Every year on December 25th we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We call this time of year Christmas as we celebrate the Mass for Christ.
Christmas is a truly magical season celebrated by people around the world. It brings families and friends together to share the much loved customs and traditions which have been around for centuries. Children especially like Christmas as it’s a time when you give and receive presents!
The true story of Father Christmas begins with Saint Nicholas, a bishop who lived in Myra. His wealthy parents died while he was still young, leaving their whole inheritance. Nicholas used this to assist the needy, the suffering and the sick. It has been said that he secretly dropped a bag of gold down a chimney for the daughters of a poor man. Later, the poor man searched to find the mystery patron, and when he did, was begged not to spill his identity to the rest of the land. However, when later revealed, the mystery of present giving was thought to be from Saint Nicholas from then on.
Another tradition suggests giving gifts is related to that of the three wise men who brought gifts to Jesus.
Father Christmas (also known as Santa Claus), has become the human face of Christmas – an old man with a long white beard, red coat, and bag of toys.
Children are taught from a young age that the night before Christmas, he comes into houses down the chimney and places presents for them in stockings or bags by their beds or in front of the Christmas tree.
St. Nicholas putting the bag of gold into a stocking is probably where the custom of having a tangerine or satsuma at the bottom of your Christmas stocking came from. If people couldn’t afford gold, some golden fruit was a good replacement.
It is said that Father Christmas lives in the North Pole (in Finland, they say that he lives in the north part of their country called Lapland), and arrives flying through the sky on a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
The tradition of a Christmas tree began with the paradise tree decorated with apples to represent the Garden of Eden on Adam and Eve’s day, which fell on December 24. People then decorated their trees with edible goods and glass decorations.
Around the 1830s, Christmas trees made it to Britain and in 1846, the Royal family was sketched around their Christmas tree. The custom then became very fashionable and has been a tradition ever since.
The colours of Christmas
There are several colours which are traditionally associa-ted with Christmas but what do they represent?
Green – Evergreen plants, like Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe have been used for thousands of years to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long dark winter. The most common use of green are Christmas Trees.
Red – The colour of Holly berries, which represents the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross. A red robe would have been worn by St. Nicholas and then the colour also became Santa’s uniform!
Gold – The colour of the sun and light, both very important in the dark winter. Gold was also one of the presents brought to the baby Jesus by one of the wise men and traditionally it’s the colour used to show the star that the wise men followed.
Silver is sometimes used instead of gold, but gold is a ‘warmer’ colour.
White – Often associated with purity and peace. The snow of winter is also very white!
Blue – Often associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus. In medieval times blue dye and paint was more expensive than gold so it would only be worn by Royal families and very rich people. Mary was often painted wearing blue to show she was very important.
The custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK by Sir Henry Cole in the 1840s who alongside his friend John Horsley, designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each.
As printing methods improved over the years, they became much more popular and were produced in large numbers.
A Christmas tradition involving the turkey is to pull its wishbone. The person left with the larger piece of the bone makes a wish.
Christmas pudding is also served. It originated as a 14th century porridge called ‘frumenty’ that was made of beef and mutton with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices.
By 1595, frumenty was slowly changing into a plum pudding, having been thickened with eggs, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and given more flavour with the addition of beer and spirits.
Traditionally a silver coin is hidden in the pudding, thought to bring good fortune to the lucky finder.
The rich fruit cake that is often associated with Christmas were originally Twelfth Cakes. These started as enriched fruit cakes, more like Italian Panettone.
It then became fashionable to have large iced decorations on and over the cake to show you were rich enough to be able to afford lots of sugar to make the icing. So the cake had to become more rich, solid and full of fruit to support the icing.
The word nativity comes from the latin word ‘natal’ which means birth. It is traditional for primary school children to perform the nativity play at school for their parents and family members. It recreates the scene of Jesus’ birth and tells of how Mary and Joseph were visited by the Shepherds and Wise Men.
In the past, live animals, like a donkey, and other farm animals were used in the plays, but it is now more common for children to dress up as the animals in costumes and use props.
Change In Traditions
Many would agree that Christmas has become more about spending money on gifts and forgetting the religious meaning.
In the UK, shops remain open till late in the lead up to Christmas and even open on Boxing Day with cut-price sales.