Traditions and legends associated with Christmas Celebration

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Compiled by Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network

24 December 2011: Christmas is the unique festival that is celebrated throughout the world with great enthusiasm and mirth. Preparations are made for  this festival of love, peace and joy many days in advance. Besides cleaning the houses and surroundings, people go out for shopping to get new dresses and gifts for their beloved ones.


In India, especially in the Konkani speaking families, preparation of Kuswar, that is, varieties of eatables, sweet as well as pungent and distributing them among the family members, relatives, neighbours and friends spreading the Christmas message of love and sharing has been a beautiful and meaningful tradition.


When we think of Christmas, some of the practices and traditions manifest the spirit of Christmas. Among these, the Crib in the church and in many of the homes represents the birth of Christ. Christmas Tree is another tradition that is followed by many. Besides, the legend of Santa Claus, Christmas Cards, Christmas Star and Carol singing have been the part and parcel of Christmas celebration. As we celebrate Christmas and witness these outer signs of Christmas tradition, it would be appropriate to know about the origin and growth of some of these traditions and legends.


Christmas Crib:


The representation of the scene of the nativity is a tradition that is almost a thousand years old.  In the year 1223, St. Francis of Assisi decided to celebrate the feast of Christmas in a new way.  His aim was to help people to understand the poor surroundings in which Jesus was born. Thus, it was in the town of Greccio, with the help of a local landowner, St. Francis put together a nativity scene with a stable, animals and straw.  People came at night from the town with candles and torches to attend holy Mass by the crib and seeing the scene, they were reminded of God’s love for mankind in sending his only son to be born in the poverty of a manger.


Christmas Tree:

Christmas trees are a central part of Christmas celebrations around the world. Families gather around them to exchange gifts, cities put them up in squares and town halls, you’ll find them in nearly every hotel and shopping mall...



But where did the "Christmas tree" come from? Why do we decorate them? Who made the first artificial Christmas tree? Although most people  have their own Christmas trees each year, many  may not know the very interesting history behind them.


The first use of Christmas trees as they are known today,  dates back to the 1500’s. Some claim the tree originated in Germany in the mid 1500’s, others claim it was Latvia in the early 1500’s, and a few even believe in a legend that St. Boniface created the Christmas tree in the seventh century.



Today Christmas trees come in many forms...natural and artificial, undecorated, decorated with candles, lights, ornaments, and treats...coloured, fibre optic, and even upside down Christmas trees.


Christmas Cards:

No one is sure where the tradition of sending Christmas cards first started. Some say it began in England, where schoolchildren away from home would write to their parents reminding them that the gift-giving time would soon be near.



The first known artist to create a Christmas card was John Calcott Horsley, who designed a card for Sir Henry Cole, a London museum director.  Sir Henry Cole decided that it would be easier to send pre-made cards than to labour over individual greetings, as he had done as a child.


Sir Henry had 1000 cards printed and sold them for one shilling each.  At first, only the wealthy could afford them, then later less-expensive printing soon became available.  Queen Victoria loved the idea and soon it became quite fashionable. By the 1850s, Christmas cards were a well established tradition.


Christmas cards did not become popular in America until the 1870s when Louis Prang, a German immigrant who owned a small Massachusetts print shop, designed and printed such beautiful cards that he became known as, "father of American Christmas cards."


Santa Claus:

Like the tale of the Christmas stocking, the story of Santa Claus originated in Europe during the fourth-century when a bishop named St. Nicholas of Myra spread goodwill and generosity throughout the land.  He was known to go about on a white horse giving anonymous gifts by night.  His travelling clothes were bishop red and he carried a staff.  His unselfish acts of kindness spread throughout Europe and the children thought of him as a giver of all good things.  When he died on December 6, his remains were taken to Italy and a church was erected in his honour.  That day soon became a day of celebration, gift giving, and charity.



Like so many other traditions, Santa Claus is a product of many different cultures.  In Europe, he was depicted as a tall-dignified religious figure riding a white horse through the air.  The Dutch immigrants presented Sinterklass (meaning St. Nicholas) to the colonies.  Many English-speaking children pronounced this so quickly that it sounded like Santa Claus.


As Christmas evolved in the United States, new customs were adopted and many old ones were reworked.  In North America, Santa Claus eventually developed into a fat, old, kind, generous, man who was neither strict nor religious.


Christmas Star

It is said that a brightly shining star that had miraculously appeared in the eastern sky guided the Magi (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 crossed 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.


Christmas Carols:

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around the 22nd December.



The word Carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy! Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived!


Early Christians took over the pagan  celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. In 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called ’Angel’s Hymn’ should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Another famous early Christmas Hymn was written, in 760 by Comas of Jerusalem for the Greek Orthodox Church. Soon after this many composers all over Europe started to write and sing carols.


St. Francis of Assisi started his Nativity Play in Italy in 1223. The people in the plays sang songs or ’canticles’ that told the story of the birth of Christ during the plays. Sometimes, the choruses of these new carols were in Latin; but normally they were all in a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in. The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries.


The earliest carol was written in 1410. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most Carols from this time were very loosely based on the Christmas story, about the holy family and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs. They were usually sung in homes rather than in churches. Travelling singers or Minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were travelling.


When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in England in 1647, the celebration of Christmas and singing carols was stopped. However, the carols survived as people still sang them in secret. Carols remained mainly unsung until Victorian times, when two men called William Sandys and Davis Gilbert collected lots of old Christmas music from villages in England.


Gradually, the tradition of carol singing spread to different parts of the world. Even today, in every church, prior to the solemn Christmas Mass, for an hour or at least half an hour, church choirs sing the Christmas carols to create an atmosphere of Christmas spirit.


Bellevision wishes all its readers, supporters, contributors and advertisers a very Happy Christmas and Joyful New Year 2012.



Comments on this Article
Philip Mudartha, Qatar Sat, December-24-2011, 11:16
Through these and newer innovative aids, may the Xmas meaning instill and grow within us. These are tools and not the message. A blessed Xmas, one and all
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