Where did Christmas gift giving come from?
Frankincense & Myrrh ---- If we go back to the first Christmas story when God sent Jesus to earth, we recall that Jesus was given three gifts by the three wise men or Magi, which serve as the inspiration for all our Christmas gift giving today. The Magi presented Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts were very prophetic for they spoke of our Lord's offices of King, Priest, and Savior.

GOLD: This carries obvious significance. It's precious and worthy across all cultures and times. It's a gift fit for royalty. It says to the Christ child, You will be a King.

FRANKINCENSE: The name for this resin likely comes from incense of Franks since it was reintroduced to Europe by Frankish Crusaders. Although it is better known as “frankincense” to westerners the resin is also known as olibanum, which is derived from the Arabic al-lub (“the milk”) a reference to the milky sap tapped from the Boswellia tree. Frankincense has been touted for its medicinal and soothing properties. Herbalists say it is calming, restorative, gently clarifying, and meditative. Frankincense oil is thought to have stimulating, toning, and warming properties. The ancient world used it for treating depression. We recognize the word incense in its name. Ancient people burned frankincense, believing it to carry their prayers to heaven. Its use as incense illustrates His role as our Priest.

MYRRH: This is perhaps the most mysterious of the Gifts. It is a resin produced by a small, tough, scraggly tree that grows in semi-desert regions of North Africa and the Red Sea. Myrrh is an Arabic word for bitter, and it is considered a wound healer because of its strong antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Calling it mo yao, the Chinese used it for centuries to treat wounds, bruises and bleeding and to relieve painful swelling. The Egyptians made it famous in Biblical times, having acquired myrrh about the fifteenth century B.C. from Africa where cammiphora trees were abundant. It was used in incense, perfumes and holy ointments and also medicinally as recorded in the Ebers Papyrus. But its most notable use to them was that of an embalming material, used in Egyptian mummies. As an embalming ointment it signified that He was born to Die for the world. In fact, Myrrh was one of the burial spices of Jesus (John 19:39).


 



Saint Boniface and the Christmas Tree
The "Apostle of Germany" is known as Saint Boniface, an English monk.  In 722 St. Boniface  came upon some men about to cut a huge oak tree as a stake for a human sacrifice to their pagan god Thor. To stop the sacrifice and save the child's life, Saint Boniface knocked over the oak with one mighty blow of his fist.  As the tree split, a  young fir tree sprang from its center. Saint Boniface told the people that this lovely evergreen was indeed a holy tree, the tree of the Christ Child, a symbol of His promise of eternal life. He instructed them to carry the evergreen from the forest into their homes and to surround it with gifts, symbols of love and kindness. It is also told that Saint Boniface used the triangular shape of the fir tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. (St. Patrick used the shamrock to describe the Holy Trinity)

Saint Boniface (feast June 5) received the name Winfrid at his baptism but took the name Boniface before he was ordained to the priesthood. He was martyred at the age of 75.  (catholic-forum.com)
 



The Christmas Tree
During the early medieval days in Europe, the people would often entertain each other through plays and song.   A popular religious play was called the "Paradise Play".  These particular plays were performed in churches and town squares during the Advent season. The plays would retell the story of the creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Paradise through the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem - like a history lesson of the human race!  It is told that the people would place a tree on the stage for the play and hang it with apples thought to symbolize the Garden of Paradise.  As time past, the people at Christmas time would replicate the "paradise tree" in their own homes.  In time, as the tradition grew in popularity, the townspeople would add gifts and lighted candles to the tree.  It is thought that the decorated tree was to celebrate paradise regained through the birth of Jesus, or perhaps the life-giving tree that John the Apostle saw in the Book of Revelations, "a tree of life, which yields twelve crops of fruit, one for each month of the year...for the healing of the nations".  The tradition has grown and part of family gatherings throughout the world - decorating the tree and the sharing of love and friendship and celebration of Jesus' birth!

