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Christmas Celebrations and Traditions

Few people know the history of Christmas Celebrations and Traditions. The idea to celebrate Christmas on December 25th dates back to the 4th century. The Catholic Church wanted to eclipse the festivities of a rival pagan religion that threatened Christianity’s existence.

Romans celebrated the birth of their sun god, Mithras that 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 sun god celebration they would organize a festival in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Facts not withstanding, Jesus’ birth is thought to be in the spring, December 25th was chosen as the official birth celebration as Christ’s Mass so that it would compete head on with the rival pagan celebration.

The December 25th celebration was slow to catch on in colonial America. The early colonists considered it a pagan ritual and it was banned by law in Massachusetts in colonial times.

The word for Christ in Greek is Xristos. During the 16th century, Europeans began using the first initial of Christ’s name, “X” in place of the word Christ in Christmas as a short hand form of the word. Although, the early Christians understood that X stood for Christ’s name, later Christians who did not understand the Greek language mistook “Xmas” as a sign of disrespect. This myth is still perpetuated today.

Santa Claus, St Nicholas, originated 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. However, the Romans held him in contempt. He was imprisoned and tortured. When Constantine became emperor of Rome, he allowed St. Nicholas to go free. Constantine became a Christian and convened the Council of Nicaea in 325. St. 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 placed their wooden shoes by the hearth in hopes that they would be filled with a treat. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaaas, which became Sinterklaas, and finally, in Anglican, to Santa Claus. In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed the 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.

The Druids used Mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter, two hundred years before the birth of Christ. They gathered this evergreen plant that is parasitic upon other trees to decorate their homes. They believed the plant had special healing powers for everything from female infertility to poison ingestion. Scandinavians considered mistletoe a plant of peace and harmony. They associated mistletoe with their goddess of love, Frigga. Thus, the custom of kissing under the mistletoe probably originated from this belief. The early church banned the use of mistletoe in Christmas celebrations because of its pagan origins. Not to be outdone by pagan traditions, Church fathers suggested the use of holly as the appropriate Christmas greenery.

The use of a Christmas tree originated in 16th century Germany. It was common for the Germanic people to decorate fir trees, both inside and out, with roses, apples, and colored paper. It is believed that Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, was the first to light a Christmas tree with candles. While coming home one dark winter night near Christmas, he noticed the beauty of the starlight shining through the branches of a small fir tree outside his home. He replicated the starlight by using candles attached to the branches of his indoor tree. The Christmas tree was not widely used in Britain until the 19th century. In the 1820’s the Christmas tree was brought to Pennsylvania by German immigrants.

Named for America’s first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, the poinsettia plant was brought to America in 1828. Native to Mexico, the poinsettia plant was thought to be symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem in the 18th century. Thus the Poinsettia became associated with the Christmas season. The actual flower of the poinsettia is small and yellow. Surrounding the flower are large, bright red leaves, often mistaken for flower petals.

The production of hard candy has been around for centuries. It wasn’t until early 1900 that they were decorated with red stripes and bent into the shape of a cane. They were sometimes handed out during church services to keep the children quiet. One story told about the origin, probably folklore, has been passed down from the 1800’s. As the story goes, a candy maker in Indiana wanted to express the meaning of Christmas through a symbol made of candy. He had an idea of bending one of his white candy sticks into the shape of a Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols of Christ’s love and sacrifice through the Candy Cane. First, he used a plain white peppermint stick. The color white symbolizes the purity and sinless nature of Jesus.

Next, he added three small stripes to symbolize the pain inflicted upon Jesus before his death. There are three of them to represent the Holy Trinity. He added a bold stripe to represent the blood Jesus shed for mankind. When looked at with the crook on top, it looks like a shepherd’s staff because Jesus is the shepherd of mankind. If you turn it upside down, it becomes the letter ‘J’ symbolizing the first letter in Jesus’ name. The candy maker made these candy canes for Christmas, so everyone would remember the true meaning of Christmas. A Catholic priest, Gregory Keller, invented a machine to automate candy cane production during the 1950's.

Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, author, and international speaker specializes in: Mind, Body, Spirit healing and Physical/Sexual Abuse Prevention and Recovery. As an inspirational leader, Dr. Neddermeyer empowers people to view life's challenges as an opportunity for Personal/Professional Growth and Spiritual Awakening. www.drdorothy.net

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