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Christmas History and Traditions

Christmas History and Traditions

Christmas, the birth celebration of Jesus Christ, is celebrated on the 25th day of December. It is an important festival in Christianity, and is celebrated with vigor all over the globe. Read on for some interesting facts and traditions about this age-old festival...
Edward K.
Sheeps and dog,Christmas nativity scene
Though celebrated on the 25th of December, Christmas, or more accurately, the birth of Christ, didn't actually happen on that day. The date was chosen, as is widely believed, to correspond with the winter solstice. However, traditionally it has been accepted that 25th December marks the birth of Christ, and Christmas all around the world is thus celebrated on this day.
In these modern times, Christmas has evolved to be a huge celebration, for Catholics as well as non-Catholics. Christmas, in today's world, reminds us of things like decorations, Christmas trees, exchanging presents and the like. In addition to this, there is feeling of joy and holiday cheer all around, and everyone is involved in the celebration. It is something that is hard to explain, but can be summed up in these 2 beautiful quotes.
'Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.' ~Norman Vincent Peale~

Norman Vincent Peale got it absolutely right. Nothing can even describe the feeling one experiences at Christmas time, let alone trying to explain it. Magic is just the right word to try to describe it. That wonderful feeling of joy that is just everywhere, and the spirit of sharing, just cannot be described. It has to be felt. Right from the old Christmas traditions of carol singing to the more modern ways of exchanging gifts, everything about Christmas contributes in making it the unique festival it is.
'Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love! ~Hamilton Wright Mabie~

