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.
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.
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.
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!
1:29 and John 3:108
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.
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
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.