All are aware of the story of festival Christmas or the Nativity but very few are aware of the traditions and customs and the decorations used during the festive season. This article will provide you with more understanding of the Christmas festival celebrated whole over the world on 25th December by Christians.
As per gospel of Mathew 1 18:25 and Luke 2 1:21, about 2000 years ago, when King Herod was the king of Judea, an Angel of God, named Gabriel appeared to Mary, a young women from a small town of Nazareth and informed her that she would bear a child by the power of the Holy Spirit and would name him 'Jesus'. Mary was afraid as she was a spinster but trusted God and said, "Be it done unto me according to thy words". When Joseph, the man engaged to Mary came to know about her pregnancy, thought of calling off the marriage but the angel appeared to him and explained everything, and he took Mary as his wife. The place where Joseph and Mary lived was part of Roman Empire and Emperor Augustus ordered everyone to register their names in the census in their respective town. Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Joseph's family came from. They traveled slowly by making Mary sit on a donkey as Mary was due to give birth. By the time they reached Bethlehem, it was late, and the inns were full as many people had returned to town for the census. The only place they got was a Manger, a place often used to keep animals, especially at night to keep them warm. It is believed that at midnight, Mary gave birth to a baby boy and as a custom, wrapped him in a long swaddling cloth and placed him in the manger, the place from where the animals ate their hay. During that time, shepherds would look after their flocks of sheep's in the hills and fields and the angel appeared to them and gave them good news about the birth of the savior and the place where they could find the baby lying. The shepherds heard it and praising and singing 'Glory to God in the highest and peace to everyone on earth' went to see baby Jesus. When they went, they saw everything as it was told by the angel, they returned and told everyone about the birth of Savior. When Jesus was born, a new star appeared in the sky and shown brightly on top of the manger and by following the star, the wise men or magi or the 3 Kings came to visit the king of the Jews, baby Jesus.
Image Source: Vennoor church Crib
Below is given the list of items used during the festive season of Advent, Nativity and Christmas:
Crib: St. Francis of Assisi was the first to enact the nativity scene in 1220 using people and animals i.e. he showed live scene. Nowadays, the nativity scenes or the crib are made in every churches and homes of Catholics during Christmas. Some follow the traditional ways while others display new models and latest news giving awareness to people about any events that they want people to focus on. The crib can be from a miniature style of cardboard, POP, mud, clay or even thermocol. The nativity scene includes a manger, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, Shepard's, Cattles, donkeys, sheep's, 3 kings, camel, angel, etc.
Image Source: Vennoor church Star
Advent/ Christmas star: From the bible, after Jesus was, the wise men (Magi or the 3 kings) from the east or Persia came to Jerusalem to see the newborn and worship him. As they went their way in search of the child, the Star guided them by moving ahead and showing them the route and stopped over the place where baby Jesus was born. The Moravian or Herr hunter Stern or the Advent star with 26 or more points was first used in the Moravian church back in 1830s in Germany. It became the symbol for advent and got popular and soon began to use by the churches during Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Now a days Churches and Christian home put on the star in front of their homes from 1st of December, i.e. the start of the Advent season. Starts have started to be in any size, shape and colour.
Image Source: Vennoor Church Christmas Tree
Christmas trees: It is said that decorating and putting a Christmas tree was a German tradition and Prince Albert was the one who put a Christmas tree in 1841 at his Windsor Castle and then it became a trend in Europe. Now a days almost every Christian houses and churches would have a well decorated and lighted Christmas tree in green or white or other colour. A star is placed on top of the tree and this finishes the look for the season.
Christmas lights: In earlier times, people would light the Christmas tree with white candles but in 1882, The electric string light bulbs were invented by Edward H. Johnson and these were used in the White House in 1895. From then onwards, the Christmas tradition of hanging outdoor twinkling lights and decorating the Christmas with lights grew. Now a days, many people use projectors, etc. to add extra sparkle to their decor.
Christmas carols: Carol means song of praise or happiness, dance and add joy to the celebrations and the tunes give the traditional festive feelings in everyone. Carols were written as early as 1410 in Europe. Earlier the orchestras and church choir started singing these carols during the festival as part of Christmas tradition. Earlier only the official carol singers called the "waits" could sing in public and take or collect money from public. The name 'waits' came as they would only sing during Christmas eve. They were also called 'watch night' or 'wait night' as from the bible, the angles appeared to the shepherds when they were watching their sheep's at night. Over time, the singing of carols and going around streets and houses have taken over and a way of spreading the praise and joy of Christmas or holiday season became popular. Some of the known or famous Christmas carols are as follows: English: Jingle Bells, Joy To The World, O Come, All Ye Faithful, The First Noel, Silent Night, We Wish you A Merry Christmas, Carol of the Bells, Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Malayalam: Shantha rathri thiru-rathri, Yahoodiyayile Oru grammathil, Daivam pirakkunnu, Kaval Malaghamare Kannadackaruthe, Kaali Thozhuthil, Malakhamar Paadi, Paithalam Yesuve, Pulkootil Vazhunna, Puthiyoru Pulari, Rathri Rathri, Vaanil Sangeetham, Unni Yesu Piranna Rathri, Paril Pirannu Devan and Merry Merry Merry Christmas.
Christmas cards: Wishing our family members, relatives and friends who are near and far, by sending them a sweet, unique and personalized greeting cards or letter adds joy and happiness during the festive season of Christmas. The first Christmas greeting card was designed by a British artist John Horsley and Sir Henry Cole in 1843 for the Post Office (Public Records Office), during the Victorian period in England with the wording "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year". It was a way of promoting people to use postal services. By 1860, the cards became popular and by 1900, the custom of sending Christmas greetings spread all over Europe. Now a days, the Christian schools and churches encourage the children to make greeting cards and send give it to their friends, teachers and relatives.