And this is true as well. The Yuletide season is perhaps the only time where you see strangers helping each other with a smile on their face. Everyone wants to contribute something to this incredible festival. A festival which makes us forget the real world, and indulge in a world filled with love, happiness, and cheer. A world that should have actually been exactly that way, but went horribly wrong. But that is what Christmas teaches us, and though it comes only once a year, I dare say it is enough.
But of course, there is much more to Christmas than just feelings in the air, and love in your heart. While that may be the main reason people enjoy it so much more than other festivals, part of this enjoyment, and indeed all the love and cheer, stem from the deep traditions that Christmas has. Let us take a look at some of the facts, the customs, the explanations, and the traditions of Christmas.
Some Interesting Christmas Facts
Though it probably the most celebrated festival around the globe, it is shocking to know that there are many people around who are not aware of the various Christmas facts. In fact, most people just know it to be the birth of Jesus Christ and nothing more. Here's a little contribution to their Xmas education.
  • While most people believe that 25th December marks the birth of Jesus Christ, this is not true. The Bible does not give us a date for the birth of Christ. The date of 25th December was, in fact, set by the Roman Catholic Church ages ago, and has been followed ever since.
  • Though most nations celebrate Christmas on the 25th December, not all countries do so. National churches in countries like Russia, Egypt, and Ukraine celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January.
  • The word Christmas is often shortened to X'mas. The origin of this shortened form comes from the Greek language and Roman tradition. X, or Chi in Greek, represents the first letter of the word Christmas, while Romans used the Roman numeral X as an abbreviation for Christ since the 16th century. Together, these formed the basis for the abbreviated form of Christmas, X'mas.
  • Christmas, though a festival of Christian faith, is celebrated as a major holiday and festival by many non-Christians the world over. Even nations who are essentially not Catholic, or who have a very sparse population of Catholics, celebrate this festival.
  • At one point of time in England, celebrating Christmas was illegal and people found celebrating this festival were arrested. This happened during 1647 to 1660, when the Puritans were in power. They considered celebrating a holy day to be wrong and thus arrested anyone who was found doing that.
  • Christmas carols are a popular type of music played during the Yuletide season. Of course, the most popular of these carols is Jingle Bells. This carol or song can be heard in almost all houses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But did you know that this song was actually written for Thanksgiving and not Christmas? In spite of that, Jingle Bells went on become one of the most popular Christmas Carols.
These were some facts about Christmas that many people might not have known. Of course, there are many many more facts like these, but these are some of the important ones that all of you should be knowing. 
Christmas Traditions and the Meaning of Christmas
Let's give a thought to the tradition of celebrating Christmas. As mentioned earlier, Christmas has evolved a lot, since its early celebrations and what we celebrate today has got a commercial edge to it. The next few paragraphs will take you through some of the important Christmas traditions, and the things people are likely to see when they go visiting during the Yuletide season.
The word Christmas, as we know it today, came into being somewhere around the 9th century. Celebrated as the birth of Christ, this festival, in the old days, was celebrated by prayers, or more specifically, a Mass. Being the Mass celebrated for the birth of Christ, this was known as Christ's Mass. In the language of those days, which was mostly Old English, this came to be known as Cristes Mæsse, where Cristes was Greek for Christ, and Mæsse was Latin for mass. Put together, it came to be known as Christemasse, which was further simplified to Christmas.
Popular Christmas Carols
These are songs or hymns that are sung during the Christmas season and traditionally have Christmas based themes or lyrics. Originating in Rome in the early 4th century, most of the carols in those times were in Latin. In fact, some churches sing these Latin versions till today, during Christmas Mass. It was not until the 14th century that hymns or carols in English were written and sung, and it was not until the 19th century that the carol singing as we know it today was introduced.
The tradition of groups going from house to house and singing carols, came into being in England, where such groups were given food, money, or gifts for their carol singing. Christmas carols have gained popularity since then and Christmas is indeed considered incomplete without them playing softly in the background on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Most modern singers have also their versions of these carols, giving people a huge range of Christmas carols to choose from. While there are no best carols for Christmas [it all depends on each person's choice] the following are some popular Christmas carols, along with their lyrics, for you to sing along on Christmas and truly enjoy this season.
Silent Night
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ the Savior, is born!
Christ the Savior, is born!
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Jingle Bells
Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh,
Over the fields we go, laughing all the way.
Bells on bob-tails ring, making spirits bright,
What fun it is to ride and sing a sleighing song tonight.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!
O what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!
O what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.
A day or two ago, I thought I'd take a ride
And soon Miss Fanny Bright, was seated by my side;
The horse was lean and lank, misfortune seemed his lot;
He got into a drifted bank and we got upsot
A day or two ago, the story I must tell
I went out on the snow, and on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by, in a one-horse open sleigh
He laughed as there I sprawling lie but quickly drove away
Now the ground is white, go it while you're young
Take the girls tonight, and sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bob-tailed bay, two-forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh and crack! you'll take the lead.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say:
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then all the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
you'll go down in history!
What Child Is This?
What child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
The Merry Christmas Polka
This is Christmas season so there isn't any reason
We can't dance the Christmas polka
Hear sleigh-bells ringing' everybody's singing
Dancing the Christmas polka
Christmas trees and holly make everyone so jolly
And love just fills the air
It's a wonderful world for a boy and a girl
While dancing the Christmas polka

The merry Christmas polka, let's dance, let's dance, let's dance
Everyone's so happy, the air is filled with romance
Watch the sweethearts kissing' as they dance underneath the mistletoe
It's a sight to behold for the young and the old
The merry Christmas polka