 


 

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Advent Wreath
Wreaths are an ancient symbol of victory and symbolize the coming of Christ and the glory of His birth. The Advent Wreath is a Lutheran custom that originated in Eastern Germany.  The wreath is created of evergreens to symbolize God's "everlastingness" and our own immortality. The circular form of the wreath is thought to symbolize God's eternity and mercy. Four candles, three purple represent penance, sorrow, and longing expectation (of the birth of Jesus) and one rose or pink that represents the hope and coming joy - representing the the four weeks of Advent. They are replaced with white candles for the Christmas season which ends with Epiphany.

 

The Nativity Scene (Crib or Creche)
St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 originated the crib of today.
It was during Christmastide of this year (1223) that the saint conceived the idea of celebrating the Nativity "in a new manner", by reproducing in a church at Greccio the Praesepio of Bethlehem, and he has thus come to be regarded as having inaugurated the population devotion of the Crib. Christmas appears indeed to have been the favorite feast of Francis, and he wished to persuade the emperor to make a special law that men should then provide well for the birds and the beasts, as well as for the poor, so that all might have occasion to rejoice in the Lord.


 


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The Feast of Christmas (why Dec. 25th?)
Early records indicate that the birth of Jesus Christ was being celebrated in Rome by the year 336 A.D.    No date for the birth of Jesus can be found in the New Testament.  We know by the story of the wise men following the star to where Jesus the King was born that the teachers and leaders paid careful attention to the equinoxes and solstices of the sun.  Christian scholars thought that Jesus was conceived at the spring equinox (March 25th) and therefore was born on December 25th, the date of the winter solstice.

 

Saint Nicholas  (feast day is Dec. 6)
St. Nicholas is the 4th century saint who inspired our modern figure of Santa Claus -
Nicholas was a son of one of the city's wealthy families. His mother and father taught him to be generous to others, especially the poor and needy.

One day Nicholas heard about a poor father who was desperate for food for his family and about to sell one of his daughters into slavery.  The night before the sale, Nicholas tossed a bag of gold into an open window of the poor man's house and disappeared. The man found the bag of gold in the morning and thanked God for the gift that allowed him to marry off his oldest daughter and feed his family for about a year.

A year or so later, once again the poor man had no money for food for his family and he became desperate and decided to sell his daughter into slavery. Nicholas secretly threw another bag of coins into the house  thus saving the daughter from slavery and the family from starvation.   Again yet another year went by and for the third time the poor father had made the decision to sell his last daughter into slavery.  This time the man waited and listened and, again, Christmas card covera bag of coins was tossed threw the window and the man jumped up and ran out to see who has been helping his family.  The man recognized Nicholas immediately and inquired why Nicholas had helped him and kept it a secret. Nicholas replied that he helped the man because he needed it and that it was good to give and have only God know about it. Nicholas continued to help the needy and never waited for thanks.

During Nicholas's lifetime, he gave the children gifts of candy or toys. From Nicholas's example they learned the goodness of giving and being kind. Nicholas was often seen riding on a donkey wearing red and white colored bishop's robes and handing out gifts to children.

 


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Santa Claus
During the Middle Ages, many churches were built in honor of Saint Nicholas. In the 11th century, his remains were enshrined in a church in the Italian city of Bari. It is told that the first Crusaders visited Bari and carried stories about Nicholas to their homelands. The anniversary of his death, 6 December, became a day to exchange gifts.

During the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, Martin Luther tried to stop the venerating of saints and the feast of Saint Nicholas was abolished in some European countries.

In 1822, Clement Clark Moore,  published the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (aka. "The Night Before Christmas"). Moore's Santa is a jolly old elf who flies around in a miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer. Moore even named the reindeer by the names we know them today, and the method by which Santa returns up the chimney.

