A little brown bird shared Bethlehem's stable with the holy family. One night as the family lay sleeping, she noticed their fire was going out. So she flew down from the rafters and fanned the fire with her wings throughout the night in order to keep the baby Jesus warm. In the morning, she was rewarded with a red breast as a symbol of her love for the newborn king.
The Legend of the Christmas Rose
A well known English plant, the Christmas rose, is a true Christmas flower. It is sometimes called the Snow or Winter Rose. It blooms in the depths of winter in the mountains of Central Europe. Legend links it with the birth of Christ and a little shepherdess named Madelon.
As Madelon tented her sheep one cold and wintry night, wise men and other shepherds passed by the snow covered field where she was with their gifts for the Christ Child. The wise men carried the rich gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense and the shepherds, fruits, honey and doves. Poor Madelon began to weep at the thought of having nothing, not even a simple flower for the Newborn King. An angel, seeing her tears, brushed away the snow revealing a most beautiful white flower tipped with pink - the Christmas rose.
Also in central and northern Europe it is the custom to break off a branch of a cherry tree at the beginning of the Advent and keep it in water in a warm room; the flowers should burst into bloom at Christmas time.
The Legend of the Holly Wreath
A young orphan boy was living with the shepherds when the herald angels appeared announcing the glad tidings of Christ's birth. On the way to Bethlehem, the child wove a crown of holly branches for the newborn king. But when he lay it before Jesus, the crown looked so unworthy that the little shepherd became ashamed of his gift and began to cry. Then the Christ Child reached out, touched the crown, caused its leaves to sparkle shiny and green, and turned the orphan's tears into scarlet berries.
The Legend of the Lamb's Woolly Coat
A lamb named BaBa lived in the stable at Bethlehem. One night as the holy family slept, BaBa crept up to the manger to watch the baby sleep. While she watched, BaBa noticed how thin the infant's blanket was and that he was shivering from the cold. Filled with love for the child, BaBa warmed him with her own body throughout the night. When Jesus touched her rough, shaggy coat, it was transformed into a beautiful soft wool coat.
The Legend of the Donkey's Bray
After hiding in Egypt for some years, Joseph decided to move his family back to Nazareth. During the night they camped along the side of the road. One night while they slept, their donkey heard the soldiers' horses coming from afar. Afraid that the soldiers were coming to kill Jesus, the donkey neighed to wake Joseph. He neighed and neighed, again and again, but his voice was just too soft to wake the sleepers. Finally, as the soldiers approached, the donkey prayed for a loud voice to wake the family. When he neighed again, he was rewarded with the loud bray such as donkeys have had ever since.
The Legend of the Rosemary
When Jesus was born, the rosemary was just a plain green plant without fragrance or blossom. One day as the holy family traveled to Egypt, Mary stopped to wash some of the baby's clothes in a stream. Looking about for something to hang the little garments on to dry, Mary chose the rosemary bush and hung Jesus' clothes upon it. As Mary gathered the dry clothes together, she blessed the rosemary with blue flowers to match the color of her own cloak and a spicy fragrance as a remembrance of Christ's garments.
The Legend of the Camel's Hump
In order to visit the newborn king, the three wise men traveled with a caravan across many miles of desert. Traveling as quickly as they could, to reach the baby before the star departed, they neglected to carry enough water for both man and beast. The wise men asked the camels to travel without water until the end of their journey so they might reach the baby in time. The camels were agreeable and raced across the desert without rest or water. When they finally reached the stable, the camels worshipped the baby and thanked God for giving them the strength for their waterless journey. Drinking their fill from the stable's trough, the camels were rewarded with humps to keep them from thirsting in the desert.
The Legend of the Christmas Bell
The shepherds gathered quite a throng in Bethlehem as they journeyed to meet the newborn king. A little blind boy sat along the side of the town's road and, hearing rumors of the angel's announcement, he begged the traveler's to lead him to the Christ child. No one would take the time. After the crowd passed and the streets grew silent, the boy heard the faint tinkling of a cow's bell in the distance. He thought to himself, "Perhaps that cow is in the very stable where Christ lies," and followed the bell to the stable. There, the cow led the boy to the infant Jesus.
