Home For An Old-Time Christmas

by

Bruce Ash

Senior High Division

It is a new Christmas every December 25, but it is alwaysan old-time Christmas, with warm tradition which bring families togethereven if they live many miles apart.

But in the early years of the 19th century, "homefor Christmas" for relatives usually meant just walking up the road.Few Americans traveled far in those days when horsepower was the horse itself.(1)

Christmas today has gone through many changes comparedto Christmas in the early 1900's. There are many customs connected withChristmas and some are still practiced today, but few Americans know howand where they originated.

In at least four out of five homes we find a Christmastree. The tree itself may be plastic or whatever is desired. Yet, thereare still people who mumble about the "traditional live evergreens".

There are several stories connected with the origin ofthe Christmas tree. People in Scandinavia once worshiped trees. When theybecame Christmas, they made evergreen trees part of Christian festivals.

The custom of decorating homes and churches with evergreensbegan in ancient times. The Romans exchanged green tree branches for goodluck on the first day of January.

The Germans were probably the first to use Christmas decorations.They decorated the tree with stars, angles, toys, gilded nuts and candieswrapped in bright papers. Later, they added tinsel and lighted candles.In the United States early decorations included homemade paper ornamentswith candy canes, strings of cranberries and popcorn. Today, many Americansuse shiny colored balls and strings of colored electric lights.

The star is used everywhere as a Christmas symbol. It representsthe star in the East which the wise men followed to Bethlehem.

Lights at Christmas represent Christ as the light of theworld. Martin Luther was perhaps the first man to use lights on a Christmastree. (2) People in Ireland leave a candle burning in the window to lightthe way for the Christ Child on Christmas Eve. In the United States, manychurches hold candlelight services on Christmas Eve.

The mistletoe decorates many homes in the United States,Canada, and Europe at Christmas time. No one knows exactly how the mistletoebecame connected with Christmas. Ancient priests called Druids used to givepeople sprigs of the plant as a charm. Hundreds of years ago, some peoplein Europe used it at religious gatherings. People today often hand a pieceof this pale green plant over doorways. Anyone caught standing under itmust give a kiss to the person catching him.

Nearly every Catholic Church in the world has its mangerscene or crib. St. Francis is said to have started the custom. On ChristmasEve in 1224, he is supposed to have set up a stable in a corner of a villagechurch near Assis with real persons, and animals to represent those of thefirst Christmas. (3)

Today, the usual manger scene is a hill built of stones,covered with moss or greens. The figures of Mary and Joseph are near thecradle. In the background are the animals, shepherds, and wise men. Abovethe hill are suspended angles, or a star or dove.

Traditional songs, called carols, add to the beauty andfellowship of the Christmas season. They probably began in the early churchwhen accompanied by songs of joy. Nativity plays told the story of Christ'sbirth.

Outdoor carol singing seems to have started in the MiddleAges when groups of people went from house to house to sing by torchlight.(4)

Giving presents is part of Christmas. The custom seemsto go back to the ancient Romans who distributed gifts during their midwinterfestival. In the Bible story, the wise men brought gifts to the Christ Childthe twelfth after his birth.

The exact date of Christ's birth is not known. For thefirst two centuries, while Christians were being persecuted for their newfaith, the Christian church did not celebrate Christmas. Soon after A.D.200, however, Christmas was observed, but on various dates - especiallyJanuary 6, March 25, and December 25. By the middle of the 4th century,the Roman Catholic church was celebrating Christmas on December 25. Later,various branches of the Orthodox Eastern Church also accepted December 25for observing Christ's birthday.

Many people today write "Xmas" instead of Christmas.This form of the name originated in the early Christian Church. In Greek,"X" is the first letter of Christ's name. It was frequently usedas a holy symbol.

Christmas today affects most industries because of themillions of persons who buy products of all kinds as gifts. Manufacturersoften begin planning the next year's Christmas sales as soon as the holidaysare over.

Merchants sell more of almost every kind of product duringthe Christmas season than at any other time of the year. Stores in the UnitedStates depend on Christmas shoppers for a fourth of the sales they makeduring the entire year. Many persons take part-time jobs selling or deliveringChristmas gifts.

Thousands of workers design, manufacture, and sell Christmascards. The Christmas tree industry employs thousands more for a short timeeach year. About half the Christmas trees used in the United States comefrom Canadian forests. Many towns in the United States also ship Christmastrees. Thousands of persons work all year manufacturing the lights, ornaments,and tinsel that decorate Christmas trees. Merchants also sell holly, mistletoe,pine cones, and evergreens as Christmas decorations.

Christmas time has not always been a time of celebration.The pilgrim fathers firmly believe that to celebrate was to violate thespirit of Christmas. The General Court of Massachusetts in 1659 passed alaw forbidding anyone to miss his day's work on December 25th. A fine offive shillings was levied against those who disobeyed, especially if theyhad been caught feasting or caroling.

Nowadays, some Americans feel that the religious significanceof Christmas suffers from too much commercialism. Some people get disgustedabout all the lights on houses, the numerous Santa Clauses in stores, andthe practice of mailing printed greetings to a "list" insteadof sending personal greetings to individuals.

But Christmas is a religious and a family day, and on ChristmasEve store managers and employees alike come home for Christmas.

Family groups sit around the pile of cards they've receivedover the past weeks and exchange memories of the friends who sent them.From midnight Christmas Eve to noon Christmas Day, churches are filled fortheir various services. Each pastor must surely note almost forgotten facesbut nevertheless he is happy that his church family, too, is home for anold-time Christmas.

 

(1) Tom MacPherson, "Home for an Old-time Christmas",Boys Life, 1975 pp. 10-13

(2) Elizabeth Hough Sechrist, "Christmas" WorldBook Encyclopedia, volume 3, p. 323

(3) "Christmas" Comptons Encyclopedia, volume3, p. 232

(4) Ibid

Bibliography

"Christmas", Comptons Encyclopedia, Volume 3,p. 323

MacPherson, Tom, "Home for an Old-time Christmas"Boys Life, pp. 10-13, December, 1973

Sechrist, Elizabeth Hough, "Christmas", WorldBook Encyclopedia, Volume 3, p. 409

Turner, Eldon, Humboldt, MN, Interview - January 20, 1975ot;Christmas", WorldBook Encyclopedia, Volume 3, p. 409

Turner, Eldon, Humboldt, MN, Interview - January 20, 1975