“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Most people know the story of the “Nativity.” Joseph and Mary could not find an inn to stay at, so they spent the night in a stable. Mary then gave birth to a baby named Jesus. And three wise men traveled from afar following a shining star that led them to this stable where they offered gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to the Son of God.
This story has been the basis for the celebration of Christmas under the Christian faith. It is Jesus’ birthday that is heralded as the occasion for the world to come together and bring peace on earth and show goodwill toward men on the 25th of December each year.
In modern times, this festive season is marked by Santa Claus, reindeer, snow, a Christmas tree, turkey and eggnog. It is a time for families to get together and exchange presents with loved ones. Out of the twelve months in the year, December is the busiest for many as people all across the globe prepare for and indulge in one of the grandest holidays ever.
“Christmas for me means spending time with my family and remembering Christmas as it was when I was a child,” said Eileen Trethway, a mother of two children. “It’s a chance for me to be a kid again.”
“A fresh tree always, every year”, said Trevor Hull. “My dad won’t have it any other way. It takes a whole week before all the decorations are in place. Then we break out the homemade eggnog for a job well done.”
Although the holiday has its foundation in the Christian tradition, people of all faiths join in the celebration of Christmas. It is a chance for the whole world to partake in the spirit of “giving” and “kindness to all,” which is the essence of the holy birthday of Jesus. The 25th of December, however, wasn’t really the day Christ was born.
The first observation of Christmas can be traced back to the early fourth century about 335 AD. It was the different Pagan religions that reserved the 25th of December as the birthday of the Sun. Following this winter solstice, each day would become considerably longer. It was then that the Roman church replaced this day with the birthday of Jesus.
Christmas, however, was still in its infancy and was considered to be more of a religious duty than a time to rejoice. It was only in the thirteenth century, when St Francis of Assisi brought “tenderness” and “passion” into religion, that Christmas started to take on a more merry feel.
St. Francis was also responsible for the “songs of praise” that we know today as Christmas carols. Added to that was the “crib” concept that he popularized. It has been noted that on one occasion in Greccio, Italy, he recreated a Bethlehem nativity scene using real oxen and donkeys. The crowd heartily rejoiced in the novelty of the celebration.
Nowadays, Christmas has evolved into a majestic fanfare that incorporates a wide variety of seasonal attributes. Plants like the mistletoe, holly and ivy are winter bred and have been used for decorations in houses, greeting cards and on city streets and buildings. One only need go down McGill College Street in Montreal to see the brightly lit ornamentations that boast of the festive spirit downtown.
The Christmas tree has its origins in Germany. St Bonafice (who converted many German people to Christianity) came across a group of Pagans worshipping an Oak tree. He cut it down and in its place a young fir tree sprung up. He acknowledged this as a miracle and called it the tree of the Christ Child.
It was customary that the English Yule Log would be cut and brought to the house with much ceremony. It was then lit with splinters from the preceding year’s log and prayers were said to ward off any evil spirit. The Yule log has taken on a different kind of ceremony, it is now a traditional pastry.
Food plays an important role in holiday traditions. Families across the world cater their own dinner menu of turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, and sweets.
“In India, we make sweets for the whole month of Christmas.,” said Diego D’Silva. “Tradition has it that every family that visits homes during Christmas gets to eat sweets.”
Santa Claus is the mascot of Christmas. He is supported by Mrs. Claus, the reindeer who drive his sled full of presents, and the hard working elves that manufacture all the toys in the North Pole for the kids who have been good all year. Santa is a fat, jolly old man with a white beard and red and white clothes. On Christmas Eve he comes down the chimney when everyone is asleep and places presents by the Christmas tree. As a hospitable gesture, some leave a warm glass of milk and some cookies for him.
Much to the dismay of those who want to believe in him – Santa Claus is as real as the Tooth Fairy. His actual name is St. Nicholas, patron saint of the children. St. Nicholas was born in Patara, in Turkey. He dedicated much of his life to sharing his inheritance with needy children. One story tells of St. Nicholas sneaking quietly one the night and throwing small bags of money into the window of the house of a poor father with three daughters.
We can thank the Europeans for bringing St. Nicholas to the New World. The name Santa Claus originally comes from the Dutch version “Sint Klass.”
“Joulupikki (a Pagan tradition to ward off evil spirits) is Finland’s version of Santa Claus,” said Laura Koivisto, a university student in Finland. “He lives in Korvatunturi (Mount Ear, near the Polar Circle) in northern Finland, travels around the world to give you presents – if you have behaved well.”
“In Greece he’s known as Hagios Nikolaos,” said Dimitrios Varelos, a Concordia Economics/Theology student. “He puts money down the chimney in houses.”
Some other names for the jolly old white bearded man are:
China – Shengdan Laoren
England – Father Christmas
France – Pere Noel
Germany – Christindl (Christ child)
Latin America – El Ni