Tuesday, December 2, 2014

History Behind Christmas Traditions

A long time ago, I bought a journal from Land's End and it was entitled Christmas Memories. It was a red, hardback book that would capture 20 years of Christmas memories, from what you had a dinner, to the guests who stopped by.

Places for favorite Christmas photos and Christmas Cards (when people sent them). What you did on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well as a place for Christmas gifts. I have written in that book for so many years. There are a couple of skips in the book before I really kept to being diligent. There are some sad memories when we lost special people who impacted our lives as well as trials that threatened to overwhelm us. I even had one year I completely skipped because I didn't want to celebrate Christmas because my ex made sure to have our divorce finalized on Christmas but because the courts were closed, he had to settle for the day after.

Yet God brings blessings where we don't often look for them and He restored what was lost more that double what I lost in my new husband who proudly stepped in and filled in all those broken places and restored my faith in enjoying Christmas once again. In fact that moment stands out more so than any other Christmas memory.

In this Christmas Memory book are also the history behind some of the traditions we incorporate into our home every year and I thought I would share some of them with you.

1. Candy Canes: They originated in Germany more than 250 years ago. They were simple plain white sugar sticks designed to keep children quiet during church service back in 1670 as the story goes and since they wanted them to be a reminder of Christmas, they were formed into the shape of a shepherd's crook to remind them of the birth of Jesus. Later as the flavors of peppermint and wintergreen were to the red stripes. Christian meanings behind the candy cane is the J-shape reminds us of Jesus, the white of the cane represents the purity of Christ and the red stripes for the blood that He shed on the cross.

2. Poinsettias. Originated in Central America, especially in the area of south Mexico where they bloom during the winter. There is a legend of how the Poinsettia and Christmas came together.

There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.

'Pepita', he said "I'm sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus Happy."

Pepita didn't know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus. As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene.
Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the 'Flores de Noche Buena', or 'Flowers of the Holy Night'.

The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.

3. Advent. Advent is the period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas (or sometimes from the 1st December to Christmas Day!). Advent means 'Coming' in Latin. This is the coming of Jesus into the world. Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.

There are three meanings of 'coming' that Christians describe in Advent. The first, and most thought of, happened about 2000 years ago when Jesus came into the world as a baby to live as a man and die for us. The second can happen now as Jesus wants to come into our lives now. And the third will happen in the future when Jesus comes back to the world as King and Judge, not a baby.

Some people fast, or observe dietary restrictions like not eating meat or dairy during the countdown of those days. We most recently see these as Advent Calendars or a wreath that holds numbered bags to be opened each day as is a German tradition. People place small gifts or candy inside to make counting down the days even better and more exciting.

Other people celebrate the Advent with a candle that is burned down to each day marked on the calendar.

Some use what is called an Advent crown in which one candle is burned on the first Sunday, two the next Sunday and so on with each having a separate meaning.

First Candle - represents Isaiah and the other prophets who foretold of the coming Messiah.
Second Candle - represents the Bible.
Third Candle - represents Mary, the mother of Jesus
Fourth Candle - represents John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin, who told people to be prepared and to look out for the coming Messiah.
Fifth Candle - usually placed in the middle of the other four represents Jesus Christ, the Messiah who is the Light of the World. This candle is lit on Christmas Eve!

4. Christmas Trees. Both pagans and Christians used the fir trees, for pagans to celebrate the end of winter solstice, but Christmas for a sign of the everlasting life of God. Since fir trees stay green all year long and don't lose their needles, they symbolize life and the hope that comes from trusting in God when winter seems like it's an end to all life. Some countries refer to it as the Paradise Tree and can mean to represent the tree God provided in the Garden of Eden to symbolize everlasting life.

The first first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house, in the way we know it today, may have been the 16th century German preacher Martin Luther. A story is told that, one night before Christmas, he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.

5. Christmas Presents. This is based on the giving of gifts from the Wise men or Magi that came to see Jesus' birth. They offered three distinct gifts: Frankincense: a perfume used in worship to signify that people would worship Jesus. Gold: associated with Kings because Jesus would be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and finally Myrrh: a spice used to prepare bodies when they were to be buried because Jesus Christ would die for the sins of all mankind.

There you have it, some of the history surrounding the traditions we have in our home during Christmas. What are some of your favorites? 


LV said...

I have a lot of Christmas memories, but not material ones.I always enjoy your thoughts and inspiring words.

Anonymous said...

That is a wonderful book to have and I had no idea about the candy canes or the candles.Thanks for sharing.

Sandra said...

I am so glad you posted this, I really enjoyed learning more about where certain traditions originated. I had no clue about the candy canes :)