to faith, tradition, and the redeeming power of the Nativity story. So, as we celebrate this season, let us remember the stories these relics tell us, enriching our understanding of Christmas.