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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.