WHO WAS THE REAL SANTA CLAUS?

And other Christmas Legends!

Wait a few moments and you'll see him fly through the air!

LOTS OF GRAPHICS ON THIS PAGE - PLEASE BE PATIENT

Santa Claus traces back to Saint Nicholas, a priest who lived 1600 years ago.

Legend tells us that one of his miracles was bringing three lost children back to life,

thus becoming the patron saint of children. In Holland where he became most

eagerly celebrated his name became 'Sinter Klaas'. When Dutch settlers

arrived in the New World and founded, in the early seventeenth century,

the place they called New Amsterdam (later renamed New York)

they took their Sinter Klaas customs with them. The Americanized

pronunciation of Sinter Klaas was 'Santa Claus', and this soon became

his nickname. Why does Santa come down the Chimney?

All modern references can be traced to the famous poem

'The Night Before Christmas' written in 1822 by the Clement Moore.

In it he describes 'And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof,

the prancing and pawing of each little hoof. As I drew in my head

and was turning around, down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.'

WHY CELEBRATE ON DECEMBER 25th?

In the fourth century, Pope Julius I announced that Christ's official

birthday would be December 25th. Prior to his ruling there had been

a great deal of confusion. No-one was certain about the year, let alone

the month or the day. Who invented Santa Claus' Suit? In 1931

the Coca-Cola Company hired American artist Haddon Sundblom

to redesign Santa Claus. Sundblom chose the official colors of

Coca-Cola red and white.

WHY 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS?

Traditionally, it took the 'Wisemen' this number of days to find the baby Jesus.

Their arrival on the twelfth day was celebrated in the form of the

Feast of Epiphany in medieval France, and later in other countries.

Why we abbreviate Christmas to Xmas? The word 'Xmas' has been in use

for at least 600 years and has a special religious meaning. The X does not,

as many think, represent the Christian Cross, but the Greek letter 'chi'

which is the first letter of 'Christos', meaning Christ.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE

The Christmas tree,

which is an evergreen with it's boughs stretched toward heaven,

reminds us of the everlasting life that Christ came to bring sinners.

The candles or lights on the tree remind us that Jesus is the

light of the world. This surely is what Martin Luther envisioned

back in 1535 when he cut and decorated the first Christmas tree

for his children. Prince Albert carried the Christmas tree custom

from Germany to Windsor Castle in 1841. Ten years later,

a Cleveland minister was accused of sacrilege and idolatry when he

put up the first American tree. But a young child saw it right.

"Mother", he whispered, "the pastor's got a tree from heaven!"

THE CANDY CANE

In a small Indiana town, there was a candymaker who wanted to spread

the name of Jesus around the world. He invented the Christmas Candy Cane,

incorporating symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.

He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy to symbolize the Virgin Birth.

The candymaker formed the stick into a "J" to represent the name of Jesus.

It can also represent the staff of the "Good Shepherd." He thought the

candy was too plain so he stained it with a red stripe to symbolize

the blood shed by Christ on the cross.

THE POINSETTIA

A Mexican legend tells of a small boy traveling with the wise men.

He had no gift to offer the Christ child because he was so poor,

and so he prayed for a gift. Because his prayers were sincere,

when he got up a brilliant scarlet plant grew at his feet. He took

the flower in and presented it as a gift to the baby Jesus. The

poinsettia was brought to the United States by Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsettia,

the American ambassador to Mexico during the nineteenth century.

The flower of the Holy Night has gained popularity ever since.

CHRISTMAS FEASTS

In medieval England, Christmas celebrations reached their peak in terms of

feasts and festivities. Kings and bishops tried to beat each other entertainments,

tournaments and banquets. They held their courts throughout the

twelve days of Christmas. Each wanted to be the most splendid, to have

the best feasts and merriments. One Christmas pie was nine feet in diameter,

165 pounds and contained two bushels of flour, twenty pounds

of butter, four geese, two rabbits, four wild ducks, two woodcocks,

six snipes, four partridges, two neats' tongues, two curlews, six pigeons,

and seven blackbirds. In the thirteenth century, Henry III butchered six

hundred oxen for his Christmas feast! A table filled with good food remains

one of our favorite Christmas traditions, even if it seems modest

compared to the feasts of the past.

WASSAILING

An old Anglo-Saxon term meaning "be well".

Wassailing is a house-to-house caroling party. On Christmas Eve,

wassailers went around town singing. People invited them into their houses

for something to eat and drink. The wassailers would bring holly and mistletoe

to give the people whose houses they visited. In turn they were

invited to drink from the wassail bowl. It contained a mulled punch with

spices, sugar and apples. Today the tradition of wassailing has carried over

in the songs that mention them, as well as in traditional drinks such as

eggnog and punch. Christmas caroling probably has its roots in wassailing.

