One thing that is true for all who celebrate Christmas is special Christmas traditions. We all have some very unique traditions that only our families do. But also, we probably all of some very similar ones. Things like Christmas treeing, decorations, wreaths, candy canes, chestnut roasting, Christmas carol singing and the exchanging of gifts are often some we have in common. All of these traditions have particular ways and times that they came into existence.
Gift Exchanging: The tradition was probably inspired by the Magi and the gifts they gave to Jesus. Not a bad reason, but we must be careful not to miss the point of what they gave and why. I believe the more reasonable reason to continue to practice this tradition is in the remembering of the gift that was given to us, the gift of the Savior Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas day. It is the gift of the love of our God. Also, exchanging gifts can be a part of fulfilling of what the Bible says about how Christian’s should be giving in love to one another. As brothers and sisters in Christ we ought to be giving, not just at Christmas, but all year round. Ultimately the gifts we give and receive should not put our focus on the gift, but the giver, and ultimately on our Heavenly Father and His gift of the gospel.
Christmas carol singing: When the Christians began to Christianize the pagan holiday of Winter Solstice (as I wrote in a previous post), they adapted and wrote new carols from the Christian perspective that could be sung in place of the pagan music being sung for the pagan celebration. One more interesting thing to note is that when Oliver Cromwell came in to power in England in 1647, the celebration of Christmas and particularly the singing of carols was stopped. However, the carols survived because people continued to sing them in secret. This remained true until the Victorian era, when a few good men decided to collect several of the old Christmas music from villages all over England and write them down.
Chestnut Roasting: Not many people roast chestnuts anymore, but it is, historically, a popular tradition. It dates back centuries ago. Chestnuts became a staple in the diet of many around the Mediterranean. And roasting them sweetens their raw, bitter flavor, (which could explain why we like to eat lots of sweets come Christmas time.) No one really knows when or why the tradition of was started. The only thing I was able to find was that early Christians believed the nut symbolized chastity. (Not a clue what that has to do with Christmas.)
Candy Canes: And now the much-loved Candy Cane. They originated about 250 years ago in Germany. The story goes that a church choirmaster was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service. So he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet. Since he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made sugar sticks in a shepherd’s staff shape and dipped one end into a white-wintergreen flavor and dipped the opposite end into a red-peppermint flavor. The canes were suppose to remind the children of the shepherds that visited Jesus on his birthday. It is unclear whether he thought anything about the color representation -red for Christ’s blood shed and white for His purity- or the fact that the cane upside down looks like a ‘J’ (for Jesus). Also,the traditional peppermint flavor can also represent hyssop, a plant used for purifying in the Bible (Psalm 51:7).
Christmas Wreaths: We use wreaths all year-long for so many different things, but surely Christmas wreaths must have a meaning, right? Yep! Again, we go back to the idea of the Advent season (see previous posts). Their first known use dates back to 16th century Lutherans. They would place the wreath on the door of the church at the beginning of Advent, place a white candle in the center on the first of Advent, and a red candle every day after. The Advent wreath is meant to symbolize everlasting life in Jesus with its’ evergreen branches and the circular shape represents God; no beginning and no end.
Christmas Decorations: ….Wow, there are so many. A great many, such as Christmas lights and ornaments and tinsel, have their root in the first Christmas tree decorations. The tradition was basically to decorate the tree with dried fruits and nuts, thin strips of hammered silver, and candles. Later on, the dried fruits and nuts were replaces with homemade imperishable ornaments and eventually mass-produced ornaments became popular. The candles were simply outmoded by the invention of electricity and strings of lights became the thing to decorate with. And the tinsel made from real silver strips were eventually replaced by manmade plastic lookalike tinsel strips. As time went on, people simply grew beyond the Christmas tree and begin to decorate their homes, inside and out. Mistletoe, is a vine with round green leaves and white berries. In Norse mythology it is a sign of love and friendship, so the idea of kissing came from that. The original custom was that one must pick one of its’ white berries everytime you want to kiss someone and once all berries were plucked there could be no more kissing. Holly has prickly green leaves with red berries. The tradition of it is based in Christianity. Both Holly and Mistletoe create the color palate that we traditionally think of as Christmas colors; red, white, and green. But the Holly has a special significance, its’ thorny leaves are to represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified, while the berries are the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns. In Scandinavia, the Holly bush is known as “Christ’s Thorn.”
Christmas Trees: There are many legends regarding the tradition of the Christmas tree. One is of St. Boniface, a missionary to the Northern Germanic Tribes. They worshiped a mighty oak tree called the Oak of Donar or Thor(their God). Boniface simply showed their god powerless by cutting the tree down. And, as a symbol of the truth, pointed the idolators to a fir tree. As an evergreen, it seemed everlasting. As a shape, its’ lower branches appear to reach out with an embrace, while the top appears to be pointing to heaven, Finally, since our home’s are mostly made of pine wood, we are to think of Christ as the center of our home. Martin Luther was the first person to fill his Christmas tree with candles. While walking home the night before Christmas and seeking inspiration for his Christmas sermon later on, Luther happened upon a scene of stars shining through the branches of some evergreens in the forest. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children, and later preached in his sermon, how it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth for us. To remember this scene, Luther had his family decorate their evergreen Christmas tree with candles. And thus, the tradition was born.
There are so many wonderful traditions that we all love to celebrate during Christmas time. As you can see, they are meant to be useful reminders of the Savior who came to earth for us, to die for our sins. While celebrating this Christmas, lighting up the house, decorating, singing carols, and exchanging gifts, let us remember the reason for the season. Enjoy the video below!