Thomas Nast, (for Harper's Weekly magazine, 1860-1880s) illustrated Santa in a red, fur-trimmed suit and a wide leather belt. Each year he added more details to his version of the Santa legend, including the home-workshop at the North Pole and the Naughty & Nice list.  1886 the American writer, George P. Webster, took up this idea, explaining that Santa's toy factory and "his house, during the long summer months, was hidden in the ice and snow of the North Pole."  In 1931 Haddon Sundblom presented Santa as a plump human rather than an elf, with a jovial face and big beard in a Coca-Cola advertisement. Today, it is Sundblom's Santa that slips down chimneys around the world.

 


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Christmas Wreath
The wreath has it's origins in the use of greenery to see if a miracle would occur on Christmas night.  During the icy, cold darkness of December , the pre-Christian Germanic peoples would gather wreaths of evergreen and lighted fires as signs of hope in a coming spring and renewed light.  

Christians kept these popular traditions alive, and by the 16th century Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From Germany the use of the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world.

 



Evergreens
Even in ancient time, the evergreens were often a very common symbol of life and eternity in Christian celebrations. Mistletoe was usually associated with healing became the symbol of the healing power of Jesus.    The evergreen plant with pointed leaves and red berries called the Holly was symbolic of Jesus and how he would later wear a crown of thorns and shed drops of blood for us on the cross.

 



The Poinsettia
The Poinsettia, originating from Central America, has brilliant star-like flowers and is a  reminder of the Star of Bethlehem. Other plants that bloom during this season are images also of the Root of David that flowered with new life.  The first poinsettia was brought to the United States over a hundred years ago by Dr. Joel Poinsett, our first ambassador to Mexico. 

The legend of the poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo. Each year they would wait with anticipation for the Christmas festival (which included parades and parties).  Part of the festival would include a manger scene which was set up in the village.  Maria and Pablo loved the festivities but were sad because they were so poor.  They had no money for a gift to the church for Baby Jesus.

One Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way they picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene.  Maria and Pablo began placing the weeds around the manger and miraculously, the green top leaves turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by beautiful star-like flowers and so we see them today.

 


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Mistletoe
Mistletoe is a symbol for peace and joy. The idea originated in the ancient times of the Druids: whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day. From this comes the custom of hanging a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship and goodwill. 



Candles in the Window
The custom of placing lighted candles in the window during Christmastime seems to have come from Ireland.  Many years ago the Catholic religion was suppressed in Ireland and priests were forced into hiding. The Irish families would put a burning candle in their window and left their doors unlatched, hoping that a priest might come to their door and celebrate the Mass with them. 

 



Christmas - Origin of the Word
The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131. The word "Christmas" means "Mass of Christ," later shortened to "Christ-Mass." The even shorter form "Xmas" - first used in Europe in the 1500s - is derived from the Greek alphabet, in which X is the first letter of Christ's name: Xristos, therefore "X-Mass."

 


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Origin of the Word  "Xmas"
Origins: The abbreviation of 'Xmas' for 'Christmas' is neither modern nor disrespectful. The notion that it is a new and vulgar representation of the word 'Christmas' seems to stem from the erroneous belief that the letter 'X' is used to stand for the word 'Christ' because of its resemblance to a cross, or that the abbreviation was deliberately concocted "to take the 'Christ' out of Christmas." Actually, this usage is nearly as old as Christianity itself, and its origins lie in the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for 'Christ' is 'chi,' and the Greek letter 'chi' is represented by a symbol similar to the letter 'X' in the modern Roman alphabet. Hence 'Xmas' is indeed perfectly legitimate abbreviation for the word 'Christmas' (just as 'Xian' is also sometimes used as an abbreviation of the word 'Christian').

 

Christmas Tree Lights
Albert Sadacca was fifteen in 1917, when he first got the idea to make Christmas tree lights. A tragic fire in New York City involving Christmas tree candles inspired Albert to invent electric Christmas lights. The Sadacca family sold ornamental novelty items including novelty lights. Albert adapted some of the products into safe electric lights for Christmas trees. The first year only one hundred strings of white lights sold. The second year Sadacca used brightly colored bulbs and a multi-million dollar business took-off.

