Why gifts at Christmas?

2015-12-16 06:00
 The modern Santa Claus has been in American folklore since the late 18th century.

The modern Santa Claus has been in American folklore since the late 18th century.

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THE giving of gifts at Christmas time has perhaps overwhelmed the true meaning of the time be that as it may it is a firmly entrenched tradition.

It is sometimes said that the tradition of gift-giving started with the three wise men, who visited Jesus and gave him gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold.

During Saturnalia, children would often be given gifts of wax dolls - an act with a rather macabre history itself - the dolls were used to represent human sacrifices that Rome had given to Saturn in the past as payment for good harvests.

Boughs of certain trees and other plant matter were also common gifts during Saturnalia, and were used to represent bounty and good harvests.

Does the use of Xmas instead of Christmas concern you? It should not. While some believe it is an attempt to "keep the Christ out of Christmas", the true origins have a strong basis in Christianity. In the abbreviation, the X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. Jesus' name has also been abbreviated as XP, a combination of the first and second letters of the Greek word for Christ. From XP comes the labarum, a holy symbol in Orthodox Christianity that represents Jesus.

In many countries Father Xmas is also known as Saint Nicholas, who is thought to be the founder of the Christmas stockings for gifts. The practice of stocking-stuffing can be traced back to his charitable donations in the 4th century. Nicholas believed that childhood should be savoured and enjoyed - but in a time where boys and girls younger than 10 had to work to support their families, this was not always possible.

He therefore gave what he could in homemade food, clothes and furniture. The bishop even gave out oranges, which would have been very rare and expensive in Lycia, where he lived. The problem became where to leave these gifts so that the children would find them. According to legends, he then saw girls' stockings hanging above the fireplace, and from then on, children would hang stockings up hoping that Saint Nicholas would visit them that night.

The modern Christmas tree differs greatly from its roots; today, we decorate an everlasting, artificial construct with bright lights and dazzling ornaments, while traditionally, the tree was real and decorated with apples and nuts. The tradition, as with that of the wreath, started with the elements symbolised by evergreens in pre-Christian winter festivals - immortality and fortitude.

The worship of trees was very common in European druidism and paganism. In Christian tradition, trees were often put up in December to serve the dual purpose of warding off the devil and allowing a perch for whatever birds still remained. Evergreen trees decorated with apples and wafers were also used in Christmas Eve plays during the Middle Ages to represent the tree from which Adam and Eve at the forbidden fruit.

Christmas carols grew out of the first Christmas hymns, which developed in 4th century Rome. While these Latin hymns were sung in church for generations, the first true carols developed in France, Germany, and Italy in the 13th century. These carols, written in the vernacular language of the area they were composed, were sung at community events and festivals. They were not composed specifically as Christmas carols, but rather as conglomerate holiday songs.

Later on, the songs would become associated primarily with Christmas and sung in churches. Carols in Protestant churches were more numerous, since the Protestant movement encouraged music.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which perches on a tree branch and absorbs nutrients from the trunk. Mistletoe has a large mythological background across many cultures.

The Greeks believed that Aeneas, the famous ancestor of the Romans, carried a sprig of mistletoe in the form of the legendary golden bough. In Eddic tradition, mistletoe was the only thing able to kill the god Baldur, since it had not sworn an oath to leave him alone.

Among other pre-Christian cultures, mistletoe was believed to carry the male essence, and by extension, romance, fertility, and vitality.

Its use as decoration stems from the fact that it was believed to protect homes from fire and lightning. It was commonly hung at Christmas time only to remain there all year until being replaced by another sprig next Christmas. The process by which mistletoe became associated with kissing is currently unknown, but it was first recorded in 16th century England as a very popular practice.

There are variations on how Father Christmas, Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas plays such an important role at this time. The Dutch Sinterklaas, was the main inspiration for Santa Claus. He is nearly identical to Santa - he wears red and white, knows if you're naughty or nice, and has elf helpers referred to as Zwarte Piet. However, the legend takes on a much darker legend when one hears that the Zwarte Piet's duties also include punishing naughty children with "jute bags and willow canes". He also differs from Santa in the facts that he wears a bishop's hat and comes on steam boat from Spain, rather than the North Pole.

Another large influence into Santa's design is the British Father Christmas, a figure developed in the 17th century as the embodiment of holiday joy and mirth. Odin also exists as a potential pagan inspiration for Santa Claus - he led a hunting party with other gods on Yule, a German holiday at roughly the same time as Christmas, he rode Sleipnir, a legendary horse with eight legs - like Santa, he has eight reindeer and he would fill children's boots with candy­ (sweets).

The modern Santa Claus has been in American folklore since the late 18th century.
His name comes from an Americanisation of Sinterklaas.

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