This is Christmas season so there isn't any reason
We can't dance the Christmas polka
Hear sleigh-bells ringing' everybody's singing
Dancing the Christmas polka
Christmas trees and holly make everyone so jolly
And love just fills the air
It's a wonderful world for a boy and a girl
While dancing the Christmas polka.
These were some of the more popular songs or carols that you will definitely be sure to hear during this Yuletide season. There are many many more Christmas carols available, and most music stores have a huge selection where you can browse to your heart's content to give your Christmas that perfect touch.
The Santa Claus Story
Santa Claus is another important facet of Christmas celebrations. A mythical figure, Santa Claus is a reference to Saint Nicholas, who was known for his generosity and gift-giving qualities. Traditionally, if children behaved well during the year, they were rewarded at Christmastime by Santa Claus with gifts. In the days of old, children used to even write letters to Santa Claus, reminding him that they were good throughout the year, and also to ask him for specific presents. Families would place stockings in front of the fireplace, in which Santa was supposed to place his gifts. Santa was also believed to enter houses through the chimney to place the gifts, which was why fireplaces were decorated and stockings were placed in front of the fireplace. The concept of placing gifts in stockings comes from a legend when the saint was helping out a man who had no dowry to wed his daughters. According to the legend, to help the man with the dowry, Saint Nicolas threw a bag of gold coins through the chimney, which fell into a stocking that the man's daughter had washed and placed over the fireplace to dry. This is how the concept of children placing stockings above the fireplace came into being.
Children all over the world love Santa Claus, and this mythical person has become an indispensable part of Christmas celebrations. Almost all the world over, Santa Claus is shown as a plump man, with a huge white beard, dressed in a red suit with a white collar and lining, often carrying a sack on his back, filled with gifts children have asked for. The importance of Santa in Christmas celebrations can be seen with the umpteen number of songs or carols dedicated to this saint. The most popular of these carols is 'Santa Claus is coming to Town' which can be heard almost all over a few days before Christmas. In case you want to sing along, or if you just want to remind your children to be good, here are the lyrics for this popular Christmas carol.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
You better watch out, You better not cry
You better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He's making a list, Checking it twice;
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake.

With little tin horns and little toy drums
Rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
Goodness sake.

