25 Days of Christmas: Day 11 ~ Santa Claus & Traditions of Christmas, Part I

Santa Claus

SantaClausHe’s called Santa Claus, Sinter Klaas, Father Christmas, and Père Noël, among other names, but the title of St. Nicholas comes closest to the historical roots of this giver of gifts. Although modern Santa’s appearance and traditions spring largely from the last two centuries of popular story and art, the legends associated with him begin with a real person on the shores of the fourth-century Mediterranean Sea. Over the years, he’s evolved into an engaging combination of reality and myth whose hearty, “Ho, ho, ho!” proves impossible to resist each Christmas season.

The Traditions of Christmas

Many of the best-loved Christmas traditions come from the original stories of the Bible. In fact, the gospels of Luke and Matthew hold the keys to explaining the ways in which many people celebrate the holiday today – from the Christmas star that led the Wise Men to the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born to the Nativity displays that recreate the scene inside the stable. While customs have changed over the centuries, many traditions still provide a direct link to the time of Jesus’ birth.

Christkind

Christkind, the German name for the Christ Child, originally referred directly to the Holy Infant Jesus himself, who was said to bring gifts to children in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Pennsylvania Dutch region on Christmas Eve. (Other forms of the name are Christkindl, Christkindli, and Chriskinddlein.)

Christkind

Christkind

Later, the name came to stand for the embodiment of the Child’s spirit, in angelic form, that brought the gifts in his place. Veiled in white, with gold wings upon his shoulders, he arrives secretly, often through an open window. When he is through with his work, he rings a bell to notify all that he presents have arrived. Over the years, the name has evolved to Kris Kringle, but contrary to popular belief, the Christkind is not another form of Santa Claus.

Special Days

For most of the churches that follow Christianity, Christmas is only one day – albeit a very important one – in an entire season that focuses on the birth of Jesus. The season begins approximately four weeks before Christmas Day, and carries on through January and even into February. Each of the special days within the season brings with it an opportunity to reflect on the message of peace, joy, and goodwill.

The Season of Advent

For most western Christian churches, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The word advent originates with the Latin word for “coming” and indeed, this season of preparation is a solemn time to make ready for the coming of Christ and Christmas.

AdventCandlesAs a way to mark the passage of time, churches often use an Advent Wreath or candle arrangement that contains five candles. On the first Sunday of Advent, one candle is lit; on the second, two candles are lit; and so on. These candles, which can be various colors depending on the church, often represent such ideas as hope, peace, love, and joy. Finally, on Christmas Eve, the fifth candle is lit, representing Christ, the light of the world.

Christmas Eve

The day before Christmas Day is one of great anticipation, and is marked in many countries and cultures. The most popular Christmas Mass for Roman Catholics is the midnight Mass, a tradition that began in the early 400s. Midnight Mass is traditionally held at midnight, as Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day, because it’s believed that Jesus was born at midnight. In today’s churches, both Catholic and Protestant, services may be held at midnight or earlier, often incorporating carols and the Nativity.

Of course, the night of Christmas Eve is also when Santa Claus and his many variants are believed to travel the world, leaving behind presents for the children on the well-behaved list. Although in many countries people open presents on Christmas morning, some open them on Christmas Eve – this includes Canada’s Quebec Provence, as well as Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Portugal.

Christmas Eve is a time when families begin to gather to celebrate Christmas Day, often traveling to be with each other, and enjoying a Christmas Eve supper together. Historically, it was also the day when Christmas trees and decorations were set up; however, the festive garlands are now often in place weeks beforehand.

 Boxing Day

Despite the name, it has nothing to do with prizefighting. In England, it was customary for churches to open their alms boxes to the poor on the first workday after Christmas in an attempt to give some cheer to those who could not afford a very merry Christmas. Out of this custom grew Boxing Day, on which day service people and other workers would collect money or treats from their employers. It was popularized during Queen Victoria’s reign in England, in the mid-nineteenth century, and remains a day off from work in many countries.

Epiphany

The Wise Men’s visit to Jesus is commemorated on Epiphany, also know in some places as the Twelfth Night or Three Kings’ Eve. Originally, Epiphany marked the manifestation of God to the world in the form of Jesus, so it included both the birth and the baptism of Jesus. Later, when the Romans bean introducing Christianity to the West, they moved the birth of Jesus to December 25, and represented Epiphany as the day the Wise Men presented their gifts.

