Christmas Traditions


Image Courtesy of Dissolve

People around the world celebrate Christmas in a variety of ways

Spencer Gorka, The Scroll, Staff Writer

Most of us who celebrate Christmas all have different or same Christmas traditions that have passed down through time, becoming ingrained into the holiday. We know of the Christmas story with the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, but we also have Santa Claus and lights that we decorate our houses with. 

Why do we call it Christmas? The name Christmas was something that molded itself over time. In some churches, mostly the Catholic Church, they would hold their sermons called mass. Once every year they would hold a special mass for the celebration of Jesus. The name of the service then resided as Christ’s Mass, Christmas. Going a little further, some people like to call Christmas by Xmas, which also has some significance. Most of the people in the Roman Empire at the time of the beginning of the Church (the Christian Church), would call Christmas, Xmas. This is because the word χριστός (chrīstós), means the “anointed one” which was used when they talked about Jesus. Xmas means Christmas just in Greek.

Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th? For years the Romans would have huge parties about their accomplishments and worship the sun for their fortune. Then, in 350AD, a lot of Romans had converted to Christianity, including Julius Caesar I. Caesar decreed that December 25th would be to celebrate Jesus (the Son) instead of the sun, which is why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th.

Why do we cut down trees and bring them into our houses to decorate? This tradition started in Northern Germany with a group of pagan worshipers. They would decorate their houses with oak tree branches in dedication to their gods. They believed that this one massive oak tree was Thor’s tree and if they cut it down, they would be struck by lightning. So, they stood by it and worshiped Thor. One day, a Christian named Bonaphas came across the tree and knew what he had to do to help these people. He cut down the tree to show them to not be afraid of something that does not exist. He shared the Gospel with them and gave them a visual symbol of Christ. That was a fur tree. It is evergreen, and its tip points to Heaven, reminding them that Jesus is Lord and will never waver. The people took that visual and cut those trees down, bringing them into their house as if to say that Jesus is always in their house. This was brought down through history, making it a worldly tradition for Christmas.

What does Santa Claus have to do with Christmas if Christmas is all about Jesus’ birth? Santa Claus originates from St. Nicholas who was an actual person in Northern Europe. He was a Bishop in the Church who had grown rich but he gave his riches to the poor during the middle of the night to surprise them the next morning. One story of this is of three poor girls who needed money to marry but they couldn’t afford it. St. Nicholas heard about this family and visited them during the night, throwing bags of money into their house which landed in their stockings that hung to dry over the fire. This is when the stockings tradition was born and the chocolate golden coins tradition was born. As word spread across Europe about St. Nicholas, they created a St. Nicholas day on December 6th where people would set out stockings or shoes in hopes that St. Nicholas would visit them and give them gifts. This later spread across the world and came to America with Dutch and German settlers. The name Santa Claus came to be by two versions of St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas and Sant Nicklaus. Over time, these two names merged and became Santa Claus. Because of the giving and similarity to Christmas, they moved these traditions to December 25th to celebrate the both of them together. Santa Claus wears a red coat with white fur because the color for the Bishop uniform was a red rope and it would become very cold at night in Northern Europe so he would line his ropes with white fur to keep him warm. The tradition of giving coins to the Salvation Army started with the story of St Nicholas giving money to the poor. It was founded by Christians who wanted to collect money for the poor. This is the tradition of giving and the significance of Santa Claus.

Why do we decorate our Christmas tree and home with Christmas lights? Well, going back to the days of Martin Luther, in the early 1500s, Martin Luther went out one winter’s night to look around at God’s creation. In a clearing of the woods, he looked up to the night sky and marveled at the stars. He felt as if God had given him a new view of the world and gave him the idea to duplicate the sight at his home. He took candles and hung them on his Christmas tree, creating a spectacular sight of tranquil lights on the tree. This, he told his children, was a representation that Jesus is the everlasting light of the world. This tradition quickly swept through Germany and then throughout the world. Throughout time, candles proved to be very hazardous to households, creating multiple house fires annually. To fix this problem, after the light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison, an employee of the Edison Electric Company, Edward Johnson, created a string of 80 tiny light bulbs. He brought it home and strung it on his Christmas tree, creating a brighter illumination and having the Christmas tree rotate by a motor. Neighbors marveled at the sight through the window as they passed and the invention became a hit. Over time, the light string evolved into a cheaper smaller light bulb string that almost everyone could buy and use instead of the candles. The tradition of the Christmas tree lights moved throughout the house then to the outdoor lawn with decorations. Nevertheless, the main idea and reminder of the Christmas tree lightings is to remind the people that Jesus is the light of the world.

Most people know of the first Christmas story with baby Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men with their three gifts, and the Shepherds who watched over their sheep. Jesus is the new king of the Jews yet he was born in such a humble place and the Shepherds were the first people to know of this extraordinary gift. Jesus is the Messiah which means anointed one. He was called Emmanuel which means God with us. How can God be with us in this horrible time? If He’s with us, why doesn’t He just step in and save us? That was what the Jews said back then and that’s what we ask now. Jesus didn’t come to save us from evil empires or wars, He came to save us from the ultimate evil thing, death. He came to save us from our spiritually dead selves and to raise us from the grave to be with him. Does Emmanual mean that life will be perfect for the believer? No. But it means that you can live for eternity without death and fear. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son and however believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” He loves us so much that he gave his only son so that we can be with him. We can’t get to God because of the divide that is sin, so God came to us to bring that divide to a close so that we can be with him and have a personal relationship with Him. That’s how much He loves you. The miracle of Christmas is for everyone!

This year has been rough on all of us and getting to Christmas isn’t getting any better. But what we can do to make it better is remember what Christmas is all about and where they came from. Having these things in mind can bring clarity and an epiphany to us all. Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!