Christmas Traditions

December 1

Christmas Traditions

We start the Christmas season with some traditions and how they came about.

Christmas in December.  Christmas of course is the celebration of Christ’s birth, but why is it in December?  Christmas comes from Christ’s Mass, a mass of the early Catholic church to celebrate Jesus Christ.  In the Fourth Century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.  It is commonly believed that Christ’s Mass was celebrated in December to counter the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, the god of agriculture, which occurred shortly after the winter solstice, December 21.

Christmas Tree.  The Christmas tree probably originated in Germany in the 1600s.  An evergreen tree was chosen because greem represents life and the evergreen is, as its name says, ever green, hence, representative of life eternal.

Wreaths.  Wreaths are much like the evergreen tree, the green symbolizing life overcoming the forces of winter.  In ancient Rome, wreaths were used a symbols of victory.  The tradition of hanging a wreath on the front door probably comes from this.  Holly is often used because it combines the Christmas colors of green in the leaves and red in the berries.

Christmas Colors.  The traditional colors of Christmas are red and green.  Red symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ, while green stands for life eternal.

Carols.  The word “carol” comes from the Greek choraulein, a dance accompanied by music.  The dance spread throughout Europe and became popular with the French who replaced music with singing.  Originally, carols were performed at all holidays, but gradually they became associated with Christmas only.

Christmas Cards.  The first Christmas card was created in 1843.  It resembled a postcard and showed a family celebrating Christmas.  About 1,000 were sold the first year.  The custom caught on and by 1860 had spread throughout Great Britain.  Christmas cards came to the United States in 1875.

Yule Log.  The yule log is a large piece of tree trunk burned at Christmas.  A portion is kept unburned throughout the year to bring good luck.  The custom originated in the Scandinavian countries.

Gift Giving.  The custom of giving gifts at Christmas has two origins.  In ancient Rome, people often gave gifts as part of their many celebrations.  The Christian world gave gifts in memory of the gifts brought to the Christ Child by the Three Wise Men.

Santa Claus or St. Nicholas.  St. Nicholas was a real person.  By the 1100s, a custom had developed that he brought gifts to children on the eve of his feast day, December 6.  In the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and parts of Germany, children left their shoes outside for St. Nicholas to fill with gifts.  This was also the origin of Christmas stockings.

The Twelve Days of Christmas.  The Twelve Days of Christmas refer to the twelve days between Christmas Day and Epiphany, January 6.  Epiphany is one of the oldest celebrations in the Christian world, and commemorates the visit of the Magi, or wise men, to the babe.

The Twelve Gifts of Christmas.  For several hundreds of years, people in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly.  “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written as a kind of secret code that could be sung in public, its meaning known only to members of the faith.  Each gift mentioned had two meanings, the literal meaning in the song, and the hidden meaning.

  • Partridge in a Pear Tree. Jesus Christ.
  • Two Turtledoves.  The Old and New Testaments.
  • Three French Hens.  Faith, hope and love.
  • Four Calling Birds.  The Four Gospels.
  • Five Gold Rings.  The five books of the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.
  • Six Geese A-Laying.  The six days of creation.
  • Seven Swans A-Swimming.  The sevenfold gifts of the Spirit.
  • Eight Maids A-Milking.  The eight beattitudes.
  • Nine Ladies Dancing.  The nine fruits of the Spirit identified in the fifth chapter of Galatians.
  • Ten Lords A-Leaping.  The Ten Commandments.
  • Eleven Pipers Piping.  The eleven faithful disciples of Christ.
  • Twelve Drummers Drumming.  The twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.
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