Tradition marks this event on January 6, which remains the date of the Eastern Orthodox Christmas in many countries. You’ll note that there are twelve days between December 25 and January 6, which is where our celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas comes from.

(Jeffrey, Yvonne, The Everything Family Christmas Book)

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Christmas Trivia

For many around the globe December 25th marks a religious holiday in which we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  Over the centuries, it has been marked with fictional characters such as Santa and his famous reindeer of nine. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer from memorizing them in your childhood? Go ahead, sing the song “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” it will help you.

Since I am always interested in holiday traditions, how and where they originated, and why we practice them, I have compiled a list of Christmas facts from many outside sources (to which the original creator is unknown and proper credit cannot be acknowledged nor verified.)

Fun Facts

  1. Santa Claus was a real Saint (German: Sankt Nikolaus). He lived in what is now known as Turkey but was referred to as Myra in the 300s.
  2. Merry Christmas has name translations around the world.  Here are just a few of the more popular locations.  Sheng Tan Kuai Loh (China), Hauskaa Joulua (Finland), Joyeux Noel (France), Nadolig Llawen (Wales), and God Jul (Sweden).
  3. The Candy Cane is one of the most familiar symbols of Christmas. It dates back to 1670 in Europe but did not appear in the United States until the 1800s. The treat we see today, where the shape is Jesus’s hook to shepherd his lambs and the color and stripes hold significance for purity and Christ’s sacrifice, became common in the mid 1900s.
  4. The Christmas Stocking got its start when three unmarried girls did their laundry and hung their stockings on the chimney to dry. Because they had no dowry, they could not marry; however St. Nicholas knew of their plight and put a sack of gold in each stocking and in the morning the girls awoke to discover they had dowry’s and could now marry.

  5. Of the estimated 7,201,398,000 people in the world today, it is estimated that one out of 3 people celebrate Christmas worldwide, including 2.2-billion Christians. 
  6. The most popular Christmas Song ever is We Wish You a Merry Christmas. The song can be traced back to England, but its author and composer remains unknown.

  7. US scientists calculated that Santa would have to visit 822 homes a second to deliver all the world’s presents on Christmas Eve, travelling at 650 miles a second.
  8. The tradition of putting tangerines in stockings comes from 12th-century French nuns who left socks full of fruit, nuts and tangerines at the houses of the poor.

  9. Carols began as an old English custom called wassailing, toasting neighbors to a long life and were not 

    sung in churches until they were introduced by St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century.

  10. Hanging stockings comes from the Dutch custom of leaving shoes packed with food for St Nicholas’s donkeys. He would leave small gifts in return.
  11. Nearly 60-million Christmas trees are grown each year in Europe.
  12. The word Noel derives from the French expression “les bonnes nouvelles” or “the good news.”
  13. Many theologians estimate that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th but sometime in September between 6BC and 30AD and that December 25th is a unison day for the World to celebrate His birth.
  14. James Pierpont’s 1857 song Jingle Bells was first called One Horse Open Sleigh and was originally written for Thanksgiving.
  15. Before turkey, the traditional Christmas meal in England was a pig’s head and mustard.

  16. 530960_412511475489183_1847731354_nIn 1999, residents of the state of Maine in America built the world’s biggest ever snowman. He stood at 113 ft 7 inches tall and was called Angus, King of the Mountain.
  17. The Greeks celebrate Christmas on January 7, according to the old Julian calendar, while Christmas presents are opened on New Year’s Day.

  18. The holly in a wreath symbolizes Christ’s crown of thorns while the red berries are drops of his blood.
  19. The long shopping season before Christmas began in America when relatives of soldiers stationed overseas in the Second World War were encouraged to mail gifts early.

  20. Jingle Bells was the first song broadcast from space when Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra sang it on December 16, 1965.
  21. The first artificial Christmas Tree was not a tree at all. It was created out of goose feathers that were dyed.

  22. Santa has different names around the world – Kris Kringle (Germany), Le Befana (Italy), Pere Noel (France), and Deushka Moroz meaning Grandfather Frost (Russia).
  23. The word Christmas comes from the Old English “Cristes maesse” meaning “Christ’s Mass”.