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.
Besides the one above, there are many other popular Santa Claus hits sung by the most famous singers all around the globe, that are played during Christmas. Songs about Santa are as popular as carols, and can be heard all through the Christmas season.
Christmas Decoration Ideas
A little splash of color here and there
Slowly but surely it does start
Green and red will soon adorn the streets
Bringing joy and cheer to the heart.
Come December and you can slowly see the changes as everyone prepares for Christmas. The decorations come out, and everyone is busy in cleaning the house, repainting, remodeling and what not. Place has to be made for the Christmas Tree, a tree that is decorated with lots of tinsel and Christmas ornaments, and covered in lights and generally made to sparkle. Christmas decorations usually consist of a few important things that most people use to transform their house and yard to reflect the feeling of Christmas. These include:
  • Christmas Tree
  • The Nativity Scene
  • The Star of Bethlehem
  • Indoor Décor
  • Outdoor Décor
Let's take a closer look at some of the decorations that get all of us in a Christmas-sy mood. Maybe you can use some of them when you get down to decorating your house this Christmas.
Christmas Tree
This is one of the most popular traditions of Christmas. Almost all people celebrating this festival have a Christmas tree richly decorated in their house or yard. Traditionally, Christmas trees are live evergreen coniferous trees that are cut down and set up either in the house or the yard. In the days of old, people would go to the forest and cut down trees of their choice and bring them home. However, in today's commercial world, one can buy such trees from various outlets. For people who cannot afford such trees, Christmas trees made of plastic and other materials are also sold, in various sizes. These real or artificial Christmas trees are then decorated with ornaments and lights, culminating with an angel or a star at the top. Christmas trees are set up and decorated on the eve of Christmas, i.e. 24th December and are taken down after the twelve days of Christmas, i.e. January 5th.
The Nativity Scene
This is a depiction or a recreation of the birth of Jesus Christ, according to the gospel texts. The depiction or recreation is done in many various ways, such as pictures or paintings being displayed, plays and scenes being enacted, or a static nativity scene recreated with statues and figurines. The static scene is the most popular, and is done on a huge scale in some places. The depiction usually shows the manger where Christ was born, along with the people who were with him at the time of birth. Most nativity scenes include figurines of the shepherds, angels, and the three kings, though the three kings, or wise men, are added later. Animals, both belonging to the shepherds as well as from the manger where Christ was born, are also included in the nativity scene. The star of Bethlehem and angels watching over baby Jesus are also included in some depictions. Most Christian houses treat the Nativity scene along with the Christmas tree as important Christmas decorations. Where possible, the nativity scene is also displayed in the yard, and is typically on a grander scale.
The Star of Bethlehem
The star of Bethlehem, also known as the Christmas Star, refers to the star that, according to the gospels, guided the three kings, or wise men, to the place of Jesus' birth. Some gospels also mention that it was this star that actually revealed the birth of Christ to the Wise Men, and then led them to his birth place. This is another important Christmas time decoration and is seen as miracle that marks the birth of Christ. Colored and lit in various hues, stars are a prominent part of Christmas decorations the world over. Different types of stars are made, such as the commonly seen 5 point and 6 point stars, along with more complex 20 or even 110 pointed Moravian stars. Stars are typically made and hung outside the home as a part of Christmas decorations.
Lights are another important aspect of Christmas décor. Right from the Christmas Tree to the star, everything is lit up with strings of lights. Even the outside of houses are decorated with lights. Christmas lights are typically red and green in color, though outdoor Christmas lights may be of different colors.
Indoor Décor
Indoor décor for a house usually comprises the Christmas tree, and the nativity scene along with other ornaments and decorative items. The traditional colors of Christmas are white, red, and green, while silver and gold have become popular in recent times. Streamers, decorated bells, Christmas wreaths, mistletoe, holly leaves, tinsel, cotton [to represent snow], miniature figurines of Santa Claus and angels, candles, etc. are all used in indoor decorations. Figurines of popular Christmas characters, such as the reindeer, the sleigh, Santa Claus, snowmen, Santa's helpers the elves, etc, are also popularly used to decorate the home. Indoor decorating for Christmas typically starts late in December, around the 20th or so, and are not taken down till the twelve days of Christmas are over.
Outdoor Décor
Besides decoration of the home, many people who have yards and big houses, also decorate the outside of the house. The most popular decoration for outdoor décor is lights. Many people cover the entire house with lights, even going so far as to create outlines of Santa's sleigh and the reindeer with lights. Besides lights, items such as snowmen, sleighs, and even penguins are used for décor. If space permits, a real Christmas tree and the Nativity Scene are placed outside in the yard. As with indoor decorations, outdoor decorations too, start around the 20th of December and last till the 6th or 7th of January.
Though there are no hard and fast rules of decorations at Christmas, the above were some of the common Christmas decorations that are visible come Christmas. These decorations have been followed since ancient times, and are considered part of the Christmas tradition. Besides these, decorations also include some of the newer, modern, party decorations to add to the festive decor. The important thing to keep in mind while decorating, however, is to follow the Christmas colors of green, red, and white.
