Sunday, 28 November 2021

Christmas customs and traditions

The customs and traditions of Christmas vary from country to country and nation to nation for all have a different culture and social structure. Available resources, understanding of themes and approaches count towards the manifestation of cultural presentations. But Christmas, being a universal festival of the biggest religion of the planet, carries one single approach to its celebration; the unique birth of Jesus Christ. A young virgin in her teens who was engaged to a man declares she was expecting a child. Even in this modern world, an engaged girl will lose everything, her future husband, family, and relative, if she declares that she is pregnant. But Almighty God’s divine plan made all things possible for the birth of Jesus Christ. Throughout the world, the unique birth of Jesus is celebrated in a unique way with all colours of varied customs and traditions. The oral history presents hundreds of fascinating Christmas traditions transmitted from generation to generation but the main chunk in spreading Christian traditions is attributed to religious saints and monks of the past and the present age. The first predominant Christmas tradition is Santa Clause (father Christmas).

Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, Turkey in the 4th century was generous and devoted to children. His commitment towards the welfare of children made him so popular that his generosity generated claims that he could perform miracles. After his death in 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, Turkey but in 1087 his remains were stolen and taken to Italy by Italian sailors that gave Nicholas worldwide popularity. Because of his popularity, he became the patron saint of Russia known by his red cape, white beard, and Bishop’s mitre. In Belgium, he was recognised the patron of children and travellers. In the 12th century, many European countries created the official holiday in his honour. An annual feast was celebrated on 6th December every year as a gift-giving and charity day. In the 17th century, Dutch colonists brought that tradition to America where Bishop Nicholas’s name emerged as Santa Claus. Christmas is a special day in the lives of Christians where they give and receive gifts from friends, relatives, nears and dears. Especially children receive gifts from all sides of relations which remind them of St. Nicholas’s passion for generosity. Christians all over the world enjoy wearing Santa Clause costumes in the commemoration of St. Nicholas of Myra.

The second Christmas tradition is the Christmas tree. Since medieval ages, Christmas trees were decorated at the time of Christmas conceptualising a paradise tree found in the Eden Garden. The tradition became popular in Germany in 16th Century when people first decorated fir trees both indoor and out with flowers, fruits, ribbons, coloured papers, and candies. It is believed that the Christian reformist, Martin Luther adorned Christmas tree with candle lights. One evening in December while coming back to his home, he observed stars shining through tree branches, which inspired him to place small colourful candles on branches of the tree. The Christmas tree was brought from Germany to England by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. In 1848, the Royal family of Queen Victoria gathered around the Christmas tree in Windsor Castle popularising the tree throughout the country. Christmas tree was brought to America by Pennsylvanian Germans in the 19th century. Christmas tree became such a strong Christmas tradition that it has now become a part of Christian and even non-Christian culture. All over the world Christmas trees are decorated and it has become the biggest business of the Christmas season.

The third tradition is Christmas stockings and it is attributed to Santa Claus (St. Nicholas of Myra). A Christmas stocking is a sock-shaped bag hung in various parts of the house so that Father Christmas can fill the socks with toys, fruits, coins, and candies. These bags are also called Stocking stuffers or fillers. It is an interesting story how this tradition became part of the Christmas season. One day St. Nicholas was passing through a street and heard a loud voice of a poor man who was worried about his three young daughters that what would happen to them after his death. In his life, he wanted to get his daughters married. St. Nicholas was moved very much from this and he started thinking how he could help the family knowing that the poor man might not accept his charity. During one night he secretly went to his house and through a window, he threw a bag of gold coins. In the morning, the girls and their father found gold coins stuck in the stockings hanging near the window. Of course, the girls and their father were very happy. With that money, the girls got married and lived happily ever after. The story created the tradition that Santa Clause will come and fill their stockings with gifts. The largest Christmas stocking measuring 51 m 35 cm long and 21 m 63 cm wide was produced by the volunteer emergency services organisation, ‘Pubblica Assistenza Carrara e Sezioni in Carrara, Tuscany, Italy’, on 5 January 2011. The fourth Christmas tradition is the candy cave. In it Christmas trees are ornamented with fruits and straight candies. During the 17th century, on the suggestion of the Choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, to beautify candy confection, the craftsmen created the white stick of candy in the shape of ‘shepherds’ crooks. Since then the candy canes, in a special Christian religious design, are prepared to decorate Christmas trees. In the beginning of the tradition, candies were given to children to keep them quiet during religious ceremonies at the living crèche and Nativity scenes. The custom soon spread throughout Europe and later to the whole world. In 1950, Gregory Keller, a Catholic priest invented the machine that automated the production of candy canes. White and three red striped candy canes are the symbolism of Jesus Christ purity, the Holy Trinity and His sacrifice to bring salvation to the mankind.

Christmas Bells is a Christmas tradition that is an important part of Christian Churches. The long tradition of ringing bells before Church service is a systematic part of the Church service discipline. In the UK it is an Anglican tradition that the largest bell is rung four times in the hour before the Christmas midnight service and at midnight all bells are rung in cohesion. Midnight Christmas service is popular among Christians living in all parts of the globe. During Christmas season, choirs go out in the streets with orchestra and bells to glorify the midnight birth of Jesus Christ. During Midnight Christmas services in Catholic Church bells and altar bells are rung while the priest says the “Gloria.” The concept of bells dates back to the first century when Jesus was born in the manger, bells rounded in cattle’s’ necks were ringing during their natural physical movements. During the Victorian period, it was a fashion to go out for Christmas carols using bells and sometimes only the bells were rung without singing. Now symphonic bells are used to decorate Christmas trees. The sixth Christmas tradition is the Christmas carol. The word ‘carol’ means to dance to something. Carols were sung even before the birth of Jesus Christ. They were pagan’s songs to celebrate winter Solstice, a pagan’s festival to appease their gods and goddesses. Early Christians replaced pagan songs to Christmas carols. In the year 129, a Roman Bishop introduced a Christmas song called “Angel’s Hymn” Another famous Christmas carol was written in 760 by Comas of Jerusalem for the Greek Orthodox Church. Till the middle ages, everyone was familiar with Christian carols instead of pagan’s songs. St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century started his ‘nativity plays’ where stories were told through carols. In the beginning, carols were in Latin language but soon after in other languages carols were translated in all different regional languages. The carol singing spread worldwide becoming part of the Christian religious cultures. During Christmas season, carol singing is an enjoyable festivity celebrated in all various parts of the world. Let us hope and pray that this Christmas brings peace, joy, harmony and brotherhood to the entire world.

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