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Christmas Traditions - CHRISTMAS LEGENDS & TRADITIONS
'Merry Christmas!' evokes a feeling of warmth and happiness that encompasses the world in a thread of love and oneness as preached by the Lord Christ who took birth on this day. There are many traditions that have become associated with this festival over time such as Christmas tree, Star and Santa Claus that have their own significance and role to play in the Christmas celebration. An accumulation of the practices of at least half a dozen cultures over the centuries, all the Christmas traditions have their own sentiments and meanings and are symbolic of liveliness and harmony of the season.

Santa Claus:

Santa Claus
Father Christmas or Santa Claus is the favorite of all children on Christmas. The big fat belly, cheerful red color and snow-white beard with that sweet perpetual smile and 'Ho-Ho-Ho' makes this character instantly lovable to kids and adults alike. Children peep our of windows in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Santa on his reindeer sleigh with Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer and number of bags full of toys for good children all over the world. They also hope to see Elvin, the favorite and hard-working elf of Santa, who looks after Santa's Rudolf accompanying him on his ride. They wait for the Christmas presents from Santa, which they believe they will find in their stockings or hanging from pillowcases.

Children take pains to decorate their Christmas present list for Santa and keep it on the windowsill with sugar, cookies, pies and drinks to attract the attention of Santa to it and treat him in return for his kindness. Kids never miss out on checking the gifts Santa brings them on the Christmas night and love to cuddle the big fat Santa in his red suit as he hands candies to the little kids. It is said that the custom of Santa Claus was started after the life of Saint Nicholas, a generous and kind-hearted saint who loved children and was always eager to help poor and the downtrodden. It is said that one Christmas night, he saw a poor father and his three daughters crying for they were so poor that they had eaten nothing for the whole day and could not afford dowry for the girls' marriage. Thus, Nicholas threw three bags of gold from the chimney that fell in the stocking of each girl and brought happiness into their lives forever.

Christmas Tree:

An ornamented and illuminated Christmas tree has its own attraction during Christmas as everybody keeps straying around it, if just to get a peek of the little treasure of gifts accumulated at its base. It symbolizes warmth, love and happiness of the festive season. Martin Luther, the German monk and the famous church reformer has been credited with the indoor tree decorations. It is said that once while he was wandering through the woods, he saw the dew glistening like stars on the fir trees. He was so mesmerized by the beauty that he brought a small tree to his home and tried to recreate the splendor by lighting up little candles on it.

In the Middle Ages, evergreen trees in home or near home symbolized hope for Spring for Germans and Scandinavians. Later it came to be symbolized as life in Europe and other parts of the world and was thus adopted as Christmas symbol. There is an interesting legend associating it with the birth of Jesus Christ. On the night when Jesus was born, all creatures contributed gifts to be taken to Bethlehem. While olive tree provided its fruit and palm tree came up with dates, fir tree was at loss and was distressed, as it could offer nothing to the newborn king. So an angel took pity on the poor tree and decorated it with stars. Baby Jesus was pleased to see the lighted tree. Since then, it has become a custom to decorate the fir tree on Christmas.

Poinsettia:

A much-beloved star-shaped flower of the United States, Poinsettia has a bright red color. Also termed as 'Flower of the Holy Night' or the 'Flame Leaf', the botanic name of this plant is Euphorbia Pulcherrima. It
Poinsettia
was named 'Poinsettia' by German botanist, Wilenow, which means 'very beautiful'. According to a Mexican legend, a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo were so poor that they had nothing to take as a gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene set up in the village church during the Christmas festival. They were sad and distressed and while on the way to the church to attend the service, they decided to gather a handful of common weeds as a gift to Christ and made them into a small bouquet.

Touched by their sincerity and devotion and the courage with which they took their humble gift to the church despite of the teasing of other village children, an angel took pity on them and blessed them. Maria and Pablo quietly placed the green plants around the manger with all the heart and to everybody's surprise, a miracle happened then and there and the green top leaves turned into bright red petals to make beautiful star-like flowers. All who witnessed the scene was touched by the kindness of the great Lord and devotion of the children.

