The Christmas The Twelve Days of Christmas
Christmas has been celebrated a twelve day period that starts
Traditions with Christmas day. Catholics in England during the period 1558
to 1829 were prohibited from any practice of their faith by law
— private or public. It was a crime to be a Catholic. “The
Twelve Days of Christmas” was written as one of the ‘catechism
Why & When …Christmas?
songs’ to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith dur-
The name “Christmas” comes from the words “Christ” and
ing that period when to be caught with anything in ‘writing’ in-
“mass,” that means “to celebrate.” So not only is Jesus the rea-
dicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you
son for the season, but worship of Christ is the reason for the
imprisoned, but could also get you hanged, drawn and quartered.
name of the season.
In the Roman Empire, by the time of Christ a winter festival The song goes, “On the first day of Christmas my true love
was celebrated as Saturnalia to Saturn, the god of agriculture. gave to me...” The “true love” represents God and the “me”
December 25th specifically coincided the day of the birth of who receives these presents is the Christian.
Phyrgia, a sun-god in the ancient Balkans. Since the 4th century The “partridge in a pear tree” was Jesus Christ who died on
the church has transformed it into a Christian celebration, origi- a tree as a gift from God. The “two turtle doves” were the Old
nally the Feast of the Nativity. and New Testaments — another gift from God. The “three
The Three Kings French hens” were faith hope and love — the three gifts of the
They are sometimes called “Magi” or “Wise Men.” The word Spirit that abide (I Corinthians 13). The “four calling birds”
“magi” come from the Greek word used in the New Testament were the four Gospels which sing the song of salvation through
“magoi” which means magician. But the “magic” that these wise Jesus Christ. The “five golden rings” were the first five books of
men practiced was probably closer to natural science than magic. the Bible. The “six geese a-laying” were the six days of crea-
The Magi are sometimes called Kings or Wise men because tion. The “seven swans a swimming” were seven gifts of the
Magi were often hired by Kings because of their great wisdom to Holy Spirit. (I Cor. 12:8-11, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter
administer their kingdoms. 4:10-11) The “eight maids a milking” were the eight beatitudes.
The Bible simply says that wise men came from the east fol- The “nine ladies dancing” were nine fruits of the Holy
lowing a star. Many ancient peoples believe that a new star in Spirit.(Galatians 5:22-23) The “ten lords a-leaping” were the
the sky signaled the birth of a great king(Matthew 2:1-12). Ten Commandments. The “eleven pipers piping” were the
Somehow these scholars concluded that the Star of Bethlehem eleven faithful disciples. The “twelve drummers drumming”
signaled the birth of the King of Kings, Jesus. Where the Bible were the twelve points of the Apostles’ Creed.
leaves off, tradition fills in the gaps. The Christmas Tree
The number of wise men nor the presence of camels are not The origins of the Christian Christmas Tree can be traced to
mentioned in Matthew but come from prophesy. Isaiah foretold, St. Boniface (8th century) who as a missionary to the Germanic
“The young camels of Midain and Ephah; all those from Sheba tribes used the triangular shape of evergreen trees as a symbol of
shall come. They shall bring Gold and Frankincense, and shall the trinity. The legend says that St. Boniface came upon some
proclaim the praise of the Lord.” Matthew reports that the wise people preparing to sacrifice a child to an oak tree. In an attempt
men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, perhaps implying to stop the sacrifice he grabbed the ceremonial ax and in one
three wise men. Tradition even gives these three Kings names: blow cut down the oak tree. Where it fell, a small fir tree sprang
Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. from its stump. “Here is a living tree,” he said. “Bring the tree
The wise men are usually depicted as arriving on the night into the light of your homes to remind you of the everlasting
that Jesus was born. In truth they probably arrived perhaps two light that is yours in Christ. This tree shall be called the tree of
years after Jesus’ birth. Matthew says that they went to a house the Christ-child, for tonight we celebrate the birth of the Savior.”
not a stable to bring their gifts. It also says that Herod ordered all By the 11th century evergreen trees were decorated with apples
the children two year and under killed based on when the Magi and bread to symbolize the Tree of Live and the Tree of the
said the star appeared. So based on this we can guess that Jesus Knowledge of Good and Evil told about in Genesis. It was re-
was about two years old when the Kings came representing all ferred to as the Paradise tree and used in religious plays.
the Gentiles that have come to believe in Jesus.
Martin Luther is said to have seen starlight glistening off the
The gifts of the Magi icicles on an evergreen tree on his way home from a Christmas
Gold is a symbol of Jesus’ Kingship. But even as the King of eve service. It so reminded him of Jesus the light of the world
Kings his crown on earth would be a crown of thorns. that he cut the small tree down and took it inside and decorated it
Frankincense was one of the ingredients in the holy anointing with candles to illustrate what he saw. By the mid-1500s,
oil (Ex. 30:34) and placed on the showbread in the tabernacle Christmas markets were set up in German towns, supplying
(Lv. 24:7). As priest, Jesus would also offer the sacrifice for the shaped gingerbreads and wax ornaments for people to buy as
sins of the world and would go before God to intercede for us. souvenirs of the fair and to take home to hang on their Christmas
Trees. Tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610.
Myrrh. Although precious like gold and frankincense, myrrh
was used mainly as for anointing the dead. Myrrh reminds us The tradition of the Christmas tree was exported to England
that Jesus came to die - for the sins of the world. He came to die through royalty from Germany, and by the 1870’s, glass orna-
for your sins and my sins. ments were adorning more elaborate trees. The customs and
decorations came to America through German and English im-
migrants. In the last few decades, the Chrismon tree was used to
illustrate Christian symbols.
