The Symbols Of Christmas and their
The tradition comes from a Christmas
story of St Nicholas. In the 1800's,
when the father of three young maidens
could not afford a dowry for his
daughters to be married. From his
castle, St Nicholas heard of the poor
misfortune of the maidens and secretly
threw a bag of coins down their chimney.
It is said that the gold coins landed in
the girls stockings that were hanging in
the fireplace to dry.
Later children in Holland would leave
out their wooden shoes in hopes that St
Nicholas would fill them with goodies.
Christmas wreaths combine two symbols of
everlasting life. The evergreen bough,
that stays green all winter and a
continuous unbroken circular shape.
The real Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas
a fourth century Bishop in Turkey.
Famous for acts of kindness, especially
towards children, he eventually became
popular in Holland, where he was known
as "Sinter Klaas". Around 1870, the
Americans turned the name into Santa
In nineteenth century Britain the
Elizabethan character Father Christmas -
the jolly old man imagined to provide
the Christmas feast - merged with Santa.
Up to 1890, he was sometimes depicted as
tall and thin, wearing green or brown as
often as red. Santa's present appearance
was created by Swedish artist Jenny
Nystrom in a series of Christmas cards.
Fellow Swede Haddon Sundblom helped
universalise the new image when he
adopted Nystrom's ideas for Coca-Cola's
advertising campaign - Santa matched
Coke's red-and-white logo. Sundblom also
refined the character, making his body a
little fatter and giving him his herd of
The idea of Santa Claus entering
people's homes by dropping down the
chimney comes from American Scholar
Clement Moore's famous 1822 poem A Visit
from St Nicholas.
Sir Henry Cole, a publisher and
innovator who founded London's Victoria
& Albert museum and was influential in
setting up the Royal College of Music,
the Albert Hall and public lavatories,
sent out the first Christmas card in
1843. But the cards, at first handmade
and very expensive at a shilling each
did not become popular until later in
Tom Smith, a confectioner in London
started to develop Christmas crackers in
the 1840's. They began as individually
wrapped lollies, like the ones Tom had
seen on sale in Paris. Then Chinese
fortune cookies gave him the idea of
putting a love motto in the wrapping.
Some years later, watching a log
crackling in the fire, he had the
further idea of adding a crack. Tom's
cracking sweets, called cosaques,
appeared in 1870.
He later swapped the sweets for metal
charms, and by 1900, an annual 13
million Christmas crackers were sold
worldwide. Today the Tom Smith Group
produces 50 million crackers a year.
In the early seventeenth century,
Germans began bringing trees indoors at
Christmas and decorating them with
candles. It was the German Prince Albert
who popularised the Christmas tree in
Britain after putting one up at Windsor
Castle in 1840. Over the next 20 years,
candlelit trees became popular, the
lights symbolising rebirth.
In 1882 the first electrically lit
Christmas tree was set up in the New
York home of a friend of the inventor
Thomas Edison; it had 80 bulbs and cost
a small fortune. Even when strings of
lights were produced commercially in
1903, they cost an average American's
The Christmas Fairy/Angel
The fairy at the top of the Christmas
tree was originally a little figure of
the baby Jesus. In late seventeenth
century Germany this became a shining
angel. Windsor Castle's Christmas trees
were topped by a large angel.
In Victorian Britain, little girls would
take the angel down after Christmas and
dress him in dolls' clothes. Eventually
the angel turned into a thoroughly
female fairy, complete with wand.
The transformation was boosted by the
pantomimes that became popular in the
Victorian era - and, naturally, included
a good fairy in the cast.
Ancient Romans lit candles to ward off
evil, and to convince the sun to shine
again. In Victorian times, candles came
to represent good will for those less
fortunate during the holiday season.
Candles were often placed in windows
during the Christmas season as a sign to
those passing by that shelter and warmth
could be found within.
Druids believed that holly, with its
shiny leaves and red berries stayed
green in Winter to keep the earth
beautiful when the sacred oak lost it
leaves. They wore sprigs of holly in
their hair when they went into the
forest to watch their priests cut the
sacred mistletoe. Holly was the sacred
plant of Saturn and was used at the
Roman Saturnalia festival to honor him.