Christmas Star:

It is said that a brightly shining star that had miraculously appeared in the eastern sky guided the magi (the three wise men from the East) to the newborn king. Astronomers ruled out the possibility of a meteor that burns up in seconds or a comet because according to their calculation, no comets cross the earth's path around the time of Christ's birth. However, since the magi were also the astrologers of their time, they may have made calculations and interpreted them to predict that a divine soul was to be born on the Jewish land. Now people adorn the churches and homes during Christmas with star as a holy sign that symbolizes high hopes, good fortune and happiness in their lives.

According to some stargazers, if we put the birth of Jesus in springtime of 6 B.C., then perhaps we may account for the said star as the triangle of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn planets that had come close together at that time to form the constellation of Pisces, considered specially auspicious by Jewish rabbis. However, some keep themselves aloof from all logic and just believe it to be a miracle and today, the world usually begins the Christian holiday with the appearance of the first star of Christmas Eve. Poland celebrates the Festival of the Star, where the priest acts as the 'Star Man' to test the children's knowledge of religion just after the Christmas Eve meal. Alaskan boys and girls carry a star shaped figure from house to house singing carols on Christmas and receive treats in turn. In Hungary, a star-shaped pattern is carved on one half of the apple is considered a good luck charm.

Gifts:

Christmas teaches us to care about our loved ones, our friends and relatives, our enemies and foes, strangers, poor and downtrodden alike. It binds us in one spirit of hope, love and faith. Giving and receiving gifts is not about money but about the thoughts that you gave in to select the gift. The tradition can be traced back to the birth of Christ. According to the legend, the three wise men or magi from the East brought expensive and precious gifts for the baby Jesus and get his blessings as the newborn king. It is said that one of them brought gold as the symbol of royal splendor to crown the baby as King of the kings. Another brought frankincense with him, which could only be offered to the brazen alter in front of the Holy of Holies and on the Day of Atonement and was thus a special gift too. The last of them brought myrrh, the burial ointment with cleansing qualities to represent the purpose of Jesus Christ as the Savior of all the sinners of the world.

There were shepherds and people from all walks of life who brought anything that they could afford as a gift and the child blessed him, not according to the cost of the gift but by the depth of love and devotion behind the gift. Today, people share their happiness and merriment with each other on Christmas as they wrap the gifts with flashy and decorated colored papers and send it to them with the good wishes. The gifts may vary according to the age, choice and status of the person in life but it is the thought that counts. Besides, nothing equals the excitement of opening up the gifts at the midnight hour as people pick up their gifts from the bottom of the tree and eagerly see what is their in store for them.

Candy Cane:

Candy Cane
Earlier, candy canes were shaped like a shepherd's crook as a symbol of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. A candy maker introduced the Christmas Candy Cane in 17th century from Indiana. He perfected it to incorporate the several symbols from the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. He used the pure white color originally to symbolize purity and virginity of Mother Mary, and the sinless nature of Jesus Christ and his perfect life. The rock-harness symbolized the Solid Rock (Christ) as the foundation of Christianity and believer's life. The 'J-shape' of the candy represents the first letter of Jesus as well as the staff of the Good Shepherd'. Later in the early 20th century, the three small red stripes and one large red stripe were introduced to represent the stripes of the scourging Jesus and the bloodshed by Christ on the Cross.

Midnight Mass:

On Christmas Eve, midnight mass and day services are held in the Churches to send out the message and sermons of love and redemption to the devotees as people gather to pray and thank god for his blessings and commemorate the sacrifices of Christ that he made to save the mankind. Midnight mass is held, as Christ was believed to be born, at the stroke of midnight. People dress up in their best holiday clothes as they go to the church at midnight mass, which is usually followed by Christmas celebrations. A lot of Christmas carols and hymns, Christmas decorations, candles, scripture and Bible readings are the highlights of the Midnight mass.

Priests often ask people to 'give each other the sign of peace', which is considered a clue to shake the hand of a complete or give a quick kiss or hug to a family member as the sign of love and compassion and oneness of the mankind on the Christmas Eve. Midnight Mass caters to keep alive the spirit of Christmas in the lives of men.


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