Welcome to the first part of Christmas Cafe! Today, I’ve compiled a little list describing the origin and history of several elements of Christmas with a Santa and a Christmas tree drawing (painting? sketch?). Getting into it now!
so it doesn’t get longer than it already is
#1 The Date
Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t a confirmed fact nor is it mentioned in the Holy Bible that Jesus Christ (whose birthday is celebrated as Christmas) was born on December 25. Most scholars think that Jesus was born between 2 BCE and 7 BCE, possibly in 4 BCE. In fact, the first recorded event of a December 25th celebration was in 336, during the time of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. Orthodox and Coptic Churches that still use the Julian Calendar celebrate Christmas on the 7th January, and the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates it on the 6th January.
It is also believed that Mother Mary was told she would bear a baby on March 25, an event observed as the Annunciation. So, December 25th (9 months later) was arrived at, as the birth date.
Hanukkah, The Jewish festival of Lights, starts on the eve of the Kislev 25 (the Jewish month that coincides with December). Jesus was Jewish, suggesting this could be another reason why the Church chose to celebrate his birthday on December 25.
#2 Santa Claus
Santa Claus, the portly, jolly man we have all come to associate with Christmas is also known as Father Christmas, St. Nick or Kris Kringle. The progenitor of the modern Santa, St. Nicholas was a Greek Christian bishop, born in Patara, near Myra, in the Mediterranean.
Did you know the name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas)? Known as the patron saint of children, protector of children and sailors and noted for his piety and kindness, he lived during the Roman empire in the third and fourth centuries.
Wikipedia describes Santa Claus as “a portly, jolly, white-bearded man—sometimes with spectacles—wearing a red coat with white fur collar and cuffs, white-fur-cuffed red trousers, red hat with white fur, and black leather belt and boots and carrying a bag full of gifts for children.”
As to how this popular image came into being, it is believed that the poem, ” ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” is largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus as “a jolly old elf” with the ability to travel through chimneys. This poem, originally titled “An Account of a Visit from St.Nicholas” was written by Clement Clark Moore, a minister, for his daughters in 1823.
#3 Christmas Trees
There is a very interesting legend revolving around the Christmas trees we use today. Here is a short version:
Once upon a time, there was a Scandinavian village and there was a tree in the forest. The tree, a thunder-oak was considered to be the Norse God, Thor’s altar and the heathens who lived there sacrificed humans and animals at the altar as offerings to Thor. The tree which was believed to have grown from blood, was so forbidding and daunting that no one ventured out to it, animals or people. It also had mistletoes hanging from its branches.
So, one Christmas eve just before the winter rites were about to begin, St.Winfred, arrived with his people, went to the tree, took out a shining, golden axe (yes, it was golden) and hacked the tree at its base. The priests who supervised the offerings were clearly shocked that he was ruining the mighty Thor’s altar. Soon, the tree finally fell backwards. But then, they noticed a young fir tree behind the thunder oak, untouched by the gigantic fallen tree.
The saint then said to the people,
“This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the tree of peace, for your houses are built of fir. It is the sign of endless life, for its leaves are forever green. See how it points upward to heaven! Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child. Gather about it, not in the wildwood, but in your own homes. There it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness. So shall the peace of the White Christ reign in your hearts!”
He further told them the tree was worthy of being holy unlike Thor’s tree which required blood to be holy. He then went on to emphasise on the usefulness of the fir tree which included it being used widely to build homes. The tree’s spire pointed to the skies and heaven, by extension, prompting the saint to declare it a ‘Child of Christ‘. The fir symbolized love, kindness and sacrifice. Fir also represented endless life and hope as it is an evergreen tree.
He told the people it should be kept inside homes, sanctified with love and compassion. He also introduced the idea of sharing gifts under it as a sign of sharing love and joy. The fir tree also stood for peace, youth and strength. When Saint Winfred introduced the fir tree to the heathens, it was accepted as the holy tree of Christmas. Since then, the heathen folk accepted fir as the symbol of good will and peace and welcomed it in their homes every holy Christmastide.
A Christmas carol is a song or hymn based on Christmas that is often sung on Christmas or during the Christmas season. Did you know that the popular Christmas song, Jingle Bells, wasn’t originally intended for Christmas? In fact, it was first sung on Thanksgiving and came to be associated with Christmas when it was sung in in Ordway Hall on September 16, 1857.
The first known Christmas hymns may be traced to 4th-century Rome. They were sung throughout the subsequent centuries but rose in popularity after the Reformation in the countries where Protestant churches gained prominence due to reformers promoting the singing and use of carols. Publication of carols’ books in the 19th and 20th centuries were yet other factors that catapulted carols to the public eye resulting in more frequent and popular use. Carollers assembling in public spaces was a 19th-century phenomenon. It is also vaguely accepted that one of the first Christmas carols ever to be recorded was the 129 AD ‘Angels Hymn’.
It’s incredible to read about how human perception has evolved over the centuries. It’s funny how little we see and eventually believe when there is an incredible amount of information we seem to overlook.
And a quick reminder that my feedback form is open all throughout December! If you haven’t taken the survey, please consider doing so here! I’ll be compiling an acknowledgement post in January!