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CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD -
The traditional Christmas feast of the old times consisted of
roasted boars, swine and peacocks.
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The Origin of Christmas and its Symbols
 
Christmas is a holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. The word Christmas comes from the words ‘cristes maesse,’ meaning ‘Christ’s Mass.’

Jesus Christ’s ‘birthday’ is celebrated every year on December 25, but the exact date of his nativity is really unknown. The date of the celebration which we observe to this day was established in the fourth century. During this time, the Roman Catholic Church wanted to subjugate the Mithraic religion, whose major holiday - the Natalis Solis Invicti (Birthday of the Invincible Sun God) - was also celebrated on December 25.

Through the centuries, the celebration of Christmas has been warmly embraced by many countries. It is not surprising, therefore, to know that most of the Christmas traditions, symbols and practices originated from different countries.
 
CHRISTMAS TREE
 
There are many different accounts tracing the origin of the Christmas tree, but there is a consensus that the tradition originated in Germany. In one of the earliest stories about its origin, St. Boniface was said to have preached a sermon on the Nativity to a tribe of Germanic Druids near the town of Geismar. To illustrate that the oak tree is not sacred, as the Druids believed, he cut down one on the spot. It crushed everything in its path except for one fir sapling. St. Boniface interpreted the sapling’s survival as a miracle and anointed the fir as “the tree of the Christ Child.” Subsequently, people in Germany celebrated Christmas by bringing fir saplings into their homes. Sixteenth century Germans started decorating their trees with paper roses, apples, wafers, gilt and sugar.

Legend has it that the practice of placing lights on a Christmas tree was started by Protestant reformer Martin Luther. On his way home one night, he was so inspired by the twinkling of the stars through the branches of evergreen trees that he wanted to duplicate the vision at home by putting lighted candles on a Christmas tree.
 
MISTLETOE
 
The mistletoe has been considered as a magical and mysterious plant in European folklore since ancient times. The ancient Druids used to celebrate winter by gathering mistletoe and burning it as a sacrifice to their gods. They usually hang the sprigs of this plant in their homes for good fortune and filial harmony. They also welcome and embrace arriving houseguests under the mistletoe.

With the official recognition of Christmas on December 25, the Christian Church opposed the use of the mistletoe as part of the celebration of Christ’s nativity. The Church decreed that the holly be used as a substitute for the mistletoe, as it is said to symbolize the thorns in Christ’s crown, and the red berries as drops of His blood.

Although the holly was recognized as part of the Christmas tradition, old practices still die hard. Thus, the mistletoe is still a big part of today’s Christmas.
 
SANTA CLAUS
 
St. Nicholas was recognized as the original Santa Claus. The saint is known for his generosity and love for children—two qualities that endeared him to people and made him a part of Christmas tradition.

The real St. Nicholas, however, was not the jovial, plump man that children all around the world generally know as Santa Claus – except for his white flowing hair and beard. In fact, he was a tall, slender bishop who usually made his rounds wearing his bishop’s robe, which was red and white. He would go around on December 6, his feast day, giving gifts of fruits, nuts, hard candies and handmade figurines.

The tradition St. Nicholas was banished from most European countries during the Protestant Reformation, but the Dutch kept it alive. On the expected night of the saint’s arrival, Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes, filled with straw (a meal for the bishop’s gift-laden donkey), by the hearth. In return, the saint would fill their shoes with treats. The tradition was eventually transported to the New World, where it underwent changes. Instead of wooden shoes, children in America would hang stockings on the chimney to be filled with gifts.

The Dutch first spelled St. Nicholas’ name as ‘Sint Nikolass’. This was changed into ‘Sinter Klass’ in the New World, and then later became Santa Claus.

The familiar image of a plump Santa Claus is actually the product of one man’s imagination. From 1863 to 1886, cartoonist Thomas Nast created a series of Christmas drawings for Harper’s Weekly showing how Santa spent his entire year – from constructing toys to finding out if a child has been “naughty or nice.”
 
GIFT-GIVING
 
The custom of giving gifts during a festivity goes back to the roman festivals of Saturnalia and Kalends, beginning with simple gifts such as sacred twigs as good luck charms, and on to food, small jewelry, candles and other small items.

In the Christian tradition, gift giving during Christmas has its origin in the story of the Three Wise Men—Melchor, Gaspar and Balthasar—who visited the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, bringing with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
 
CAROLING
 
The word ‘carol’ comes from the Greek ‘Choraulein,’ an ancient circle dance which was typically accompanied by flute music. This dance eventually spread throughout Europe, with France becoming particularly captivated by it. In the Middle Ages, the English combined this type of dance with singing and called them ‘carols’. Since then, the term has been associated with songs of a religious topic performed in a popular and festive style.

People generally performed carols on several occasions during the year, but by the 1600’s, people omitted the dancing part, and the songs were performed mainly during Christmas.
 
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