THE YULE LOG

A once popular tradition that has mostly disappeared. In medieval days,

Yule logs were chosen on February 2 and dried outside during the

spring and summer. It was lit with a piece of last year's log.

The Yule log is supposed to burn to ash all the bad feelings of the previous year.

The Yule log has also carried into modern days as the buch

de Noel, the French Christmas cake in the shape of a log.

THE ADVENT WREATH

An evergreen wreath with four candles, the Advent wreath,

is a tradition practiced by many Christian groups today,

although it originated in the Lutheran Church. These wreaths are

often placed on church altars, but are sometimes set up in homes

as well. On the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas,

the first candle is lit. Another candle is lit each week,

until on the Sunday before Christmas all the candles are finally burning.

The lighting of the candles symbolizes the anticipation of

the birth of Jesus, the Light of the world, born at Christmas.

~ First Candle: Candle of Hope ~

We have hope because God is faithful to keep His promises to us.

Our hope comes from God. Romans 15:12-13

~ Second Candle: Candle of Preparation ~

"Help us to be ready to welcome you, O' God

May we be prepared for You when you come. Luke 3:4-6

~ Third Candle: Candle of Joy ~

The angels sang a message of joy. Luke 2:7-15

~ Fourth Candle: Candle of Love ~

God sent His Son to earth because of His love for us. John 3:16-17

~ Fifth Candle: Christ Candle ~

The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless

Lamb of God, sent to wash away our sins.

His birth was for His death, His death was for our birth!

John 1:29 and John 3:108

HOLLY

Holly was used to decorate homes during winter, bringing cheer to

winter's bleakness. Later, it came to symbolize the life of Christ.

The white flowers stand for his purity and lack of sin. The red berries

for the blood he shed for our redemption. The prickly leaves for

his crown of thorns. The bitter bark for his suffering on the cross.

These symbols make the holly a fitting decoration to be used at Christmas

to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

MISTLETOE

Kissing under the mistletoe is a an old European tradition.

It was believed that the mistletoe holds 'magical' powers

from the 'soul' of the mighty oak tree.

It was said to grant strength, peace, health, fertility

and love to those who kiss beneath it.

In Ancient England kisses were exchanged beneath mistletoe

as the ceremonial ending of old grievances. Sprigs of mistletoe

were hung over doors for the same reason, as a way of saying

symbolically that the hosts wished peace to all their guests.

Somehow this custom found its way into English Christmas traditions

except that now the kisses exchanged have less to do

with peacemaking and more to do with romance!

THE CHRISTMAS STOCKING

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care In hopes that

Saint Nicholas soon would be there" There was a kindly nobleman

whose wife had died of an illness leaving the nobleman and his three

daughters in despair. After losing all his money in useless and bad

inventions the family had to move into a peasant's cottage where

the daughters did their own cooking, sewing and cleaning.

When it came time for the daughters to marry the father became

even more depressed as his daughters could not marry without

dowries, money and property given to the new husband's family.

One night after the daughters had washed out their clothing

they hung their stockings over the fireplace to dry. That night

Saint Nicholas, knowing the despair of the father, stopped by the

nobleman's house. Looking in the window Saint Nicholas saw

that the family had gone to bed. He also noticed the daughters stockings.

Inspiration struck Saint Nicholas and he took three small bags

of gold from his pouch and threw them one by one down the chimney

and they landed in the stockings. The next morning when the

daughters awoke they found their stockings contained enough gold

for them to get married. The nobleman was able to see his three

daughters marry and he lived a long and happy life.

Children all over the world continue the tradition of hanging

Christmas stockings. In some countries children have similar customs,

in France the children place their shoes by the fireplace,

a tradition dating back to when children wore wooden peasant shoes.

In Holland the children fill their shoes with hay and a carrot

for the horse of Sintirklass. In Hungary children shine their shoes

before putting them near the door or a window sill.

Italian children leave their shoes out the night before Epiphany,

January 5, for La Befana the good witch. And in Puerto Rico

children put greens and flowers in small boxes and

place them under their beds for the camels of the Three Kings.

LEGEND OF THE SHEPHERD BOY
AND THE WREATH

A poor shepherd boy had no gift to give to the Baby Jesus.

He so wanted to give something to honor the babe,

so he made a tiny little crown of leaves from a holly bush.

He was sore ashamed that his gift could not compare with the

gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the rich wisemen had given,

so he began to weep as he gave his gift to little Jesus.

When Jesus touched the holly crown with his tiny little hand,

what do you suppose happened! The leaves began suddenly

to gleam and the shepherd boy's tears turned to scarlet berries.

Down through the centuries the Holly wreath has become

a traditional decoration for Christmas and reminds us

of the precious miracle of Christ's birth.


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