You remember the star of Bethlehem that was so bright the Magi thought it of extreme significance that perhaps they should follow it and behold there was the Christ child in its beam. What if it wasn’t A star. It has been theorized that the star of Bethlehem may have been a conjunction of two stars. There was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn beginning in the year 7 B.C. Also, there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and the bright star Regulus beginning in the year 3 B.C. Jupiter was often considered the king of the gods, and Regulus was considered the “king star.” Did such a conjunction announce the birth of the King of kings? Although neither of the above conjunctions was close enough to appear as a single star. In the year 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus moved so close to each other that they briefly appeared to merge into a single bright star. Such an event is extremely rare and may have been perceived as highly significant to the Magi.
One of the main reasons we have the custom of giving and receiving presents at Christmas, is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the Wise Men.
Frankincense: a perfume used in Jewish worship and, as a gift, it showed that people would worship Jesus.
Gold: associated with Kings and Christians believe that Jesus is the King of Kings.
Myrrh: a perfume that was put on dead bodies to make them smell nice and, as a gift, it showed that Jesus would suffer and die.
Christmas is really about a big present that God gave the world about 2000 years ago – Jesus
All over the world, families and friends give presents to each other. Most children around the world believe in a Christmas gift bringer. It’s often St. Nicholas, Santa Claus or Father Christmas, but in Germany they believe that it is the Christkind, in Spain they believe it is the Wise Men and in Italy they believe it is an old lady called Befana.
*History of Santa Clause*
The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).
One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold (sometimes told as a gold ball) appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. That is why three gold balls (sometimes represented as oranges) are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.
Another story of St. Nicholas takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave/ cupbearer. For the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. As the next St. Nicholas’ feast day approached, Basilios’ mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios’ safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.
Another story tells of three theological students, traveling on their way to study in Athens. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, hiding their remains in a large pickling tub. It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, traveling along the same route, stopped at this very inn. In the night he dreamed of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper. As Nicholas prayed earnestly to God the three boys were restored to life and wholeness. In France the story is told of three small children, wandering in their play until lost, lured, and captured by an evil butcher. St. Nicholas appears and appeals to God to return them to life and to their families.
When he was young, Nicholas sought the holy by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus walked, he sought to more deeply experience Jesus’ life, passion, and resurrection. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers.
Other stories tell of Nicholas saving his people from famine, sparing the lives of those innocently accused, and much more. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is venerated in the East as wonder, or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of persons-children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers! He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need
Nicholas’ tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari succeeded in spiriting away the bones, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas’ crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe’s great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as “Saint in Bari.” To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari’s great Basilica di San Nicola.
December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. The 5th, the eve of the day, is celebrated by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint’s horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.
One popular way of giving presents in groups such as clubs, school classes and workplaces is to have a ‘Secret Santa’. This is where you pull the name of someone else in the group out of a container. You then buy a present for that person. When the presents are given out (often at a Christmas party) each person is given their present but they have no idea which person in the group bought it for them!
*Physics of Santa Clause*
There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. Santa Clause doesn’t (appear to) handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children. That reduces the workload to 15% of the total – 378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 91.8 million homes. One presumes there’s at least one good child in each. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth, we are now talking about 0.78 miles/1.26km per household, a total trip of about 76 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding etc.
This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 mph. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man- made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per
*History of the Christmas Tree*
In the 7th century a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, went to Germany to teach the Word of God. 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.
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.
In the mid 16th century, Christmas markets were set up in German towns. At these fairs, bakers made shaped gingerbreads and wax ornaments for people to buy as souvenirs of the fair, and take home to hang on their Christmas Trees.
The early trees were biblically symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden. The many food items were symbols of plenty, the flowers, originally only red (for Knowledge) and White (for Innocence).
The Christmas Tree first came to England with the Georgian Kings who came from Germany. At this time also, German Merchants living in England decorated their homes with a Christmas Tree. The decorations were Tinsels, silver wire ornaments, candles and small beads. The custom was to have several small trees on tables, one for each member of the family, with that person’s gifts stacked on the table under the tree.
In 1846 decorations were still of a ‘home-made’ variety. Young Ladies spent hours at Christmas Crafts, quilling snowflakes and stars, sewing little pouches for secret gifts and paper baskets with sugared almonds in them. Small bead decorations, fine drawn out silver tinsel came from Germany together with beautiful Angels to sit at the top of the tree. Candles were often placed into wooden hoops for safety.
