Lauren and Mikaela--identical twins living on opposite coasts--blog about the story of life and their adventures in faith.

12.11.2009

Creatures of Habit

Almost every family has Christmas traditions, and ours is no exception. For breakfast on Christmas Day, we always have a certain breakfast casserole, canned peaches, and cinnamon rolls. On Christmas Eve, we always open up a pair of new Christmas pajamas. But this year I was curious about the traditions everyone celebrates—how did they make the leap from being the oddity of one family to becoming the beloved staples of the world? I hope you enjoy this look at some common traditions! Bear in mind that many of these are centuries old, and thus, there may be numerous legends and conflicting ideas about their origin.

Is King Wenceslas of the song “Good King Wenceslas” a real person?
This question has always bugged me, so I decided to research for myself. Turns out Wenceslas was a Bohemian Duke who was made a saint after he was murdered and was given the title of king posthumously. (Better late than never, I suppose!) Legend has it that this Christian man would rise and deliver alms to the poor in bare feet through the snow and cold. The “Feast of Stephen” mentioned in the song is December 26, also known as Boxing Day in the UK and Canada. On Boxing Day, people would put money in alms boxes for the needy in the community. (And I always thought the weird British had a big wrestling match the day after Christmas!)

Where did the Christmas tree come from?
Some say that pagans assigned significance to evergreens long before it was associated with Christmas. However, the Christmas tree has many interesting legends explaining its origin. One says that St. Boniface, a German Christian missionary, rescued a young boy from pagans who were about to sacrifice him to an oak tree they were worshipping. St. Boniface furiously chopped down the tree and discovered a small spruce tree growing at the oak’s base. He gave it to the child as a symbol of everlasting life. Although most legends agree that the Christmas tree originated in Germany, many stories recount that Martin Luther began the tradition. The glimmer of the stars through the branches of a tree so inspired Luther that he took the tree home and adorned it with candles. In the beginning, many trees were adorned with apples (which later became our round ball ornaments) and symbolized the tree in the Garden of Eden. Christmas trees likely became popular in America when Germans began to immigrate. An interesting bit of trivia that I didn’t know is that in 1882, Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea for electric Christmas tree lights. (He one-upped you on that one, Tom!)

Does “Xmas” really take Christ out of Christmas?
Contrary to what I previously thought, it does not! This abbreviation comes from the Greek word for Christ, Xristos. As early as the 1500s, European Christians used “X” as an abbreviation for Christ’s name in “Christmas.” They knew the significance of this shorthand, but modern Christians often do not, and the meaning has been widely misunderstood.


Christmas cards—where did they come from?
The first Christmas card was an inky night sky with beautiful angels filling the horizon as far as the eye could see. However, the tradition as we usually think of it is only 150 years old. School kids actually started it (I find that quite significant!) when they brought home papers bearing their best handwriting and proudly presented them to their parents around Christmas time. In 1843, an Englishman, Sir Henry Cole, had an artist friend draw a design (see above) for a card, and he printed 1,000 to 2,500 copies and sold them for a shilling apiece. Brilliant idea, Sir Cole!

From Christmas caroling to ornament shopping to reading the Christmas story in Luke to watching the Nativity Story to celebrating Advent, the list of traditions my family celebrates could go on and on until I lose every single one of you. The point is, however, that many traditions actually point back to Christ—helping us weak humans keep our focus on Him and His gifts of family and friends during this season. (I must confess, I'm not exactly sure how the pajamas fit into that, though...) We are creatures of habit, and that is why Christ established traditions in the first place (feasts for the Jews, communion, singing of hymns).
But now I am curious—what traditions do you and your family celebrate to remind you of Christ’s birth?

3 comments:

  1. I am a sucker when it comes to facts like these. Thanks!

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  2. I love Christmas time! The sights, the smells, just the feeling of Christmas is so exciting. Thank you for sharing your Christmas traditions. It is fun to hear what other families do.
    Some of our families traditions include Christmas baking, making up plates for the neighbors and delivering them, watching It's a Wonderful Life and then, of course, we watch A Christmas Carol (with George C. Scott) on Christmas Eve.

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  3. Lauren, thanks for sharing the origin of these fun and popular Christmas traditions! I love learning how things originate. : )
    My family is in a "tradition transition" since so many of our Christmas traditions centered around my grandparents (dad's parents). Now that they are gone, things are pretty different around the holidays. It makes me sad, but I cherish those special and precious memories of spending time with them.
    Of course, one of our favorite family traditions is going to hear Handel's Messiah! We thoroughly enjoyed it this year - great job to both you and Mikaela for playing in the symphony. The songs were not easy to sing, so I can only imagine how difficult some of them can be to play.
    I love, love that music! It is so inspired and inspirational. I had goosebumps several times tonight. :)

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