Christmas Gift Ideas
These days, the first thing that comes to mind while talking about Christmas, are the presents or gifts. Exchanging gifts at Christmastime has become a very integral part of Christmas celebrations. Right from the children to the adults, everyone loves to be a part of this. Getting to know what children and your loved ones want, and surprising them with it on Christmas Day is sometimes considered the highlight of Christmas celebrations. Gifts or presents are usually bought long before Christmas and are hidden till Christmas Day, when they are wrapped decoratively and placed under the Christmas tree for family members to find. Finding and opening these presents is usually the first thing done on Christmas Day. Since this has become a tradition of late, here are a few ideas on what to get your loved ones for Christmas.
The best gift idea for Christmas is to find out what your family members really want, and to get that for them on Christmas. Gifting what they want as a surprise is better and can add to their joy. However, ensure that duplication of gifts do not occur and plan well in advance so you are not left rushing around at the last minute. Besides this, popular Christmas gifts include a bottle of wine, Christmas carols, homemade decorations etc. Personalized gifts too, are high on the list of Christmas presents, and presents such as customized t-shirts, mugs, photographs, etc. all make good Christmas presents for anyone. However, if you lack the time or the imagination for these, there are tons of presents that you can buy for Christmas. Let's take a look at some of these.
Christmas Gift Basket
This is a very popular Christmas gift idea. It leans towards the category of personalized gifts and as such adds that extra bit of love and care in it. Items such as Christmas cake, a bottle of wine, Christmas candy, various chocolates and sweets can be added to a Christmas gift basket. A gift basket can also include personalized items and flowers. If you know the person's likes and dislikes, you can fill the gift basket with items of the person's choice and be sure that they will enjoy the Christmas gift you gave them. This kind of gift idea can be presented to both, males as well as females, and is a popular choice of gift for an entire family as well. Gift baskets for Christmas are usually decorated in red and green.
Toys and Games
This is obviously the most popular gift idea for children. While any type of toy can be given as a Christmas gift, toys with a Christmas theme, such as Santa, or soft toys that play a Christmas melody, etc., make good presents for children. Most times, however, gifting children what they always wanted is a good idea, and keeps them happy. When gifting toys to children, keep in mind the age factor, as older teens might have outgrown toys and might not be too thrilled at the prospect of receiving a toy for Christmas. This still remains a very popular Christmas gift idea for young children though, and you can never go wrong gifting your tiny tots toys for Christmas.
Jewelry/Designer Clothing
Jewelry and designer clothing is the best Christmas gift idea for adults, especially for women. Gifting your loved one jewelry, or that mink coat she always wanted, will make her shriek in delight. Earrings, bracelets, finger rings, pendants etc, are all very popular gift ideas for women, while for men, a finger ring, cufflinks, bracelets, etc. are good gifts. Jewelry can also be personalized with names and dates, making it a special gift. Designer clothing is also a very good gift idea, if you can afford it. Scarves, handbags, coats, and shoes are suitable gifts for women, while jackets, overcoats, suits etc, are suitable gifts for men.
Gadgets/Household Appliances
Gadgets and household appliances are a little on the expensive side, but if you can afford them, they make absolute marvelous gifts for Christmas. Men and boys simply love gadgets and will be thrilled beyond words to receive one at Christmas. For boys, an MP3 player, such as an iPod, or a gaming console, such as the Xbox, PlayStation, or Wii can be an ideal gift for Christmas, while for men, items such laptops, music systems, cameras, phones, etc can be ideal. For women, household appliances, such as a dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner, can make for really thoughtful gifts, while makeup kits and accessories can be ideal for girls.
Though this is not a tangible gift, it is probably the best Christmas gift idea. For all those unable to afford the gifts mentioned above, do not worry. A simple handwritten 'Merry Christmas', presented with love will be far better than all the expensive gifts above. The true spirit of Christmas is to spread love and joy around, and with this gift, you will be doing exactly that. Take time out from your daily routine and make a special effort to infuse some love and cheer in everything you do on Christmas Day. Chances are people around you will notice, and it will indeed be the best Christmas gift you could have given them.
Exchanging gifts at Christmas is a fairly new tradition. The most important thing that you have to keep in mind while exchanging gifts is the spirit of giving. You should not expect gifts in return, and should never plan your gift in such a manner too. When it comes to Christmas gifts, it is the thought that counts, and a simple Christmas card given a warm hug may mean more than a thousand dollar gift.
'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.'

This act of love by God is the true meaning of Christmas. We celebrate Christmas each year with more pomp and grandeur than the previous year, but are we letting the true meaning escape us? We need to remember that we are celebrating Christmas to thank god for what he did for us, by worshiping the birth of Jesus, and not treating it like the annual party that it has unfortunately come to be. So this Christmas, amidst all the celebrations and festivities, take some time out to remember why we are celebrating Christmas, and more importantly, what we are celebrating Christmas for.
I end here with heartfelt wishes for you all. May each and every one of you have a Merry Christmas! God Bless!