The Legend of the Poinsettia
In one village in Mexico it was customary for each person to place a gift on the altar of the church for the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. One Christmas an angel told a small child to take some dried up weeds he'd found along the road to the church for the baby. When the child placed the weeds on the altar, they turned into the first poinsettia. Since then the flower has been called "The Flower of the Holy Night" or "Flor de la Noche Buena".
The Legend of the Holly Bush
One night as the holy family was fleeing to Egypt, Joseph heard the soldiers riding behind them. Since there were no rocks or caves to hide in, the family hid beneath the branches of a holly bush. Normally, the bush would not have offered much shelter since it had lost all its leaves in the fall. But that night the holly miraculously pushed forth its leaves and grew sharp thorns to hide the family. Since then the holly has borne leaves all year long.
Another legends states that the holly used to have white berries. But when the crown of thorns was woven of holly branches and placed on Christ's head, the blood which trickled onto the crown turned the berries red.
The Legend of the Christmas Balls
A little street boy in Bethlehem had no gift for the newborn king so he juggled for the baby and made him laugh. That is why we hang balls on the Christmas tree - to remember the laughter of God.
The Legend of the Cobwebs
One Christmas Eve when the Christ child came to bless the Christmas trees, he noticed that the tree in one home was covered with cobwebs, drawn by curious spiders. When he blessed the tree, Jesus turned the cobwebs into beautiful strands of gold and silver garland.
The Legends of the Christmas Tree
Several legends claim the fir is one of the trees from the garden of Eden. One says the fir is the Tree of Life whose leaves shrank into tiny needles when Eve plucked the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Life did not bloom again until the night Christ was born.
Another legend claims that Adam carried a twig of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil with him from the garden. This twig later became the fir which was used for the Christmas tree and the Holy Cross.
One is the story of Saint Boniface, an English monk who organized the Christian Church in France and Germany. One day, as he traveled about, he came upon a group of pagans gathered around a great oak tree about to sacrifice a child to the god Thor. To stop the sacrifice and save the child's life Boniface felled the tree with one mighty blow of his fist. In its place grew a small fir tree. The saint told the pagan worshipers that the tiny fir was the Tree of Life and stood the eternal life of Christ.
Another legend holds that Martin Luther, a founder of the Protestant faith, was walking through the forest one Christmas Eve. As he walked he was awed by the beauty of millions of stars glimmering through the branches of the evergreen trees. So taken was he by this beautiful sight that he cut a small tree and took it home to his family. To recreate that same starlight beauty he saw in the wood, he placed candles on all its branches.
Yet another legend tells of a poor woodsman who long ago met a lost and hungry child on Christmas Eve. Though very poor himself, the woodsman gave the child food and shelter for the night. The woodsman woke the next morning to find a beautiful glittering tree outside his door. The hungry child was really the Christ Child in disguise. He created the tree to reward the good man for his charity.
Evolution of the Christmas Tree
Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition in the sixteenth 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.
The Christmas tree custom became popular in other parts of Europe. In England Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria made Christmas trees fashionable by decorating the first English Christmas tree at Windsor castle with candles and a variety of sweets, fruits and gingerbread in 1841. Of course other wealthy English families followed suit, using all kinds of extravagant items as decorations. Charles Dickens described such a tree as being covered with dolls, miniature furniture, tiny musical instruments, costume jewelry, toy guns and swords, fruit and candy, in the 1850s.
Most nineteenth century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania. They put one on show to raise money for a local church. In 1851 a tree was set up outside of a church. The people of the parish thought it such an outrage and a return to paganism and asked the minister to take it down.
By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas to reach from floor to ceiling.
The early twentieth century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German- American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies . Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts.
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. All important buildings, private and public, signaled the beginning of the Christmas holiday with the tree ceremony.
Early Christmas trees had, in place of angels, figures of fairies - the good spirits, though horns and bells were once used to frighten off evil spirits.
In Poland, Christmas trees there were always angels, peacocks and other birds as well as many, many stars. In Sweden, trees are decorated with brightly painted wooden ornaments and straw figures of animals and children. In Denmark, tiny Danish flags along with mobiles of bells stars, snowflakes and hearts are hung on Christmas trees. Japanese Christians prefer tiny fans and paper lanterns. Lithuanians cover their trees with straw bird cages, stars, and geometric shapes. The straw sends a wish for good crops in the coming year. Czechoslovakian trees display ornaments made from painted egg shells.
