Origins of Christmas traditions

Christmas is a worldwide celebration of the birth of Christ.  Below, Joshua Kiregu takes us through its origins.

Christmas is a worldwide celebration of the birth of Christ.  Below, Joshua Kiregu takes us through its origins.

The traditionally famous gift-bearer of the Advent season, Father Christmas, originated from the 4th Century Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey.

He was widely known as a generous man, and particularly devoted to children.
After his death, his reputation of kindness and generosity lived on and even gave rise to claims that he could perform miracles and devotion to him thus increased.

His reputation spread in Europe and in Russia where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard and bishop’s attire.

The legend persisted in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name was Sint Nikolaas and it eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch colonists thereafter took this tradition with them to America in the 17th Century and here the name Santa Claus emerged.

Today, the figure of Santa Claus as a jolly, benevolent, plump man in a red suit still remains with us today and is recognized by children and adults alike around the world.
This image was largely inspired by a description in a poem by Clement C. Moore to his children in 1822 titled:

A Visit from Saint Nicholas
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly,
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

Christmas Cards
Sir Henry Cole, the First director of the Victoria and Albert museum was the earliest known designer of Christmas cards in 1843. He designed this as he was himself too busy to compose individual Christmas greetings for his friends. The card was inscribed with the message “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

Later, the Penny-Post postal service in 1840 and the industrialization of the printing industry led to the popularity of sending Christmas cards.

Christmas Trees
In 16th Century Germany fir trees were decorated, both indoors and out, with apples, roses, gilded candies, and colored paper. In the middle Ages, a popular religious play depicted the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

A fir tree hung with apples was used to symbolize the Garden of Eden -- the Paradise Tree. The play ended with the prophecy of a saviour coming, and so was often performed during the Advent season.

It is held that Protestant reformer Martin Luther first adorned trees with light. While coming home one December evening, the beauty of the stars shining through the branches of a fir inspired him to recreate the effect by placing candles on the branches of a small fir tree inside his home

The Bell
Suddenly I heard a soft twinkling sound, and from his bag he pulled out a BELL. “Teach the children that as the lost sheep are found by the sound of the bell, it should ring mankind to the fold. The bell symbolizes guidance and return.
The Wreath
Long a go people used to worship the evergreen holly as a sign of eternal life because it sis not brown or die in winter?
We now place wreaths on doors or hallways to create a festive atmosphere during holiday season and to show that real love never ceases, Love is one continuous circle of affection.

This custom of singing Christmas carols is said to have come from 13th Century Italy where a man named St. Francis of Assisi led songs of praise. It was very bad luck to send the carollers away empty handed. It was also said to be bad luck to sing carols at any other time of the year besides the festive season.


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