Volume 12 Week 5

Saturday, April 19


 

Updated April 19

Updated April 8

Posted April 2


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(Posted 9:30 p.m., Dec 24)
Origins of Christmas symbols hard to pin down

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Although the true origin of Christmas remains a mystery to this day, the reasons behind Dec. 25 as the date we all celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is likely a conglomeration of a number of circumstances.

The traditional date of Dec. 25 was first set in 375 AD by the western Church, but the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on Jan. 6.

Christ’s birth is unlikely to have taken place during the winter since shepherds in Palestine customarily remain in the open with their flocks only from spring to autumn.

Further confusion as to the exact date of Jesus’ birth was added in 6 AD when the Christian calendar replaced the old Roman calendar which dated from the founding of Rome in 753 BC.

A monk, Dionysius Exiguus (also known as Dennis the Short), miscalculated Rome’s founding as 748 BC. His mistake was not detected until long after the Christian calender had become established. From this the date of Christ’s birth must be reckoned as 5 BC. However, the exact timing is further clouded by the existence of the Star of Bethlehem.

According to astronomers a triple conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter did occur in 6 BC pointing to the likely date of Christ’s birth around October of that year.

So why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th? The idea of celebrating the birth of Christ was first suggested early in the fourth century AD by Church fathers who were looking for a way to subplant the traditional pagan celebrations associated with the winter Solstice.

The Roman festival “Natalis Solis Invicti” celebrated the birth of the “unconquered sun”. Dec. 25 was also the birth date of Mithras, Son of Righteousness and god of the Iranian mystery cult.

The Roman feast of Saturnalia was celebrated on Dec. 17 and involved merry-making and the exchange of gifts.

The solstice had been connected with rebirth throughout the world from well before the Roman period and was a natural choice for the Christian birth celebration which took permanent hold in the Western world sometime around 337 AD after the Roman emperor Constantine had made Christianity the official state religion 24 years earlier.

By 354 AD, the Church of Rome led by Bishop Liberius wanted to reiterate the importance of celebrating not only Christ’s death but also his birth.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE

The Christmas tree with its lights and other decorations, is derived from the so-called paradise tree, symbolizing Eden, which was used in early German passion plays.

The use of a Christmas tree began early in the 17th century, in Strasbourg, France, spreading from there through Germany and into Northern Europe.

In 1841 Albert, prince consort of Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree custom to Great Britain and from there it accompanied immigrants travelling to the New World.

RUDOLPH

The story of, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” began in 1939. Rudolph was created as part of an advertising campaign launched by the Montgomery Ward chain of department stores, well after the character of Santa Claus emerged.

The original Rudolph was a character in a poem about a misfit written by Robert L. May, a Montgomery Ward employee, and given away to clients at Christmas as a store promotion. 2.4-million copies were circulated in 1939.

In 1947, the copyright to the story was transferred to the original author and sold commercially. The following year, a nine-minute cartoon of Rudolph was shown in theatres. Rudolph exploded in popularity.

May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, came up with a song for the story, and in 1949, the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” sung by Gene Autry, aired.

Two million copies of the popular tune were sold in the first year. The song lingers as a popular Christmas carol today.
The original story May wrote for Montgomery Ward differs from the story told in the song. In May’s version, Rudolph is not one of Santa’s reindeer, and he’s not from the North Pole.

In the song, Rudolph becomes loved among all the other reindeer who “used to laugh and call him names” because he was chosen by Santa Claus to lead the sleigh.

In the poem, Santa recruits Rudolph while on a foggy Christmas Eve delivery when he sees a bright red glow emitted from Rudolph’s home. Rudolph’s glowing nose saves Christmas Eve.

CHRISTMAS CARDS

The first Christmas cards originated in England where they were hand-drawn on sheets of plain paper.

The practice of sending formal Christmas cards has been around for 157 years. The first formal Christmas card, depicting adults and children with raised glasses in a toast, was created and sent in 1843 by J.C. Horsley of England. It read: “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”

CANDY CANE

Widely believed to have been created to symbolize a “J” for Jesus or a shepherd’s staff, the candy cane more likely started out the same as it is today – half confectionary treat and half ornament.

The very first candy canes date back to the 17th century. Soon after they began using Christmas trees, Europeans began making decorations for them. A popular confectionary item at the time was a plain white sugar stick which some inventive person decided to bend at one end to hang from the tree’s limbs.

The broad red stripe symbolic of the Lord’s sacrifice for man, wasn’t added until the early part of the 20th century. By then the legend of the candy cane as a Christian symbol had already been well established.

Bob McCormack began making candy canes as special Christmas treats for his children and friends in Albany, Georgia in the 1920s.

McCormack’s brother-in-law Gregory Keller later automated the process in the 1950’s and in doing so founded the largest manufacturer of candy canes in the world.

BOXING DAY

Boxing Day falls on St. Stephen’s Day when the charity boxes in churches were traditionally opened and the money distributed to the poor of the parish.

In Victorian times the custom was enlarged to allow servants
a day’s holiday to visit their families as cooks, maids, butlers, grooms etc. would have had to work on Christmas.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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