  24. The bestselling Christmas single ever is Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, selling over 50-million copies worldwide since 1942.
  25. Christmas pudding was originally a soup made with raisins and wine.

  26. Kissing under the mistletoe is thought to spring from Frigga, the Norse goddess of love, who was associated with the plant.
  27. The Beatles hold the record for the most #1 Christmas singles, topping the charts in 1963, 65 and 67.

  28. Electric tree lights were invented by Edward Johnson in the US in 1882.
  29. Rudolph red-nosed reindeer was invented for US firm “Montgomery Ward”  children’s Christmas book promotion in 1939 to drive traffic into the stores.
  30. Gold wrapped chocolate coins commemorate St Nicholas who gave bags of gold coins to the poor.
  31. The first Christmas celebrated in Britain is thought to have been in York in 521AD.
  32. In Greece, Italy, Spain and Germany, workers get a Christmas bonus of one month’s salary by law.
  33. 486342_409895365750794_1953333469_nIn the Czech Republic they enjoy dinners of fish soup, eggs and carp. The number of people at the table must be even, or the one without a partner will die next year.
  34. Each year more than 3 billion Christmas cards are mailed in the United States.
  35. All the gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas would equal 364 gifts.
  36. The “true love” mentioned in the song “Twelve Days of Christmas” does not refer to a romantic couple, but the Catholic Church’s code for God. The person who receives the gifts represents someone who has accepted that code. For example, the “partridge in a pear tree” represents Christ. The “two turtledoves” represent the Old and New Testaments.
  37. Most of Santa’s reindeer have male-sounding names, such as Blitzen, Comet, and Cupid. However, male reindeers shed their antlers around Christmas, so the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are likely not male, but female.
  38. In 350AD Pope Julius I, bishop of Rome, proclaimed December 25 the official celebration date for the birthday of Christ.
  39. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the tallest Christmas tree ever cut was a 221-foot Douglas fir that was displayed in 1950 at the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, Washington.
  40. The traditional three colors of Christmas are green, red, and gold. Green has long been a symbol of life and rebirth; red symbolizes the blood of Christ, and gold represents light as well as wealth and royalty.
  41. The world’s largest Christmas stocking measured 106 feet and 9 inches (32.56 m) long and 49 feet and 1 inch (14.97 m) wide. It weighed as much as five reindeer and held almost 1,000 presents. It was made by the Children’s Society in London on December 14, 2007.
  42. Christmas trees have been sold in the United States since 1850.
  43. Christmas trees usually grow for about 15 years before they are cut and sold.
  44. Many European countries believed that spirits, both good and evil, were active during the Twelve Days of Christmas. These spirits eventually evolved into Santa’s elves, especially under the influence of Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas(1779-1863) illustrated by Thomas Nast (1840-1902).
  45. The British wear paper crowns while they eat Christmas dinner. The crowns are stored in a tube called a “Christmas cracker.
  46. Alabama was the first state in the United States to officially recognize Christmas in 1836.
  47. Christmas was not declared an official holiday in the United States until June 26, 1870.
  48. 215884_412134998860164_555310391_nOklahoma was the last U.S. state to declare Christmas a legal holiday, in 1907.
  49. Mistletoe (Viscum album) is from the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan, which means “little dung twig” because the plant spreads though bird droppings.
  50. Because they viewed Christmas as a decadent Catholic holiday, the Puritans in America banned all Christmas celebrations from 1659-1681 with a penalty of five shillings for each offense. Some Puritan leaders condemned those who favored Christmas as enemies of the Christian religion.
  51. A Yule log is an enormous log that is typically burned during the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25-January 6). 
  52. Early illustrations of St. Nicholas depict him as stern, commanding, and holding a birch rod. He was more a symbol of discipline and punishment than the jolly, overweight elf children know today.
  53. Puritan Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas celebrations and carols in England from 1649-1660. The only celebrations allowed were sermons and prayers.
  54. There are two competing claims as to which U.S. President was the first to place a Christmas tree in the White House. Some scholars say President Franklin Pierce did in 1856; others say President Benjamin Harrison brought in the first tree in 1889. President Coolidge started the White House lighting ceremony in 1923.
  55. President Teddy Roosevelt, an environmentalist, banned Christmas trees from the White House in 1912.
  56. There are approximately 21,000 Christmas tree farms in the United States. In 2008, nearly 45 million Christmas trees were planted, adding to the existing 400 million trees.
  57. The first printed reference to a Christmas tree was in 1531 in Germany.
  58. In 1962, the first Christmas postage stamp was issued in the United States.
  59. Using small candles to light a Christmas tree dates back to the middle of the 17th century.
  60. The official Christmas tree tradition at Rockefeller Center began in 1933. Since 2004 the tree has been topped with a 550-pound Swarovski Crystal star. And since 2007, the tree has been lit with 30,000 energy-efficient LED’s which are powered by solar panels.
  61. President Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the White House lawn in 1923.
  62. In 1963, the National Christmas Tree was not lit until December 22nd, because of a national 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President Kennedy.