Image Source: Vennoor Church Santas
Santa Claus: The name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch nickname of Sinter Klass i.e. short of Saint Nikolas. St. Nicholas, a Bishop from a small place in Asia, Myra (now Turkey) who lived in the 4th century and was a rich man which he acquired through his parents. He was kind and always helped the poor by giving secrete gifts to people in need. He is known by many names like father Christmas in England, Pere Noel in France, Christ kind in Germany and in USA he was called Kris Kringle. Now Kris Kringle and St. Nicholas became Sinter Klass and present-day Santa Claus. The feast is celebrated on his death anniversary i.e. on 6th December.
Snowman: The famous snowman is 'Frosty the Snowman' which appeared in the Christmas song written by Steve Nelson in the year 1950, recorded by the American singer Perry Como in the year 1953. At first, the snowmen were made to scare away the winter evil or devil spirits and slowly, it was made to play and make fun in the snow. Nowadays, many put snowmen as decorations during Christmas. There are many snow and ice carving festivals were people build large ice sculptures during Christmas.
Christmas stockings : According to an old story, it is believed that a widowed man was broke and worrying as he had no money for a dowry for his 3 unmarried daughters and St Nicholas. Known as the gift giver, heard about the family's misery and wanted to help. As it was cold outside, after the laundry, the daughter left their stockings hanging by the fireplace to dry. That night, St Nicholas visited the house threw three bags of gold down the chimney and it fell into stockings left hanging to dry near the fireplace. This way the family received the money they needed to get his 3 daughters married. From then onward, people Hang stockings to give it a festive Christmas tradition and feel.
Christmas Mistletoe: It comes from 2 Anglo Saxton words. 'Mistle' which means dung and 'tan' which means stick or twig. Mistletoe is a parasite or plant that grows on trees and you often see it hanging from the trees. During the ancient druids, it was believed that mistletoe possess mystical powers that bring luck to the family and ward off evil spirits. It was also a symbol of love and friendship and according to Norse mythology, kissing under the Mistletoe would keep their love life to the end thus, the custom of kissing under the Mistletoe came in and was used during Christmas and burned once it is over. You must have heard the famous Christmas carol 'I saw mummy kissing Santa Claus, underneath the Mistletoe last night'.
Christmas Gift and Christmas Friend or Secret Santa: The custom of giving gifts is from the gifts given by the wise men to Jesus. The 3 wise men or the 3 Kings presented baby Jesus with Gold associated with Kings, Frankincense which is used to worship in churches and Myrrh, a perfume used on dead bodies to smell good. Thus, the tradition of giving and receiving gifts is practiced. The gifts are kept I different places like, under the Christmas tree, Put in the Stockings, in the shoe or boot, etc. The gifts are opened on Christmas day when the full family gathers. In many schools, Sunday class, workplaces and clubs, they have a Secret Santa. The names of all the people in the Class, Workplace or club is written in a chit and put in the box. Everyone is asked to pull one chit and the name on it will be his Secret Santa or Friend. One needs to buy a present for that person and give it to him/her on the Christmas day or Christmas party. Everyone share the present, but nobody knows who the person is who brought the present, thus called the Secret Santa.
Christmas Puddings: The actual Christmas pudding was a porridge "Frumenty" made of beef, mutton, raisins, wine, spices, prunes and currants which was made like a soup in the 14th century and eaten as a fasting meal before the Christmas festival. It slowly changed and in 1595, it changed to a plum pudding which was thickened by adding eggs, dried fruits, breadcrumbs, beer and spirits which were added to give flavor. By 1650, it became a traditional dessert during Christmas. In 1714, King George 1, re-established the pudding in the Christmas meal and during the Victorian time, it changed and is somewhat same as we have it today. Over the years, the ingredients changed and now, it is made of 13 ingredients which represent Jesus and his 12 Disciples and thus every member of the family takes a turn to stir the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west in honor of the 3 wise men or the 3 Kings. This is normally prepared on the last Sunday of the church year or the Sunday before the Advent and is often called the 'stir-up Sunday'. There is a custom of putting a silver coin or other items called a token or favor in the pudding and the person who finds it is said to be a lucky person.
Christmas Wreath: Wreath is derived from the old English word 'writhen' meaning twist and the Christmas wreath of today was started from Eastern European or German customs. Wreath was started in the Roman times when they hung it in front of their doors as a sign of victory, it was given to winners in Greece during Olympic games and even worn by rich Roman women as hair dresses during the wedding to show wealth and status.
As everyone is familiar with the Christmas tradition, customs and story of the nativity. I hope this article has helped you understand it more. Kindly provide your comments for the article.
Article by Varghese “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” — George Sand
The author has explained all the details of Christmas in a way that is understandable to all. There is nothing special about Christmas but the response could only include why the baby was born in the world and what it was after.
The most significant change in the world order is in the history section. This birth caused world history to be divided. That is, before and after Christ began to be split (BC&AD) and a new year began. His main teaching is to love our neighbour as ourselves. He also taught that if there is no love at all, man is only a sounding drum or a clapping cymbal.
Thank you Wilson sir for your good comments and motivation. It is true that after the birth of Lord Jesus, the calender got split like the red sea into two, before Christ (BC)and after Christ or anno domini(AD). Thank you for the information.
The author has beautifully explained the details of Christmas celebration. Apart from cakes and gifts at Christmas, another thing that has special importance in this festival is the Christmas tree. It is an evergreen tree of which the leaves neither fall in any season nor wither in it. In England, people plant the Christmas tree in memory of someone's birthday, marriage, or even after the death of a relative. Through this, they wish that this will always keep the earth green. Ancient history reveals that the Christmas tree was planted in the garden of Eden also.
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