THE ORIGIN OF CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
By IRIDE APARICIO
SILICON VALLEY, CA-- Christmas is the day when Christians, around the world, commemorate the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem's manger in Israel, two thousand twenty two years ago.
The humble birth was to impact the human race in such drastic way, that it was prophesied by Isaiah, an Israelite prophet who lived in Judah in the house of David during the VIII Century BC, with these words: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel." (Old Testament. Isaiah 7:14). The name meaning in Hebrew "God with us," to define the incarnation.
And after the child was born of a virgin, his birth was recorded in the Christians Bibles New Testament in Luke 1-11 as : "And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one in his own city. And Joseph, because he was from the house and lineage of David, also went up from Galilee out to the city of Nazareth, into Judea unto the town, which is called Bethlehem, with Mary, his espoused wife, who was great with child. And it was that, while they were there, she delivered, and she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the field shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the lord came upon them and said into them: Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
The reason why Christ was born as a man, is given to us in the name Nativita, the name given to the day of his birth, December 24, by the cleric. The noun Nativita, is created by two words: Nato which in Latin means to have been born, and Vita,which means Life.. So the noun Nativita or Natividad, as Christmas is called in Spanish, translates as "Life's Birth," clearly indicating that Jesus came into this world as a man, to teach mankind how to live, according to God's commandments.
And why Jesus was sent into this world as a helpless baby needing help, is perhaps the most important lesson taught to us by Christianity. The lesson is that we are never alone. So, when things get so hard in life that we feel helpless, we know that like Jesus, we can pray and ask for help, because we too, have a Father in heaven.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE
Another Christmas tradition are the Christmas trees. The evergreen trees had no relation with Christmas, but they were, for years, part of the old traditions of the Mysterious Druids from Northern Europe, and in the cults of the priests of the ancient Celts, who used Firs, instead of pines, to decorate their temples. The evergreens were also the symbol of everlasting life in Norse mythology and even considered "special plants" by Balder (pronounced BAWL) the favorite son of the god Odin, the sun.
Historical German records dating back to 1600, tells us that the first "Christmas tree" was set in the 1500 inside a Lutheran church in Hamburg. for the Midnight Christmas Service. The reason why the incident was recorded, was that during his sermon, the Lutheran preacher told his congregation something that impressed a journalist so much that he wrote it and printed it in his newspaper the next day. The article may be translated like this:
"Pointing at the extended branches of a small evergreen tree, that was standing next to the altar, the pastor invited his congregation to stare at the tree thinking of its extended branches as a symbol of Christ's opened arms. And when all did, he said in a thunderous voice: " They were Opened, when He healed someone. Opened, when He embraced his friends. Opened, when He greeted the small children. Opened, when He cut bread to feed the multitude. Opened when he raised people from the death. Opened,when He healed the sick, and opened when He died crucified." And he added: So, looking at the branches on that tree tonight to celebrate His birth, Open your arms to embrace and comfort,whoever needs your help, and keep them opened, for the rest of your lives."
The article does not mention any tree's ornaments, but he mentioned the cardboard star, sprinkled with golden dust, that the preacher had wrapped at the tree's top, and paraphrased his words: "And now, look at the star. because it plays a very important role in your lives. Scientifically speaking, nobody can follow a star from Baghdad (where the magi came from) to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem, because stars rise and set and do not sit in the sky. Many Astronomers also claim that there are no published stories in astronomy texts describing a large bright event in the sky at that time. But religious people believe in miracles and since a star was mentioned on the Bible, we believe there was star, and mentally, we are going to start following every day of our lives by doing something that won't bring us closer to the manger, but will bring us closer to Christ.
The Christmas sermon, was so inspirational, that the next year Christians all over Europe, began setting Tanenbaums (which are evergreen trees) into their homes at Christmas. A few years later, trees were enhanced, when another newspaper article printed another story, This one about a winter night when Protestant reformer and Theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546) was walking home one night, when he was awed by the brilliance of the night stars twinkling amidst the evergreens. So, after he arrived home, to recapture the magic lighting effect,, after erecting his bare tanenbaum in his living room, he had wired small candles at the end of its branches, and lightened them.
The German tradition, is believed, but not recorded, to be brought to America by Charles Loring Brace, who had witnessed the Christmas celebration in Germany for many years. What is recorded, however, is that because the holiday tradition provided the emotional glue that could bring families together, in December of l848, George Ticknor, who was the founder of the Boston Public Library, invited his prominent friends to celebrate a German-style Christmas, with a tree, in his Boston state.
