Where did Christmas gift giving
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
The Christmas Tree
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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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)
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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Feast of Christmas (why Dec.
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
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,
a 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
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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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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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.
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.
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 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
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."
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
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.
of Tinsel on the Christmas Tree
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
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.
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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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
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.
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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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.
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The Twelve Days
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
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