Monday, December 5, 2011

(52) Christmas Customs: Why Do We Do Them?


       Are we overdoing all of this commercializing of Christmas, preparations, lights, decorations, eating, drinking, partying, etc. to the point of forgetting the reason for the season? Sometimes it's the All American Rat Race. We celebrate with non-believers. That's good, but to keep them happy, we're taking Christ out of Christmas. Now it's “Happy Holidays”, “Seasons Greetings”, Holiday Tree, holiday cards, etc. If any of us would be living in a Muslim Country such as Iran or Saudia Arabia, we would respect their customs and expect no special treatment or watering down to make us happy.......nor would they.

        Then what are we celebrating? We still observe and practice so many old customs, but some have been hijacked by the secularists. These traditional customs have become so secularized that they have lost their original meaning. So why are we doing all of these activities during the Christmas season?

        Some of the customs have ancient pagan origins, but once the people became Christian, those traditions have been adapted and given a Christian meaning during the many centuries when Western Civilization became very uniformly Catholic. After the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics remained in agreement on the Christian meaning of Christmas traditions.

       Why was December 25 chosen as the day to celebrate Christmas? Historical evidence indicates that Christ was probably born in the Spring. The pagans had a feast, celebrating the return of the Sun, since the days after the Winter Solstice on December 21 were becoming longer instead of shorter. Once they were converted to Christianity, it was convenient time of the year to build upon their feast.   Even today, missionaries often build upon what the culture already has.

      Let's look at our Christmas customs and then think of the reason for the season in every festive act. What gives Christmas its magic? It cannot be the material alone. It must be deeper than that; it must have a spiritual basis.

      The Advent Wreath has four candles. Each represents 1000 years that Humanity had to wait for the promised Messiah after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. On the first Sunday of Advent and each succeeding Sunday an additional candle is lit until the total reaches four. Advent means a coming into place, view, or being. Thus Advent is a season of joyful expectation and spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ and ultimately the second coming, be it judgment when we die or the Final Judgment at the end of the world. This spiritual preparation consists of prayer, Bible reading, good works, and some penance.

--Decorations at home and the town celebrate the birth of the Savior. .

--Good food, parties, and merriment without excess or abuse celebrate the arrival of the Messiah.

--Lights are festive and symbolize Christ, the Light of the World while glorifying God.

--The Star led the Magi to Bethlehem. May it symbolize anything that leads us to God..

--Gifts – God gave us the greatest gift of all. That is His only begotten Son to teach us how to live, save us from our sins, and thus open the gates of heaven for us if we only accept and follow Him. We in turn give gifts to our loved ones and the poor as we imitate the Magi in giving gifts to the Christ child.

--Christmas Cards are little gestures of friendship and Christian love.......saying I care enough about to find the time to send you a greeting.

--Midnight Mass - Tradition says that Christ was born after midnight sometime.

St. Nicholas a.k.a. Santa Claus

       St. Nicholas has a lot to do with Christmas even though his feast day is December 6, the anniversary of his death in 343. Born of wealthy parents, he literally followed Christ's command in Matthew 19:21 to “sell what you own. Give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myrna then Greek located in present day Turkey. He was best known for his generosity to the poor and love of children, helping the needy in unusual ways. He suffered for the faith with exile and imprisonment.

       Santa Claus, Snowmen, Reindeer – The name Santa Claus is the Dutch word for St. Nicholas. Santa Claus did not become famous in the United States until the novelist, Washington Irving, the novelist made him into a legend in 1809. By the 1860s the Santa Claus legend became popular with his reddish suit, reindeer, pipe, and sleigh. The snowman was a natural with the North Pole and winter.

Christmas Stockings by the Fireplace.  And the stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there, goes the oft repeated Christmas rhyme. In the story of Nicholas rescuing the poor maidens from being sold into slavery, the gold dowry money, tossed in through the window, is said to have landed in stockings left to dry before the fire.

An Orange or Tangerine in the Toe of Filled Christmas Stockings.  The gold Nicholas threw to provide the dowry money is often shown as gold balls. These are symbolized by oranges or even apples. So the orange in the toe of the stocking is a reminder of Nicholas' gift.

Candy Canes.  These are really candy croziers, one of St. Nicholas' symbols. All bishops, like Christ, the Good Shepherd, carry staffs, hooked at the top like a shepherd's crook, showing that like Christ, the Good Shepherd, they are the shepherds who care for, or tend, their people. The hook symbolizes the Bishop's and our responsibility to be fishers of men. Red indicates the precious blood of Christ or sacrifice and white symbolizes purity or purifying water.  St. Nicholas Day Blessing of Candy Canes

Gift-giving in Secret, During the Night.  Stockings are filled while children are sleeping. Nicholas did his gift giving secretly, under cover of darkness. He didn't want to be seen and recognized as he wanted those he helped to give thanks to God. Nicholas had no desire for accolades.  Thus we give gifts to our loved ones on Christmas.  In some countries, they give gifts to children on December. 6.