Romans gave one another holly wreaths
and carried them about decorating images
of Saturn with it. Centuries later, in
December, while other Romans continued
their pagan worship, Christians
celebrated the birth of Jesus . To avoid
persecution, they decked their homes
with Saturnalia holly. As Christian
numbers increased and their customs
prevailed, holly lost its pagan
association and became a symbol of
Mistletoe is an aerial parasite plant
that has no roots of its own and lives
off the tree it attaches itself to.
Without the 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
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 woman 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
woman remains unkissed, she cannot
expect to marry the following year.
Whether we believe it or not, it is
always fun at Christmas celebrations.
Dr Joel Poinsett, the country's first
ambassador to Mexico, brought the fire
red flower to the United States more
than 100 years ago. Mexico's legend of
the Poinsettia tells of a poor Mexican
girl Maria and her little brother Pablo.
The two children loved the annual
Mexican Christmas festival with its
large Manger scene, but each year they
were disappointed that they had no money
to buy a present for the baby Jesus.
One Christmas eve Maria and Pablo
stopped to pick some weeds growing along
the roadside on their way to church, to
give to the baby Jesus. The other
children chided them for their gift, but
Maria and Pablo knew their gift was from
the heart, and it was all they could
give. As they began to place the weeds
around the Manger, the green-top leaves
miraculously turned into bright red
petals. Soon the Manger was surrounded
by the beautiful star-shaped flowers we
love too see during the holidays.
The Christmas Tree
People often wonder where the custom of
having a tree in the home during
Christmas time comes from. We will
probably never know for sure. But there
are many historical clues that point out
where this custom came from.
Thousands or years ago, there were
people who believed that evergreen trees
were magical. Even in winter, when all
the other trees and were brown and bare,
the evergreen tree stayed strong and
green. People saw the evergreen as a
symbol of life and as a sure sign that
sunshine and spring would soon return.
Candles, or the electric lights we use
to decorate our trees today, are also an
ancient symbol. They represent the light
of spring overcoming the darkness of
So when did the Christmas tree go
indoors? Legend has it that the
tradition was begun by Martin Luther in
Germany. He was a monk and church
reformer who lived from 1483 to 1546.
According to the legend, Luther was
returning home one wintry night when he
saw the stars twinkling in the sky
through the tree branches. Luther was
amazed by the sight, and when he arrived
home, he was eager to tell his family
about it. To help them understand, he
went to the woods and cut down a small
fir tree. Luther brought it indoors and
decorated it with candles, which
represented the stars he had seen.
The custom spread in Germany, and from
there all over the world. In England,
the Christmas tree first appeared when
Queen Victoria married Albert, a German
Prince. In 1841, Albert set up a
Christmas tree at Windsor Castle near
London to remind him of his homeland.
The Christmas tree custom was brought to
the United States by people from England
as well as by many German immigrants who
came in the 1800's. Whatever its origin,
the Christmas tree is a beautiful symbol
for everyone who celebrates Christmas.
Christmas Candy Canes
According to legend there was a candy
maker who wanted to invent a candy that
was a witness to Christ. The result was
the candy cane.
First of all he used a hard candy
because Christ is the rock of ages. This
hard candy was shaped so that it would
resemble either a "J" for Jesus or a
shepherd's staff. He made it white to
represent the purity of Christ. Finally
a red stripe was added to represent the
blood Christ shed for the sins of the
world and three thinner red stripes for
the stripes he received on our behalf
when the Roman soldiers whipped him.
Sometimes a green stripe is added as
reminder that Jesus is a gift from God.
The flavor of the cane is pepermint
which is similar to hyssop. Hyssop is in
the mint family and was used in the Old
Testament for purification and
Plum porridge - a soft, sweet mixture
enriched with dried fruit, known as
plums - was a luxury for Elizabethans.
In the eighteenth century, this evolved
into a thicker plum pudding.
One firm, Matthew Walker of Derby now
makes some 16 million a year - 40
percent of the world's Christmas
Turkeys came into England from Mexico
in 1526, when Yorkshire man William
Strickland bought six from American
Indian traders and sold them in Bristol
for two pence each.
Edward VII made eating turkey at
Christmas fashionable, but it remained a
luxury until the 1950's
Christmas Message 1999
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