Our last Christmas Tradition dates back to the fourth Century A.C. and was established by Saint Nicholas of Bari, A Catholic Saint, who centuries later was to transformed into SANTA CLAUS,
Nicholas was a Bishop in the Catholic Church so he dressed in a long red cape. He was born in Myra, the capital of Patara in Lycia a province of Asia Minor, and was described by those who knew him, as a man "elected by God" to serve others because he was a very pious man who ate only on Wednesdays and Fridays evenings and care for the poor, and the children during his life.
Nicholas had lost both his parents when he was at a very young age and he was left with a very large fortune. After he entered the priesthood, years later, he invested his capital in others and used his fortune to build hospitals, homes, and places to shelter and feed the poor. He was also the Catholic Church Bishop who started the tradition of "giving," a gift to someone else, in the name of Christ, on the nigh when we celebrate His birthday. (Christmas) He did it all through his life, but sadly, only the story of his first compassionate action, the one which started the tradition of "giving" at Christmas, was recorded as follows:
There was a very poor man, in Myra, who had three young daughters. All were engaged to be married, but they could not get married because ,at that time, to be able to wed, a woman needed to bring a dowry ( An stipulated amount of money to the marriage) that none of his daughters had the stipulated amount. In desperation, and unable to continue supporting his three daughters, the father decided to bring them to a local brothel, after Christmas, where they could earn their living working as prostitutes. When Bishop Nicholas heard that, after his Christmas midnight mass, he walked to the home of the poor man, and through a broken window, tossed a leather bag containing enough gold coins, to be able pay for the three dowries. The girls were able to get married and for years wondered where had those gold coins came from.
It was revealed years later when Saint Nicholas died and the priests began collecting his records to write his biography. Because of his multiple miracles, healing children, he was Canonized as "The Patron Saint of Children" and also as a Saint of sailors, who invoked him because they claim that he appeases the storms. Reading his life, people learned more about the man who had spent his life giving, who had been persecuted for being a Christian, who had been seized, tortured for years, and still had managed to save Myra from the heresy of the Arians, and was released from jail, by Constantine,
Since his dead, his miracles had increased, so that Saint Nicholas continues being honored and venerated around the world in a number of altars and churches. With St. Andrew the apostle, he is the patron of the nation, in the Russian Orthodox Church. He is also the Patron Saint in Greece. As the Bishop of Myra, He is buried in the Cathedral of Myra, and in yet another miracle, the embalmed body of St. Nicholas of Bari remains incorrupted, after sixteen centuries. And according to those who had visited his burial, his body looks alive, and still exudes a sweet-smell of Myrrh.
This Catholic Saint, Centuries later, may have been transformed to SANTA by an American New York writer Clement Clark Moore, (l779-1863) a Professor of Oriental and Greet Literature and Divinity and a Biblical student of the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church. when wrote a poems titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas," Later changed to "Twas the Night Before Christmas" which he published anonymously in l823, The tiny Saint Nicholas, that Moore depicted in his poem, was completely different from the real Saint, but it was so well described, that it capture our imagination of many, and In time, that Saint was forgotten.
But there is also a rumor that Haddon Sundblom, a Coca-Cola's illustrator was the one who invented the image of SANTA (that we all know) in l931, when in created a drawing of a Jolly old man with a long white beard an mustache wearing a red suit and described a ho-ho-ho as his laughter.
Also believed to be the originator of SANTA, was Bavarian illustrator Thomas Nast,who drew a cartoon based on "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (similar to the one above) showing Santa sitting on a sleigh pulled by tiny reindeers.
And according to the Smithsonian Institution Nast's drawings, which ran in Harper's weekly after Christmas, in January of l863, showing SANTA, as a jolly old elf, is the one who created the image we all know as SANTA CLAUS. The reason is that records indicate that between 1863 and 1886, Nast created 33 Christmas illustrations featuring SANTA CLAUS using him to illustrated his beliefs in civil rights, the abolition of slavery, and afterwards, other causes.
But Christmas is now over. And last year we completed each one of them.. We brought the children to visit Santa at the Mall, we ordered all our Christmas gifts, mailed our Xmas cards on time, and bought and decorated our Christmas tree. We even hung the lights outside and prepared all the meals our family like to ear, ahead of time. We did all our Christmas' traditions. We did not forget anything. But... did we? Because of the Pandemic, our local charities still need our help. It is not too late to locate one and add its name to our Christmas traditions. And as St. Nicholas may have said: You can do it...in Jesus' name.