Using small candles to light up the Christmas tree dates back to the middle of the XVII century. The custom was only really firmly established, however, at the beginning of the XIX  century in Germany and soon after in the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe.

The first candles were glued with wax or pinned to the end of the tree branches. Little lanterns and small candleholders then appeared to make putting up the tapers easier. Candleholders with clips appeared around 1890. Glass balls and lanterns were created between 1902 and 1914.

The first time a Christmas tree was lit by electricity was in 1882 in New York. Edward Johnson, a colleague of Thomas Edison, lit a Christmas tree with a string of 80 small electric light bulbs which he had made himself. These strings of light began to be produced around 1890. One of the first electrically lit Christmas trees was erected in Westmount, Quebec in 1896. In 1900, some large stores put up large illuminated trees to attract customers.

Once begun, the custom spread in Canada wherever electricity came to towns and the countryside. Because of the risk of fire, trees were not usually put up until December 24. This technical innovation altered the custom since it was now possible to put the tree up earlier and leave it up longer, until the day before Epiphany.

 


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Origin of Tinsel on the Christmas Tree
The story unfolds as a tale of a German mother cleaning her house in preparation for Christmas.  Not a speck of dust was left on the day when the Christ Child was to come and bring the gifts of Christmas Eve. The house was so thoroughly cleaned that even the spiders has no place to hide.  So they moved to a small space in the attic.

Soon Christmas Eve arrived.The tree was decorated and the children waited to see the beautiful tree.  The  spiders were sad for they could not see the tree, nor be present for the Christ Child's visit. The spiders had an idea that they could squeeze through the crack in the door to see the Christ Child. Silently, they crept out of their attic.

The tree towered so high they couldn't see the ornaments on top. In fact, their eyes were so small they could see only one ornament at a time. They scurried up the trunk, out along each branch. Every place they went they left a trail of dusty, grey web. When at last they had inspected every bit of the Christmas tree, it was shrouded in a dusty grey of spider webs.

The Christ Child smiled as He thought of the happy spiders seeing His tree. But He knew the mother would not feel the same way and that she would be sad. So He reached out His hand and touched the webs and blessed them. They all turned to shimmering, sparkling silver and gold.

 

Christmas Cards
Though wood engravers produced prints with religious themes in the European Middle Ages, the first commercial Christmas and New Year's card was designed in London, England in 1843.

John Callcott Horsley (1817 - 1903), a British narrative painter and a Royal Academician, designed the first Christmas and New Year's card at the suggestion and request of his friend Sir Henry Cole, who was the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Horsley designed the first Christmas card in 1840, but it went on sale only in 1843.

The card was not received without controversy, for it showed a family raising their glasses to toast Christmas. Puritans immediately denounced it. The idea was a hit with others. Christmas card became very popular, and other artists quickly followed Horsley's concept. A particularly popular card was designed by English artist William Egley in 1849.

 


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Reindeer
At one stage it was thought that Father Christmas (Santa Claus) lives in the North Pole. In 1925 it was discovered that there are no reindeer in the North Pole. But there are lots in Lapland, Finland, which is on the Finnish-Russian border.

Long ago, Father Christmas and the elves discovered the special formula of Magical Reindeer Dust which make them fly. This dust is sprinkled on each of the reindeer shortly before they leave on Christmas eve. It gives them enough magic to fly right around the world. They can fly very fast: at about the speed of a Christmas light.

Rudolph is the most famous reindeer. He is the leader of the other 8, whose names are Blitzen, Comet, Cupid, Dancer, Dasher, Donder, Prancer, and Vixen. Long ago, when Rudolph was just a young deer, his nose was touched by Christmas Magic, and since this day his nose has glowed bright red!

The names of the 8 reindeer were published by Clement Clark Moore, an American poet and professor of theology, in his 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas." Rudolph was first written about only in 1939 by Robert May, who included him in a story for the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogue.