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Christmas Morning

It is 2:03am (eastern US time) and Santa is in Seattle, WA visiting my grandchildren.  His trip for 2011 is just about complete and soon he will be returning to the North Pole and home to Mrs. Claus.

Enjoy your day with your children, family, and friends.  Sometime before you lay your head to rest this evening, take pause and wish Jesus a happy birthday.

Happy Birthday Jesus

and

Merry Christmas Family & Friends

Christmas Eve 2011

Can you believe it is Christmas Eve 2011?  Where has the year gone?

Although my children are mostly grown, my youngest (Luke) and I have been tracking Santa’s delivery route all day.  This morning (eastern US time) Santa was in Russia, then on to Indonesia and Australia.  I check a while ago and he was finishing up his visits in China and would be heading back into another part of Russia to visit the little children.  It brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart just thinking about all the little boys and girls who are filled with excitement and anxiously awaiting Santa’s visit to their home and dreaming about the gifts he would be leaving them under their tree.

I remember when my three guys were little and got so worked up with anticipation of the Santa’s visit, it sometimes took us hours to get them settled down for the night.  By the time mom and dad were finished preparing for the jolly old man’s visit; we were so tired we could have slept for days.  Ahhh…but all parents are familiar with the routine on Christmas morning; we’ve barely fallen asleep before being awoken to the bursts of excitement and giggles from boys who have contained themselves as long as they could and would run through the house, gleefully cheering “Santa was here, Santa was here.”  If our heavy eyes were slow to open, we would find ourselves in a bouncing motion while the little boys jumped on the bed knowing it would soon get us to our feet.  The beautiful memories of Christmases past; the years just fly by and the children grow too fast.  I dedicate this Christmas Day to the little boys in my past; David Anthony, Jason-Michael Andrew, and Lucas Aaron.  I have truly been blessed that these three allowed me to be their mother.

The weatherman/woman have been hinting for several weeks now, that we will not be enjoying a white Christmas this year, I’m good with that.  By this time last year we already had 3 major snow events and 16-inches of the cold, white, and fluffy stuff on the ground.  Its cold enough here for our heat to kick on, so that works for me; a cold Christmas is just what I ordered.  Our tree is trimmed and while I sit here writing, the shimmering lights and glass bulbs cast a warm feeling of the spirit of Christmas throughout the house.  During this hectic time of the year, there is nothing more calming than sitting in a fireplace lit room, Christmas tree lights twinkling, seasonal music softly playing, and a mug of hot chocolate warming cold hands.

With the year coming to a close, I reflect on the adventures experienced, places visited, and those we enjoyed time.  2011 will be remembered as a year with enormous economical struggles that left many unemployed and others homeless.  For those who have suffered hardships in any fashion this year, I pray that your blessings in 2012 will be 10x more than the struggles you’ve pressed through these last twelve months.

In 2011 we watched the transformation of several foreign lands and we are a generation who witnessed the toppling of dictators that suppressed their countrymen, women, and children for decades.  Our world is changing from what we have always known and studied about in school.  We have dreams and plans for the tomorrows before us, yet the future and what it holds is uncertain as those history pages remain empty.

This year we have said goodbye to family members and friends as their purpose on earth was complete; and stole brief moments in time to reflect and remember others who have left this world for a more glorious blessing.  We can take solace in their passing; knowing that we will only be apart a short time before seeing and hugging them again.  In the mean time, we will know they are watching over us and sending whispers to our ears, reminding us they are ever-present in our lives and never far away.

From my family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderfully Happy New Year.

May God richly bless your life, remember to thank Him for giving His life for yours.