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Summary: The facts behind some of the traditions

Mt 13:52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

When it comes to Christmas, it isn’t just new and old but it is also a matter of good and bad. We need to be able to discern what to hold onto. I want to look this morning at some of the traditions and myths surrounding Christmas with the intention of enabling you to appreciate Christmas even more.

1) Facts about Christmas

a) Date of Christmas

i) Telesphorus, the second Bishop of Rome (125-136 AD) declared that public Church services should be held to celebrate "The Nativity of our Lord and Savior."

ii) There was confusion as to the actual date to celebrate the birth of Jesus until Pope Julius I declared 25 Dec as the date. AD 320

iii) There is evidence, not much, that Christians celebrated 25 Dec before the Roman Emperor proclaimed Dec 25 as the festival of the birth of the sun.

iv) The first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531

v) Martin Luther was the first person to put candles in a tree. Came from an idea he had walking home one night and as he looked up he saw the starts twinkling through the branches.

vi) In 1643, the British Parliament officially abolishes the celebration of Christmas.

vii) St Francis of Assisi introduced Christmas Carols to formal church services.

viii) Oliver Cromwell, in England banned Christmas Carols between 1649 and 1660. Cromwell thought that Christmas should be a very solemn day so he banned carols and parties

ix) The Puritans in America tried to make Thanksgiving Day the most important annual festival instead of Christmas.

x) Silent Night was written in 1818, by an Austrian priest Joseph Mohr. He was told the day before Christmas that the church organ was broken and would not be prepared in time for Christmas Eve. He was saddened by this and could not think of Christmas without music, so he wanted to write a carol that could be sung by choir to guitar music. He sat down and wrote three stanzas. Later that night the people in the little Austrian Church sang "Stille Nacht" for the first time.

xi) In 1836, Alabama is the first state in the USA to declare Christmas a legal holiday

xii) In 1843, the first Christmas card was printed in England for Sir Henry Cole. He was busy man who wanted to save time on his own Christmas letters

xiii) In America in 1822, the postmaster of Washington, DC, complained that he had to add 16 mailmen at Christmas to deal with cards alone. He wanted the number of cards a person could send limited by law. "I don’t know what we’ll do if this keeps on

xiv) 1881 an employee of Edison’s company was the first person to put electric lights on a tree outside his house.

xv) 1939 WWII ‘Christmas Rush’ to get presents to soldiers in time.

2) Traditions

a) Presents – going back to the gifts the wise men gave to Jesus.

b) Kissing under the mistletoe.

i) The Goddess of love was associated with the mistletoe and so the practice developed of kissing whenever one saw a girl standing under a sprig of mistletoe.

ii) The church substituted mistletoe with holly. The pointed leaves representing the crown of thorns and red berries, the blood. This is why we deck the halls with bows of holly.

c) What about trees?

i) Practise started in Germany. Evergreen tree symbolizes eternal life and points up

ii) Early decorations were candles and wafers to symbolize Jesus and the angels.

iii) Woolworths were the first to make decorations as we know them.

iv) Candy cane.

(1) 3 stripes = trinity & punishment

(2) bold stripe = blood

(3) J for Jesus

v) Star that guided the wise men

vi) Tinsel

(1) Spiders webs which were turned into sparkling tinsel

d) Boxing Day?

i) Boxing Day

ii) 26 December was traditionally known as St Stephen’s Day, but is more commonly known as Boxing Day. This expression came about because money was collected in alms-boxes placed in churches during the festive season. This money was then distributed during to the poor and needy after Christmas.

3) Myths

a) Xmas – Greek Chi = X

not taking Jesus out of Christmas, but it is actually putting it back!

b) Santa Claus

i) Santa Claus is the American pronunciation of Sinter Klaas, which was colloquial Dutch for Saint Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra in Lycia (in modern Turkey) in 4th Century.

ii) Nothing is known of his life except for the legends that have built up around him, but he was associated with kindness to children.

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