Do you know who made the first Christmas card? Do you know why Christmas is arranged with a ring, bells and light candles? Do you know why do we give each other presents and decorate our homes with Christmas tree?
Bells, ringing in the Christmas, came to us from the pagan winter celebrations. It was believed that at the time when the land is cold, the sun died the evil spirit become stronger. Then the expeling the evil spirits one had to burn fires, to make much noise, to sing, to shout and to ringing bells. Therefore till today at Christmas we can hear ringing bells in churches around the world. In England this death knell for the funeral of the devil, in Scandinavia, the ringing of bells marks the end of the work and the beginning of the holiday, Christians welcome the coming of Christ.
It came to us from Romans who lighted wax candles in holiday named Saturnalia. In Victorian England merchants gave to its permanent customers candles before every holiday. In Christianity, candles are a symbol of the coming of Jesus as the Light of the world, and the victory of light over the darkness and the appearance of the Christmas star.
Appearance of the first Christmas card is bound up with Sir Henri Kohl, who lived in London and being too lazy to write number of greetings to his friends decided in 1843 to print out special cards saying: “Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.” In the same year, Englishman Horsley drew out the first Christmas card, which was sold in an edition of 1000 copies. In 1875 publisher Louis Prang Christmas had held the first competition for the best design Christmas cards.
The tradition of giving gifts came to us from ancient Roman holiday – Saturnalia and Calends. According to legend, the first Emperor of Rome, Romulus Augustulus received gifts at the first day of a year that included cut branches of fruit trees from the forest goddess Sterna. Then people began to gather branches to give it to each other as a symbol of good luck. Later inhabitants of ancient Rome began to give each other with branches also jewelry, pictures of gods and a variety of delicacies.
Traditionally, the giver of gifts is considered to be Saint Nicholas. Also, it can be Jesus or some of various saints, Santa Claus and Christmas gnomes. There are their own gift givers in each country. For instance Finns get Christmas gifts from invisible men, in Italy – this is fairy-old Befana. Actually Epiphany is celebrated January 6. In Italy Epiphany is celebrated with the tradition of La Befana bringing presents to children. Befana (Epiphany) was traveling to Bethlehem, where she had to meet Magi, who hastened with gifts to the newborn Jesus, and asked to speak to him. But instead of an invitation she received an offer to fly through the country and bestow obedient kids sweets. This funny old lady dressed in a long coat and holey stockings wandered to Italy, and she liked the country so that she decided to settle there permanently. According to legend, Befana was sweeping the floor, when the soothsayers thought better of it and decided to still call the old lady look at the Infant Jesus. She said she was busy. Later, she changed her mind, but it was too late. And now every year she goes from house to house in search of the Holy Child, leaving gifts for him in every home.
On Christmas morning, boys and girls around the world will waken early and run excitedly downstairs to see what Santa Claus has left for them…
Well, that’s not exactly how it goes — for around the world children celebrate the Christmas holidays in many different ways.
In Germany, the 6th of December is a special day:
…There’s a special tradition all over Germany on December 6th. [On] the evening of December 5th you put your cleaned (big) boots outside the house in front of the door (or inside). Some people also put a plate there or on the windowsill. The bread in the plate is for the white horse of Santa Claus … In the morning you see that Santa Claus really was at your house and put nice things into the boots or plates, e.g., all kinds of nuts, oranges, apples, sweets, chocolate, small presents … But if you [weren't] well behaved the whole year you only get a switch so that your parents can punish you, but they don’t!
Kristine and Wiebke, Germany
And in Italy, January 6th is a day long-awaited by many children:
The 6th of January is the day on which the three Wise Men arrive at the Bethlehem cave in which kid Jesus is and give him gold, incense and myrrh and for this reason in Italy children receive presents traditionally brought by the “Befana,” a good old witch who comes into their homes through the chimney. This is the last day to the Christmas holiday in Italy.
In Sweden, December 13th is a special day that children look forward to all year long:
Saint Lucia [Day] is celebrated all over Sweden on December 13th. The custom with the girl dressed in white with candles on her head has a complicated background … In our school we celebrate Saint Lucia Day outside very early in the morning while it’s still dark. Our Saint Lucia is coming in a carriage pulled by a very small horse. She is followed by Santa Claus on a big horse and a lot of girls and boys in white gowns and a lot of candles. They all sing traditional Christmas songs and read poems. After the ceremony we all eat ginger cookies and bread with saffron. To celebrate is very important to Swedish people.
Class 4c in Nasbyparksskolan