Monday, December 3, 2007

Christmas Traditions - Origins

December 25th -

The idea to celebrate Christmas on December 25 originated in the 4th century. The Catholic Church wanted to eclipse the festivities of a rival pagan religion that threatened Christianity's existence. The Romans celebrated the birthday of their sun god, Mithras during this time of year. Although it was not popular, or even proper, to celebrate people's birthdays in those times, church leaders decided that in order to compete with the pagan celebration they would themselves order a festival in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Although the actual season of Jesus' birth is thought to be in the spring, the date of December 25 was chosen as the official birthday celebration as Christ's Mass so that it would compete head on with the rival pagan celebration. Christmas was slow to catch on in America. The early colonists considered it a pagan ritual. The celebration of Christmas was even banned by law in Massachusetts in colonial days.

Plants -

Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. They would decorate their home due to the believed healing powers. Scandinavians also used Mistletoe in their homes and it was used to honor their goddess of love, Frigga. This may be why today we still kiss under the mistletoe. Mistletoe was banned for sometime by the Christian churches and was replaced with holly. Today we generally see the use of both of at least plastic replicas.

Poinsettias are native Mexican plants and the plants were named after the U.S. first ambassador to Mexico Joel Poinsett. The Mexicans used this plant to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. The plants were no
t used for Christmas decor until the 1830's.

Christmas Trees -

The Christmas tree made its origins in Germany in the 16th century. Roses, apples, and colored
paper first decorated fir trees inside as well as outside the homes. Many legends hold that Martin Luther the protestant reformer was the first to light candles placed on the branches of the trees. The idea of the Christmas tree didn't take hold in Britain until the early 19th century but was brought to America by German settlers in the early 1800's.

Xmas -

Xmas is consider by many Christians as a sign of disrespect, because it replaces Christ with X therefore taking Christ out of Christmas. The actual origins come from the 16th century. Xristos is Greek for Christ and many Europeans used X in place of Xristos and called the holiday Xmas, we assume it is because Xristosmas is a little hard to pronounce or because it is a totally different word altogether.

The Candy Cane -

Candy canes have been around for many centuries, but not until around 1903 that they were decorated with stripes and bent into the shape of a cane. They handed out during church services to keep the children quiet. One story that is often told about the origin of the candy cane is as follows: That candy makers wanted a candy that would exemplify the meaning of Christmas. What better way then to have a piece of candy made in the shape of a "J". Also the colors represent purity(white) and three red stripes to represent the Holy Trinity and the pain inflicted upon Jesus.

Santa Clause -

The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was born in Turkey in the 4th century. He was very pious from an early age, devoting his life to Christianity. He became widely known for his generosity for the poor. But the Romans held him in contempt. He was imprisoned and tortured. But when Constantine became emperor of Rome, he allowed Nicholas to go free. Constantine became a Christian and convened the Council of Nicaea in 325. Nicholas was a delegate to the council. He is especially noted for his love of children and for his generosity. He is the patron saint of sailors, Sicily, Greece, and Russia. He is also, of course, the patron saint of children. The Dutch kept the legend of St. Nicholas alive. In 16th century Holland, Dutch children would place their wooden shoes by the hearth in hopes that they would be filled with a treat. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaas, which became corrupted to Sinterklaas, and finally, in Anglican, to Santa Claus. In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nick," which was later published as "The Night Before Christmas." Moore is credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit.

Gift Giving -

Several months after Jesus Christ was born, wise men came and presented gifts to Him. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem

Gift Giving actually goes back before the birth of Christ during Roman times. Romans would celebrate the New Year by giving each other gifts. But the gift giving tradition that we know today dates back to Victorian England. and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh"

The Victorians, who brought a renewed warmth and spirit to Christmas after it had experienced a long period of decline, made the idea of family part of the celebration. Friendliness and charity filled many hearts during their Christmas season, so giving gifts was natural. The ultimate reason for giving a gift was as an expression of kindness, a sentiment that went nicely with the historical tradition of the holiday.

The Victorians surrounded the act of gift giving with a great deal of ingenuity and merriment: simply tearing into a cache of wrapped boxes would have been to miss the point. Far more thought and preparation than that were in order during the holiday season. They had cobweb parties, which was a lot of messy fun. Each family member was assigned a color, then shown to a room crisscrossed with yarn of various colors. Each person was to follow an assigned color through the web of yarn until he or she reached the present tied to the end.

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