The Legend Of The Christmas Star
The stars that appear in the sky today are the same ones that were there two thousand years ago. Was there a nova at the time of Jesus' birth? The exact time of His birth is not known, but astronomers cannot place a new star appearance anywhere near the possible time. Could it have been a shooting star? Again, the astronomers say it was not likely. A meteor lasts only a few seconds or mintues at best. The wise men followed the star for weeks looking for Jesus. We can rule out comets as well. They can be seen by the naked eye for a week or months. But modern astronomers know which comets were close enough to earth hundreds and thousands of years ago and there was no comet visible to humans around the time of Christ's birth.
Some star gazers suggest that if we move the birth of Jesus to the springtime of 6 B.C., we can attribute the star to the time the planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were close together in the heavens. They formed a triangle in the group of stars known as Pisces.
The wise men, themselves, were astrologers and studied the stars and planets and knew, according to Jewish rabbis, of the triangle and that it had appeared before the birth of Moses. Perhaps they interpreted it as a sign of a great event in the land of the Jewish people. This may have been the star of Bethlehem. Pisces became the special constellation of the Hebrew people.
Still, many people prefer to believe that the strange star did appear, and that it was simply a miracle and throughout the world today, the Christian holiday has usually begun with the appearance of the first star of Christmas Eve.
The Festival of the Star is held in Poland. Right after the Christmas Eve meal, the village priest, acts as the "Star Man" and tests the children's knowledge of religion. In Alaska, boys and girls carry a star shaped figure from house to house and sing carols in hopes of receiving treats. In Hungary a star-shaped pattern is carved in a half of an apple and is suppose to bring good luck.
In general, the Christmas star symbolizes high hopes and high ideals - hope for good fortune, hope for reaching above oneself. For all human beings,regardless of religion, stars have special meaning for all share the heavens, no matter what barriers keep them apart on earth.
The Legent of Mistletoe
Mistletoe is an aerial parasite that has no roots of its own and lives off the tree that it attaches itself to. Without that tree it would die. Mistletoe was thought to be sacred by ancient Europeans. Druid priests employed it in their sacrifices to the gods while Celtic people felt it possessed miraculous healing powers. In fact, in the Celtic language mistletoe means "all-heal." It not only cured diseases, but could also render poisons harmless, make humans and animals prolific, keep one safe from witchcraft, protect the house from ghosts and even make them speak. With all of this, it was thought to bring good luck to anyone privileged to have it.
Norsemen offer us a beautiful symbolic myth about mistletoe. The story goes that Mistletoe was the sacred plant of Frigga, goddess of love and the mother of Balder, the god of the summer sun. Balder had a dream of death which greatly alarmed his mother, for should he die, all life on earth would end. In an attempt to keep this from happening, Frigga went at once to air, fire, water, earth, and every animal and plant seeking a promise that no harm would come to her son. Balder now could not be hurt by anything on earth or under the earth. But Balder had one enemy, Loki, god of evil and he knew of one plant that Frigga had overlooked in her quest to keep her son safe. It grew neither on the earth nor under the earth, but on apple and oak trees. It was lowly mistletoe. So Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe, gave to the blind god of winter, Hoder, who shot it , striking Balder dead. The sky paled and all things in earth and heaven wept for the sun god. For three days each element tried to bring Balder back to life. He was finally restored by Frigga, the goddess and his mother. It is said the tears she shed for her son turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant and in her joy Frigga kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. The story ends with a decree that who should ever stand under the humble mistletoe, no harm should befall them, only a kiss, a token of love.
What could be more natural than to translate the spirit of this old myth into a Christian way of thinking and accept the mistletoe as the emblem of that Love which conquers Death? Its medicinal properties, whether real or imaginary, make it a just emblematic of that Tree of Life, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations thus paralleling it to the Virgin Birth of Christ.
Later, the eighteenth-century English credited mistletoe not with miraculous healing powers, but with a certain magical appeal called a kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she cannot expect not to marry the following year. Whether we believe it or not, it always makes for fun and frolic at Christmas celebrations.