In 1850’s Lauscha began to produce fancy shaped glass bead garlands for the trees, and short garlands made from necklace ‘bugles’ and beads. These were readily available in Germany but not produced in sufficient quantities to export to Britain. The Rauschgoldengel was a common sight. Literally, ‘Tingled-angel’, bought from the Thuringian Christmas markets, and dressed in pure gilded tin.
The 1860’s English Tree had become more innovative than the delicate trees of earlier decades. Small toys were popularly hung on the branches, but still most gifts were placed on the table under the tree.
Around this time, The Mediterranean countries were not too interested in the tree, preferring to display only a Creche scene. Italy had a wooden triangle platform tree called as ‘CEPPO’. This had a Creche scene as well as decorations.
The German tree was beginning to suffer from mass destruction. It had become the fashion to lop off the tip off a large tree to use as a Christmas Tree, which prevented the tree from growing further. Statutes were made to prevent people having more than one tree.
The early trees introduced into America by the Hessian soldiers were not recorded in any particular quantity. The Pennsylvanian German settlements had community trees as early as 1747.
By the 1870’s, Glass ornaments were being imported into Britain from Lauscha, in Thuringia. It became a status symbol to have glass ornaments on the tree, the more one had, the better ones status! Still many home-made things were seen. The popular tree topper was the Nation’s Flag making trees very patriotic.
They were imported into America around 1880. They were quickly followed by American patents for electric lights (1882), and metal hooks for safer hanging of decorations onto the trees (1892)
The 1880’s saw a rise of the Aesthetic Movement. The limited availability of decorations in earlier decades had kept trees by necessity to, usually table trees with decorations as well as crafts more popular than ever. Still a status symbol, the larger the tree – the more affluent the family which sported it.
The High Victorian trees of the 1890’s were as tall as the room, and crammed with glitter and tinsel and toys galore. Even the ‘middleclasses’ managed to over-decorate their trees. It was a case of ‘anything goes’. Everything that could possibly go on a tree went onto it.
By 1900 themed trees were popular. A colour theme set in ribbons or balls, a topical idea such as an Oriental Tree, or an Egyptian Tree.
After Queen Victoria died, the country went into mourning, and the tree somehow died with her for a while in many homes. While some families and community groups still had large tinsel strewn trees, many opted for the more convenient table top tree. The artificial tree, particularly the Goose Feather Tree, became popular. These were originally invented in the 1880’s in Germany, to combat some of the damage being done to Fir trees in the name of Christmas.
In America, the Addis Brush Company created the first brush trees, using the same machinery which made their toilet brushes! These had an advantage over the feather tree in that they would take heavier decorations.
After 1918, because of licensing and export problems, Germany was not able to export its decorations easily. The market was quickly taken up by Japan and America, especially in Christmas Tree lights. Britain’s Tom Smith Cracker Company which has exported Christmas goods for over three decades, began to manufacture trees themselves for a short while.
In the 1930’s there was a revival of Dickensian nostalgia. Christmas cards all sported Crinoline ladies with muffs and bonnets popular in the 1840’s. Christmas Trees became large, and real again, and were decorated with many bells, balls and tinsels, and with a beautiful golden haired angel at the top. But during wartime England it was forbidden to cut trees down for decoration, and with so many raids, many people preferred small tabletop tree with home-made decorations, which could be taken down into the shelters for a little Christmas cheer, when the air-raid sirens went. Large trees were erected however in public places to give morale to the people at this time.
Postwar Britain saw a revival of the nostalgic again. Trees were as large as people could afford. Many poorer families still used the tabletop Goosefeather trees, Americas Addis Brush Trees But the favourites were still real trees. The popular decorations were all Translucent plastic lock together shapes, Honeycomb paper Angels, ‘glow-in the -dark icicles; also Polish glass balls and birds In South Wales, where real trees were often difficult to find in the rural areas, Holly Bushes were decorated.
The mid-1960’s Silver aluminium trees were imported from America. The ‘Silver Pine’ tree, patented in the 1950’s, was designed to have a revolving light source under it, with coloured gelatine ‘windows, which allowed the light to shine in different shades as it revolved under the tree. No decorations were needed for this tree.
Decorations became sparse. Glass balls and lametta created an ‘elegant’ modern tree. Of course, many families ignored fashion and carried on putting their own well loved decorations on their trees!
America made a return to Victorian nostalgia in the 1970’s, and it was a good decade later that Britain followed the fashion.
Real Christmas Trees were popular, but many housewives preferred the convenience of the authentic looking artificial trees which were being manufactured. There are even pine scented sprays to put on the tree for that ‘real tree smell’!
The late 1990’s tree has taken the Victorian idea, but with new themes and conceptual designs. The Starry Starry Night Tree, The Twilight Tree, The Snow Queen Tree…..