Origin of Christmas
Christmas or Xmas
Snow and IceSnow, Ice and Christmas often go together, although why it should is a bit strange! There is no snow or ice in the Christmas story told in the Bible. However, snow does fall in Israel. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are on a range of hills that go north to south between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan valley. The top of these hills are about 1600 ft (500 m) high. The hills can have very cold weather from November to April and snow can often fall. So, although the Bible story may not have snow in it, Jesus may well have seen some snow in his life! The reason that we think of Snow and Ice at Christmas is probably down to the Victorians! Although Christmas was taken over from the Pagan winter solstice festivals in Europe, it was the Victorians who gave us our 'traditional' Christmas in Europe and the USA At the start of the Victorian era. One of the main reasons that the Victorians put Snow and Christmas together was the book 'A Christmas Carol' written in 1843 by Charles Dickens.
Christmas Traditions and Customs
Christmas CandlesThere are many different reasons why candles are associated with Christmas, although no one knows when they first became connected! They were used during ancient winter solstice celebrations a way of remembering that spring would soon come. One of the earliest records of candles being used at Christmas is from the middle ages, where a large candle was used to represent the star of Bethlehem. Jesus is sometimes called 'the Light of the World' by Christians. This might have started the custom of the Advent Crown and Advent Candles. Candles are also used during Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of light which is also celebrated during winter. During the eight nights of Hanukkah, a candle is lit in a special menorah (candelabra) called a 'hanukkiyah'. Candles are also used in the modern winter festival Kwanzaa, where a special candle holder called a kinara, that holds seven candles is used. Perhaps the most famous use of candles at Christmas are Carols by Candlelight Services. These are services when the church is only lit by candles. Candles were also originally used to decorate Christmas Trees, until safer electric lights were invented!
Christmas CardsThe custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. He was a senior civil servant (Government worker) who had helped set-up the new 'Public Record Office' (now called the Post Office), where he was an Assistant Keeper, and wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people. Sir Henry had the idea of Christmas Cards with his friend John Horsley, who was an artist. They designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each. (That is only 5p or 8 cents today(!), but in those days it was worth much much more.) The card had three panels. The outer two panels showed people caring for the poor and in the center panel was a family having a large Christmas dinner! Some people didn't like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine! About 1000 (or it might have been less!) were printed and sold. They are now very rare and cost thousands of Pounds or Dollars to buy now!
Christmas TreesThe evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God. Nobody is really sure when Fir trees were first used as Christmas trees. It probably began about 1000 years ago in Northern Europe. Many early Christmas Trees seem to have been hung upside down from the ceiling using chains. Other early Christmas Trees, across many parts of northern Europe, were cherry or hawthorn plants (or a branch of the plant) that were put into pots and brought inside so they would hopefully flower at Christmas time.
Christmas CrackersChristmas crackers are a traditional Christmas favorite in the UK. They were first made in about 1845-1850 by a London sweet maker called Tom Smith. He had seen the French 'bon bon' sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper). He came back to London and tried selling sweets like that in England and also included a small motto or riddle in with the sweet. But they didn't sell very well. Legend says that, one night, while he was sitting in front of his log fire, he became very interested by the sparks and cracks coming from the fire. Suddenly, he thought what a fun idea it would be, if his sweets and toys could be opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half. Crackers were originally called 'cosaques' and were thought to be named after the 'Cossack' soldiers who had a reputation for riding on their horses and firing guns into the air!
Christmas PresentsOne of the main reasons we have the custom of giving and receiving presents at Christmas, is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the Wise Men: Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh. The Wisemen visiting Jesus Frankincense was a perfume used in Jewish worship and, as a gift, it showed that people would worship Jesus. Gold was associated with Kings and Christians believe that Jesus is the King of Kings. Myrrh was a perfume that was put on dead bodies to make them smell nice and, as a gift, it showed that Jesus would suffer and die. Christmas itself is really about a big present that God gave the world about 2000 years ago - Jesus! One of the most famous Bible verses, John 3:16, says: 'God loved the world so much, that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life.'
Happy Christmas or Merry Christmas
Santa Claus on Christmas Day
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