Meaning of Christmas and its Traditions – Ngutoli Swu HOD History

”Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel and reindeer  but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a Teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas” – Ronald Reagan

Meaning of Christmas and its Traditions

Every year, the month of December is eagerly awaited by the young and old alike all over the world especially among the Christians because of one very important day – 25th December, a day that is celebrated as the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ. This day is known all over the world by names like Christmas, Noel, Xmas, Yule and Nativity. we celebrate Christmas every year and this tradition has been practiced ever since our birth but have we ever stopped to ponder on why it was called Christmas and it is celebrated on 25th December leaving aside all the other days and months? how did the various symbols like Santa Claus, Christmas tree, Poinsettias, to name a few become synonymous with Christmas celebration? This Christmas, why don’t we take a fresh look at the literal aspect of Christmas and its traditions and make our Christmas celebration even more meaningful?

The word Christmas is taken from old English – christes maesse which means Christ’s Mass. The Bible contains many accounts about the birth of Jesus Christ but the exact date of His birth is not recorded. According to ancient documents, it was the Christians living in Rome who started celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on 25th December from the year AD 336 on-wards. The most commonly explanation about the Christians in Rome choosing 25th December as the birthday of Jesus Christ is that, the Pagans used to celebrate a popular festival known as Natalis Solis Invicti or ‘birth of the unconquered sun’
honoring the pagan sun god – mithras on 25th December. Therefore, to turn the people away from the pagan sun god Mithras, this day was chosen. It replaced the significant pagan festival with the passage of time.
When we look at the celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ, it seems incomplete without decking up our houses, streets and churches with decorations like Santa  Christmas trees and the common practice of planting poinsettias. lets take a look at how all these originated. the origin of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas who is believed to have been born sometime around 280 AD in Patara, near Myra in Turkey. He was very famous for his kindness and generosity which ultimately resulted in many legends about him. He became well known as the protector of children and sailors. The name Santa Claus as known in America and to the rest of the modern world evolved from St Nicholas’ Dutch nickname – Sinter Klass. By 1841, images of Santa Claus became very popular especially among children in america. Clement Moore’s poem – ”an account of a visit from St. Nichols” was largely responsible for our modern image of Santa Claus. The 18th century Americans’ Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas- inspired-gift-given to make an appearance during Christmas time. In other parts of the world too, different versions became famous like Khris Kringle who delivered gifts to good Swiss and German children, the jolly elf named Jultomten in Scandinavia, father Christmas in England, Pere Noel in France, Babouschka in Russia, La Befana in Italy, etc.
The next common tradition is that of the beautiful Christmas tree that stands tall in our living rooms every Christmas  There are many theories about the origin of Christmas tree and it has been connected with the Egyptian and Roman customs, early Christians and Victorian practices. But most scholars regard Germany as being the place of its origin. In the 14th and 15th centuries, people in Europe performed miracle or mystery plays in front of the cathedrals during the advent season using the evergreen fir as a prop representing the tree of life as well as of sin. The German born Prince Albert and Queen Victoria popularized the custom of erecting Christmas tree. By early 20th century, the custom of decorating Christmas tree was adopted and this has become a cherished tradition of celebrating Christ’s birth.
Another significant symbol of Christmas is the beautiful Poinsettias which starts blooming during the month of December and is locally and popularly known as ”Christmas flower” by young and old alike in our state. According to legends, there lived a boy named Mario in Mexico who was poor. In Mexico, it was a Christmas tradition to carry flower to the church on Christmas eve. Every Christmas eve he would watch the villagers carrying on the tradition but he could not afford to buy flowers, therefore he used to search for wildflowers to take to church.on one such venture, as he was searching for the wildflower, a voice called out to him and told him to pick up the weeds and take it to the church. When Mario refused, the voice gently told him that the simplest gift, when given with love would be the most beautiful to the Christ child. Mario obeyed the voice and placed the weeds near the manger, inspite of being laughed at by other children. To the astonishment of everyone, the weeds turned into a beautiful red flower with bright green leaves. Mario then understood that the most important gift to the Christ child was the gift of love.
This plant was taken to America in 1836 by Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first American Minister to Mexico. Today, the Poinsettia flower has become a part and parcel of the holiday decor and tradition.
Apart from these, there are many symbols and traditions connected with Christmas  In our state, along with the Christmas tree, Santa  Poinsettias, the use and sale of different colored balloons has become synonymous with the holiday season. another very common symbol of Christmas celebration especially in the countryside is putting up of a huge star mostly in red color on a tall bamboo pole that is found on the front yard of every home. Christmas season is also the time when families visit the grave of their close relatives to clean and decorate it in order to show that even though they are no more, they are still remembered and loved.
But whatever maybe the tradition and meanings of Christmas that may have been accorded by many people, one should never get lost in all these traditions and forget the real meaning of Christmas which is God loving us so much that He gave us His son  who gave up His life for us – the ultimate symbol of love. As John 3:16 says ”for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believed in Him should not perish but have an ever lasting life”.
This holiday season may we rejoice and be blessed as said by Hamilton Wright Mabu ”blessed is the season which engage the whole world in a conspiracy of love”.

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