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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Christmas Traditions

  • Comedian Jim Gaffigan compared Christmas traditions to the odd actions of a drunk man – bringing a tree inside and putting lights outside – so how did these traditions come about? Here are the answers to this holiday riddle.
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    Christmas Tree:
    This tradition probably began thousands of years ago, though it was adopted by Christians for the Christmas celebration in the sixteenth century.
    Fir trees have long been worshipped and used during the winter solstice. The Christmas tree was likely adapted by German and Scandinavian druids who brought the tree indoors to show hope for the forthcoming spring.
    Martin Luther is said to have decorated trees for Christmas with lights during the 1500s.
    The tradition was brought to the US by German and Scandinavian immigrants during the 1800s and has spread to become a national tradition.
    Nativity Scene:
    While the idea behind a nativity scene seems pretty self explanatory, it wasn’t always a tradition. After a trip to the holy lands, Saint Francis of Assisi created a living nativity scene to bring the holy lands closer to those who couldn’t experience it on their own. It quickly became a tradition throughout Europe in the thirteenth century.
    Today, nativity scenes can be found almost anywhere in the US.
    Christmas Lights:
    The tradition of hanging lights to decorate the outside of a house began when people started decorating the inside of their house.
    Electric lights were first used on the Christmas tree and were so impressive inside, people began decorating the outside of the house.
    Now, decorating the outside of the house has become a mainstream activity. Contests are held and some people even go so far as to synchronize music with their lights to create an impressive display for the holidays.
    Santa Claus:
    Next time someone tells you Santa Claus isn’t real, point out that Saint  Nicholas is very real and very old.
    He was born in 280 AD and was a rich Turkish bishop. Women who could not provide a dowry in his town would awake to find gold in their socks the next morning.
    He was such a kindhearted man that he was made saint of children, sailors, Russia and Greece. His red suit comes the tradition of saints, since saints traditionally are dressed in red. He was also the third most beloved figure in the Church behind Jesus and Mary up into the fifteenth century. He even had his own celebration on Dec. 6.
    He evolved into Father Christmas during the sixteenth century thanks to a poem titled “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore. This poem modernized Santa Claus into the jolly old man we know today.
    Christmas Carols:
    Carols can be sung all year round and are not exclusive to Christmas.
    However, Christmas does own a controlling stake in the carolling business.
    Page 2 of 2 - Carols were first sung during the celebration of the winter solstice, but quickly changed to songs of celebration for Christmas.
    Traditionally they are sung door to door on Christmas Eve, but more recently singers have decided to perform carols all throughout the month of December.
    December 25:
    There is always a big debate surrounding the day in which Christmas is celebrated.
    Most historians believe Jesus, the man behind the holiday, was born in the spring or early summer.
    Christmas wasn’t celebrated in early Christian history – unless it was clumped together with epiphany celebrations.
    The date was debated among the church for a long time before they finally settled on Dec. 25 at about 300 AD.
    Pagan holidays already celebrated the birth of several Gods during that time and the Winter Solstice. The date was chosen to introduce a new festival.
    Even after the date was chosen, it was a long time before the Christmas we know today began being celebrated. Different calendars and traditions pushed the date forward and back, but the Dec. 25 celebration is now recognized worldwide.
    Candy Cane:
    The candy cane is a tradition that has its roots in seventeenth century Europe. The candy at that time was all white and given to children during the longer nativity services.
    It was shaped like a “J” to reference a shepards cane. Many today believe the “J” represents Jesus.
    The red stripe was added during the 1900s, though its origin isn’t immediately clear. It was also during this time that the traditional peppermint taste of the candy cane was added. Symbols have been suggested for the red and white color since then – red signifying Christ’s blood and white His purity.
    Mistletoe:
    Humans have been kissing under the mistletoe since before Jesus was born.
    The mistletoe was a worshiped plant in ancient times, thought to bring good luck and strength. It is said to have cured sterility and to be an antidote to any poison.
    In Norse myths, coming across a mistletoe during battle meant that you would lay your arms down until the next day. This tradition likely sparked the kissing tradition, only back then it was a little different than what we see today.
    Mistletoes were used as a platform for kisses, but only so long as the berries were still on the twig. For every kiss, a berry was plucked, until no more were left. Now days we don’t care much for the berry part of this tradition.

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