Family Celebrations, by Ann Hibbard
Holly. According to Christian tradition the pointy leaves repre- This tradition continued throughout Europe until the Protes-
sent the thorns of Christ’s Crown. The perennial green leaves tant Reformation, when Martin Luther argued against the wor-
represent eternal life. The red berries represent the blood shed ship of saints, and St. Nicholas was phased out of many Christ-
for our salvation. mas celebrations. Ironically, instead of St. Nicholas, England
adopted a Father Christmas figure who was not related to the
Poinsettia. The plant is seen as a symbol of the Star of Bethle-
church. They came up with Father Christmas, a character
hem. Red leaves symbolize the blood of Christ and white leaves
evolved out of the Roman god Saturn, who was worshipped in
represent his purity.
England after the Romans invaded in A.D. 43. Father Christmas
The Poinsettia was named for Joel Robert Poinsett, a native was portrayed as a large man who wore a scarlet robe lined with
of South Carolina was serving as an ambassador in Mexico fur and a crown of holly, ivy, or mistletoe.
when he came across the plant. In 1829 he sent some home from
The American Santa Claus is actually a combination of St.
Mexico to South Carolina, where they did very well in his
Nicholas and Father Christmas, and also includes elements from
Norse mythology. He was brought to the United States under the
Mistletoe. The Druid priests would distribute it to the people guise of Sinter Klass when the Dutch settled New Amsterdam in
who would place the cuttings over the doorways of their homes 1624. When the British seized the city in 1664, renaming it New
to protect the dwellers from evil. www.carm.org/ York, they brought the character of Father Christmas with them.
Santa Claus The two figures merged into Santa Claus, who was then popular-
Santa Claus traces his lineage directly to St. Nicholas, a 4th- ized throughout the United States during the 19th century by the
century bishop in Myra, a region in present-day Turkey. Born in writings of Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore, and
about 270 A.D. to a wealthy family, both of Nicholas´ parents the drawings of Thomas Nast. He created the image of Santa as a
died of the plague when he was still young, but Nicholas decided white-bearded, pot-bellied, jolly man.
to forsake his fortune and dedicate his life to charity. As the leg- Yet the original figure would humbly deflect attention from
end goes, the teen-age Nicholas saved each of three daughters of himself, saying,
a poor man from prostitution by throwing bags of gold through “I am Nicholas, a sinner. Nicholas, servant of Christ Jesus.”
his window for their dowry. On the third occasion, the teenage
The Candy Cane Tradition
Nicholas was mortified to be discovered in this act of charity and
made the father promise not to tell anyone who had helped his Sometime during the latter part of the 18th century in Eng-
family. Then Nicholas forsook his wealth to answer a call to the land, when all religious symbols were banned from public dis-
ministry. play, no longer could Christian's recognize one another by any
time of symbolic jewelry, clothing etc. It was during this time it
Nicholas was chosen Bishop of the region in answer to a vi-
is told that there was a Christian candy maker who set out to find
sion. In the habit of rising very early and going to the church to
some way for members of the Christian family to identify.
pray, one morning Nicholas found an aged minister in the sanc-
tuary asked, “Who are you, my son?” White candy to signify purity and the holiness of Jesus
Christ. (Isaiah 1:18 …though your sins be as scarlet, they shall
“Nicholas the sinner,” the young minister replied. “And I am
be as white as snow…)
Shaped as a shepherds staff to remind us that our Heavenly
“Come with me,” the old priest directed. Nicholas followed
Father is the Good Shepherd. (John 10:11 I am the good shep-
him to a room where the bishops had assembled. The elderly
herd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.)
minister addressed the gathering. “I had a vision that the first
one to enter the church in the morning should be the new bishop Three small red stripes around the candy represent the en-
of Myra. Here is that man: Nicholas.” compassing power and presence of the Trinity. (Matthew 28:19
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the
Renowned for his generosity, especially to children, Nicholas
name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost)
suffered through Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the Chris-
tians. Savage tortures were unleashed on Christians all over the A single bold red stripe throughout the candy to demonstrate
empire. Believers were fed to wild animals. Some were forced to the redeeming power and the blood Christ shed upon the cross
fight gladiators. Yet persecution couldn’t stamp out Christianity. for each of us, and the forgiveness of sins. (Ephesians 1:7 In
Rather it spread. Third Century leader Tertullian observed, “The whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of
blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Those who sur- sins, according to the riches of his grace. Revelation 19:13 And
vived Diocletian’s torture chambers were called “saints” or he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is
“confessors” by the people, because they didn’t forsake their called The Word of God.)
confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Nicholas was one of these. The candy cane is one reminder of the love God has for us
Freed by decree of the new Emperor Constantine, Nicholas and the price he paid for our salvation.
served his people for another thirty years. He loved children and
often went out at night disguised in a hooded cloak, to leave nec- Christmas has pagan origins. It is a highly commercial time.
essary gifts of money, clothing or food at the windows of Many do not have their eyes on Jesus. But for the Christian, it is
unfortunate families. Nicholas participated in the famous Coun- a time to reflect upon and celebrate the birth of our Lord.
cil of Nicea in 325 A.D. He died on December 6, about 343 He is the gift — We are the reason!
A.D., which became annually commemorated in the pageant of
St. Nicholas with presents delivered to the children the night
before Dec. 6.