For me and for hundreds of thousands of my Christian brothers and sisters in this land we used to call Godzone, this time of the year is hugely significant only because it celebrates the beginning of the greatest story ever told, the biblical record of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Son of God.
It matters not that like nearly all religious festivals, Christmas has over the centuries become an inextricable mixture of the sacred and the secular. Indeed it is that which gives it, in this ever-diminishing world, its special and lasting significance.
For, with its unchanging theme of peace on Earth and goodwill to all people, it can be celebrated by everyone, irrespective of race, colour, creed or religious belief. That is its universal and eternal appeal.
I never tire of hearing the Christmas story, nor of telling it. And I have been privileged to have been able to tell the true story of Christmas in this newspaper in editorials and columns for the past 20 years.
This week, I spent some time rereading all those Christmas editorials and columns and came across one which is as relevant today as it was when it first appeared as a Herald editorial in 1992 - unsurprising, since the real Christmas story is timeless ...
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." In those few words, recorded in the Bible, Jesus Christ sums up for Christians the full meaning of the first Christmas, of everything which happened up to the first Easter, and of Christianity to this day.
Only a few New Zealanders will give those words a moment's thought on Christmas Day, but they remain for this nation's Christian remnant the very kernel of spiritual truth and the sole reason for this "festive season" - the celebrating, the gift-giving, the holiday.
The Bible records that the birth of Jesus Christ on the first Christmas morning was heralded by an angel who proclaimed: "... behold I bring you tidings of great joy which will be for all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord." Of him his parent Joseph had been told: "... you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
His birth fulfilled a prophesy made some 600 years earlier: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child and bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel," which is translated as "God with us."
At the centre of Christian belief is that with the birth of Jesus Christ God himself came down to Earth to dwell among his people.
The tiny hands that so entranced Mary and Joseph in the Bethlehem manger would one day reach out to the diseased, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the anxious, the grieving, the fearful, the helpless and the hopeless with an infinitely compassionate healing touch.
The tiny mouth which sought his mother's breast would later speak words the like of which had never been heard before; words which explained for the first time the reality of God's eternal, unquenchable love for all mankind, the depth of his desire to be fully reconciled with his children and to be allowed to be a perfect father to everyone.
Jesus drew a verbal blueprint for a perfect world to be presided over by a perfect God, then, on the first Easter, went to the cross, the tomb and resurrection from the dead so that all mankind might have relief from sin and the fear of death and live happily ever after.
It did not happen then; it has not happened yet. Misery continues to stalk the Earth; man's inhumanity to man continues unabated. Tens of thousands starve to death; thousands die in religious, ethnic and political conflicts. Greed, economic inequity and a continued unravelling of the moral fabric of society brings another sort of anguish to millions throughout the world, including New Zealand.
Why? Christians will say that it is because now, as then, with the exception of a handful, men and women for whom Jesus Christ came into the world have chosen to ignore him, to look upon the greatest story ever told as a fairy tale.
But as yet another Christmas Day arrives millions will rejoice afresh in Jesus' words: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." And: "These things have I spoken to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
They know that God's promise to all mankind of peace of mind through his Son, sealed on that first Christmas Day and renewed every Christmas since, remains open to all who will receive it.By Garth George Email Garth