Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday Traditions

This is the holiday season, so this blog is all about Christmas traditions. With so many people in the shopping mood trying to select the perfect gift for giving, I thought I'd start with a bit of history about that custom.

December 6th is in many countries the traditional day for giving gifts to children. It happens to be the feast day of St. Nicholas, called the first Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Nicholas was the bishop Myra in the 3rd century. He was known as someone who would help, especially sailors and children.

The idea of gifts on his feast day results from the story of three young women. First, it's important to know that if a woman didn't have a husband during this time, she had no place in society. She was usually sold into slavery to become a servant or a concubine, often abused and traded from one owner to another. Not a great life to say the least.

Supposedly, there was man with little resources who had three beautiful daughters, but no money to offer as a dowry, a necessary part of a marriage contract in those days. No dowry, no husband, and with their looks, they were destined to lead a terrible life.

According to the legend, the oldest daughter was about to be sold when, the night before, a bag of gold coins came through their window, landing in the woman's shoe which she had left by the fire to dry. There was more than enough gold to secure her a good husband.

The same thing happened to the second and then the third daughter. Each woman was provided with enough money to marry well. The gift was attributed to St. Nicholas. So, gift giving became a tradition, something to do for children on December 6th, gifts in the shoes left by the fireplace.

Here's another tradition that goes way back and which most don't know. This concerns our Christmas tree. The fir tree was a favorite of the Druids of England, and that's probably where the tradition began. Even with Christianity taking the place of the pagan religions, people clung to their old traditions and honored the fir tree. The early priests used those traditions and so it was with the fir tree.

In the medieval ages, the days before Christmas, which was a religious feast day, not the kind of celebrations we have today, everyone gathered in the chapels and churches to hear the story of creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, and on Christmas day, the birth of Christ. None of the serfs or peasants and usually their masters could read or had books available so the stories were related in their churches.

The Adam and Eve story was always related the day before Christmas. The serpent, the apple and a tree were part of the story, so early on the 24th, the men of the place cut down a fir tree and placed it outside the church. After the story of the fall was told in church, apples were hung from the branches of the tree, meant to remind all about the story told in the church. The tradition died out for a while and then was revived in Germany, the tree decorated with red bobbles the day before Christmas. So surprisingly the first Christmas tree came from England years before the Germans' contribution.

Enjoy your gift giving which traditionally should be on December 6th and remember the original Christmas tree, a gift from England.

Merry Christmas! And may everyone have a happy holiday season.

Allison Knight


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Very informative, Allison.