Christmas FAQ: Learning More About Christmas
Nobody is really sure when Fir trees were first used as Christmas trees. It probably began about 1000 years ago in Northern Europe. Many early Christmas Trees seem to have been hung upside down from the ceiling using chains (hung from chandeliers/lighting hooks).
The evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.
The decision to celebrate Christmas on December 25 was made sometime during the fourth century by church bishops in Rome. They had a specific reason for doing so.
Having turned long ago from worshiping the one true God and creator of all things, many early cultures in the Roman empire had fallen into sun worship. Recognizing their dependence on the sun’s yearly course in the heavens, they held feasts around the winter solstice in December when the days are shortest. As part of their festivals, they built bonfires to give the sun god strength and bring him back to life again. When it became apparent that the days were growing longer, there would be great rejoicing.
The church leaders in Rome decided to celebrate Christ’s birth during the winter solstice in an attempt to Christianize these popular pagan celebrations. For the most part their efforts failed to make the people conform, and the heathen festivities continued. Today we find ourselves left with a bizarre marriage of pagan and Christian elements that characterizes our modern celebration of Christmas.
During Reformation and up until the middle of the 1800s, Christmas was often not celebrated because partying and merry making was seen as unchristian. From about 1840, celebrating Christmas became more widespread. December 25 was declared a federal holiday in the United States in 1870.
Etymology. “Christmas” is a shortened form of “Christ’s mass”. It is derived from the Middle English Cristemasse, which is from Old English Crīstesmæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038 followed by the word Cristes-messe in 1131.
The betrothal of Joseph and Mary, and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem appear in both Matthew and Luke. Many events in the Luke account are not in the Gospel of Matthew, – for example, the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem – and others appear only in Matthew, such as the Flight to Egypt.
According to Encyclopedia.com: EPIPHANY (from the Greek word for ‘manifestation’) is the Christian festival that commemorates the revealing of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world, as personified by those “wise men from the east” who came “to worship him” (Matthew 2:1–2). In Britain it has another, more prosaic, name, Twelfth Day, because it falls on 6 January, twelve days after Christmas. Over time, the plain gospel account of this momentous encounter became richly embroidered with learned commentary and loving speculation. The “wise men” stepped from the shadows and were deemed to be three in number, each one a mighty king who knelt in turn to pay homage and present his gift to the greatest king of all. The festival formed the end and climax of the Christmas season, marked by a joyful and elaborate church service and much cheerful celebration, with parties and presents, fine feasting, and a favorite game. In this game, played in many parts of medieval Europe, a mock-king was selected to reign over the party, be toasted by loyal subjects, and, sometimes, enjoy the doubtful privilege of paying for the wine downed in his honor. He was chosen not on merit but by the chance that was hinted at in his official title, “King of the Bean.” A bean had been hidden in a cake, and the lucky man who found it became king of the company. The woman who pulled out the corresponding pea was hailed as his queen.
This traditional game remained popular, but in Britain a variation was developed during the late seventeenth century. Guests still enjoyed their cake, which was dark, dense, packed with dried fruit, and often crowned with almond paste and white icing. However, instead of choosing their king and queen by bean and pea, they drew paper lots. The new custom became a craze, and was elaborated until every slip or card bore the name of some character. Each person present thus had a part to play, and the monarchs mingled with such farcical figures as Sir Tunbelly Clumsy and Miss Flirt, Captain Tearaway, and Lady Racket. The character cards might be homemade or bought at any bakery or toy shop during the Christmas season.
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Twelfth Night cake and characters were enormously enjoyed, so much so that the custom found its way to those parts of America, such as Virginia, that were strongly influenced by British taste.
But the fashion that flared so brightly for a while had burned itself out by the end of the nineteenth century. Twelfth Day became just an ordinary date in the British calendar, and its cake was absorbed into the Christmas Day festivities. In France, however, and, incidentally, in Louisiana, where French traditions are strong, the Bean King still reigns. Bakery windows display tempting versions of the “Galette des Rois,” made of sweet brioche or puff pastry, and in each a bean or, alternatively, a tiny porcelain baby Jesus, is concealed, a guarantee of instant pleasure for children.
It has been a part of the Christian tradition to celebrate Christmas yearly. The bottom line for this is to witness and retell to other people the marvelous story of the Savior of mankind, who is Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus is the light of the world, so the early Christians thought that this was the right time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They also took over some of the customs from the Winter Solstice and gave them Christian meanings, like Holly, Mistletoe and even Christmas Carols!