 

Santa's Elves
In the pagan times of Scandinavia, people believed that house gnomes guarded their homes against evil.   When Christmas became popular again as a festive season in the middle-1800s, Scandinavian writers such as Thile, Toplius, Rydberg sketched the gnomes' true role in modern life: fairies that are somewhat mischievous, but the true friends and helpers of Father Christmas (Santa Claus). They are the Christmas elves. Artists such as Hansen and Nyström completed the picture of elves for us.

 


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Candy Canes
Legend states the beginnings of the candy cane are Christian.  Many of them depict the candy cane as a secret symbol for Christianity used during the times when Christian were living under more oppressive circumstances. It was said that the cane was shaped like a "J" for Jesus. Since the church was founded on a solid rock, this is related to the hardness of the candy. Hyssop, a cleansing plant mentioned in the Old Testament, has a peppermint flavor. The shape resembles a shepherd’s crook. Christ’s blood and His purity are represented by the red and white stripes.  The three red stripes symbolized the Holy Trinity.   If you take a good look at a candy cane, you will notice the different size of the red stripe. The blood that was shed on the cross is represented by the wide red stripe. The stripes and wounds that he received are symbolized by the smaller red stripes. The sinlessness and purity is represented by the white stripes. Interestingly enough, candy canes were given to children who behaved well in church and was given to children who learned their prayers.

The origin of the candy cane goes back over 350 years, when candy-makers both professional and amateur were making hard sugar-sticks. The original candy was straight and completely white in color and had no stripes!     The all-white candy canes were given out to children during the long-winded nativity services. The clergymen's custom of handing out candy canes during Christmas services spread throughout Europe and later to America. The canes were still white, but sometimes the candy-makers would add sugar-roses to decorate the canes further. The first historical reference to the familiar cane-shape goes back to 1670, when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral, handed out these sugar sticks to keep the young singers quiet. Legend has it that he bent the sticks to appear as shepherd’s hooks.

During the seventeenth century people began to include special decorations on their Christmas trees. These decorations would be cookies, candy, or sugar candy. At this time, Christmas trees were beginning to gain popularity. The first historical reference to the candy cane being in America goes back to 1847, when a German immigrant called August Imgard decorated the Christmas tree in his Wooster, Ohio home with candy canes. About fifty years later the first red-and-white striped candy canes appeared. No one knows who exactly invented the stripes, but Christmas cards prior to the year 1900 showed only all-white candy canes. Christmas cards after 1900 showed illustrations of striped candy canes. Around the same time, candy-makers added peppermint and wintergreen flavors to their candy canes and those flavors then became the traditional favorites.
( http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blchristmas.htm ) 

 


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The Twelve Days of Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas is actually a catechism song!

Between the years 1558-1829, English Catholics were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Without regular mass, sacraments, or catechism lessons from the priest, there was little parents could do to help their children learn and remember all out their faith. This song was created to keep the Catholic faith in their lives, even though hidden for the time.

Instead of referring to an suitor, the "true love" mentioned in the song refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents symbolizes every baptized person.

'A partridge in a pear tree' is Jesus Christ. A mother partridge will feign injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings. The children hearing this song would know that, and would understand the parallel between the acts of a mother bird, and the sacrifice of Christ.

The other symbols continue the symbolism:
2 turtle doves----the Old and New Testaments;
3 French hens--Faith, Hope and Charity;
4 calling birds---the Four Gospels;
5 golden rings--first 5 books of the Old Testament, which give the history of man's fall from grace;
6 geese a laying-the six days of creation;
7 swans a swimming-seven gifts of the Holy Spirit;
8 maids a milking-the eight Beatitudes;
9 ladies dancing--nine choirs of angels;
10 lords a leaping-the Ten Commandments;
11 pipers piping--the eleven faithful Apostles;
12 drummers drumming-the twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed.

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