Some Origins Of Xmas Traditions
12/18/2008 10:20:49 PM -
Santa Claus also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or simply "Santa", is the legendary figure who, in many Western cultures, brings gifts on Christmas Eve, December 24 or on his Feast Day, December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day).
The modern depiction of Santa Claus as a plump, jolly man wearing a red coat and trousers with white cuffs and collar, and black leather belt and boots, became popular in the United States in the 19th century due to the significant influence of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast.
This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, and films.
In the United Kingdom and Europe, his depiction is often identical to the American Santa, but he is commonly called Father Christmas.
One legend associated with Santa says that he lives in the far north, in a land of perpetual snow. The American version of Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, while Father Christmas is said to reside in Lapland.
Other details include: that he is married and lives with Mrs. Claus; that he makes a list of children throughout the world, categorising them according to their behaviour; that he delivers presents, including toys, candy, and other presents to all of the good boys and girls in the world, and sometimes coal or sticks to the naughty children, in one night; and that he accomplishes this feat with the aid of magical elves who make the toys, and eight or nine flying reindeer who pull his sleigh.
Christmas carols : The original carols referred to a circle dance which did not have any singing - that came later. As the church struggled against the influences of pagan customs, the singing of carols was barred from sacred services.
However, outside the church, nativity carols were written and became popular. Nearly all were simple folk songs created by people from the countryside.
Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with bringing carols into the formal worship of the church during a Christmas midnight mass in a cave in Greccio, in the province of Umbria in 1223.
It's said that the music sung that night was more akin to what we know as carols than to hymns. Carols enjoyed further development and popularity when they were used in the mystery plays of the Middle Ages.
Wandering minstrels travelled from hamlet to castle, performing carols in the distant past. In later years, villages had their own bands of waits.
Waits were originally watchmen who patrolled the streets and byways of the old walled cities keeping guard against fire and singing out the hours of the night. During the holiday season, they would include some carols for the people along the way.
Eventually the term was used to describe groups of musicians who sang and played for various civic events during the Christmas season.
Christmas trees : Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce.
It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens.
To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end.
With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.
Christmas gifts : The custom of giving gifts to relatives and friends on a special day in winter probably began in ancient Rome and northern Europe. In these regions, people gave each other small presents as part of their year-end celebrations.
In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep.
This tradition can be traced to legends about Saint Nicholas. One legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins.
No one was really in the habit of exchanging elaborate gifts until late in the 1800s.
The Santa Claus stories of giving gifts to good children, combined with an amazing retailing phenomenon that has grown since the turn of the century, has made gift giving a central focus of the Christmas tradition.