Charitable Gifts at Christmas.  St. Nicholas gave gifts to those in greatest need—the young and the most vulnerable. Christmas gifts and baskets given to those in need, along with other seasonal contributions to charity, reflect St. Nicholas' unselfish concern for others. He never wanted or expected anything in return. We not only follow the example of St. Nicholas, but also give in thanksgiving for all of God's gifts to us, especially the gift of His only Son.

The Legend of the Poinsettia

       Dr. Joel Poinsett, who was the first ambassador to Mexico, brought the bright red star-shaped flower to the United States. Hence, it was names as Poinsettia. It is also known as 'Flame Leaf' or 'Flower of the Holy Night'. The legend related to this favorite Christmas flower is Mexican too. However, there are two versions of the story. In one The, the two small children of the story are known as Maria and her little brother Pablo; while in another version, two cousins are mentioned by the names of Pepita and Pedro. Whatever be the names, the story goes like this:

        There was once a brother-sister pair who were very poor. They lived in a village and they had barely enough to eat two full meals a day. As the Christmas time approached, festivities, parades and parties in the village attracted the children. The gaiety of the season in itself was quite charismatic. Moreover, a large manger scene was being set up in the village church and all the children were eager to go to Baby Jesus and give him the best present. Mario and Pablo also wanted to give expensive presents to the Holy Child that He will love. While all children were discussing, what they think is best for the baby and what gift they will buy for Him, Mario and Pablo had no money to buy the presents and had nothing that they could give to the child.

        Yet, they could not let go of the temptation to see the baby just once and give something to Him. On Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church a little earlier than others to attend the service. Since they had nothing to give to the child, they thought of plucking some weeds that was growing along the roadside to make a soft bed for Baby Jesus and decorate his crib. 

       While they were still decorating the crib of the Baby, other children also arrived. Now, children can be very cruel when it comes to teasing and making fun of others. Mario and Pablo were almost in tears for shame and helplessness when a miracle occurred. Suddenly, the weeds burst into bright red petals that looked like stars and were so beautiful that everyone was awed by their beauty. Everybody realized and said that a gift of love is dearer to the Christ child than the most expensive presents that money could buy. Ever since then, Poinsettia flowers have become favorites for Christmas decorations . (

Holly - Origins & Trivia

       To avoid persecution during the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalis, the early Christians decked their homes with Saturnalia holly. As Christian numbers increased and their customs prevailed, holly and mistletoe lost their pagan associations and became symbols of Christmas. 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 Christmas. 
        The Druids believed that holly, with its shiny leaves and red berries stayed green 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.  The plant has come to stand for peace and joy, people often settle arguments under a holly tree. Holly is believed to frighten off witches and protect the home from thunder and lightning.

The Christmas Tree and the St. Boniface Story

hy do we have a decorated Christmas Tree? In the 7th century St. Boniface, a monk, went to Germany to teach the Word of God. He did many good works there, and spent much time in Thuringia, an area which was to become the cradle of the Christmas Decoration Industry.  Legend has it that he used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God's Tree, as they had previously revered the Oak. St. Boniface cut it down to show that it was a false god. By the 12th century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime in Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity.

        The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia, in 1510. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther is said to have decorated a small Christmas Tree with candles, to show his children how the stars twinkled through the dark night at Christ's birth.

     The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden. The evergreen tree also symbolized life everlasting.  Even nature in a way recognizes the incarnation of Christ in winter through the magnificent evergreen tree which defies the elements, especially when we decorate it and add lights that symbolize Christ, the Light of the World.

     New Traditions - American Christmas characters like Rudolph and Frosty are as highly recognized as old St. Nick himself. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is a legend in book, and a new movie version. We have also created cultural Christmas icons in advertising, like the Coca-Cola Polar Bears.

       Sometimes, though, we form new traditions! American Christmas characters like Rudolph and Frosty are as highly recognized as old St. Nick himself. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is a legend in book, and a new movie version. We have also created cultural Christmas icons in advertising, like the Coca-Cola polar Bears. It Was the Night Before Christmas. Among the many websites on this subject is

        The most important of all is Christ and the Christmas Spirit. It consists of peace and love for all.......forgiveness, reconciliation with our enemies and adversaries often within our own families, charity, generosity, and joy that only Christ can give. May everything that we do in relation to Christmas be directed toward developing the Christmas spirit. Then your Christmas will indeed be happy, merry, and joyful.


  1. Thank you Paul for a wonderful review of basis for our Christmas customs

  2. Thank you for your comment. Encouraging comments as yours motivate me to continue writing. God bless.