Where do our Christmas traditions originate

Ever wondered where all these traditions come from that circulate around the Christmas festival?

Perhaps the best known symbol for the Christmas Season is the Christmas Tree. It’s been attributed to Martin Luther as the first to decorate an evergreen (as the symbol of the tree of life) during the stark cold dreary winter months when all colour had been drained ever since Autumn saw the last of the leaves fall. Winter would eventually give way with its long dark grey days to the spring sunshine as it melts away the snow and brings forth an abundant spectacle of life. Luther had just two decorations: the red apples stored in the cellar became a symbol of the forbidden fruit that lead Adam and Eve to fall into sin once they had succumbed to the Devils temptation. Then Luther continued to explain the Gospel message by placing candles on the branches to point to Christ as the light of the world and to all who believe in him who have been transferred into his kingdom of light and life. That began the tradition of decorating our homes and the Christmas Tree all around the world – even in hot climates like ours.

Santa is another favourite. His identity goes back to the mid-300AD when as the local bishop he would help out orphans and widows. There was no welfare. The church took on that responsibility in their community. Many hundreds years later the pope declared him a saint and he became the patron saint of children and orphans. For centuries he was known as St.Nicolas and his Saint Day was on December 6th when kids hung out stockings or their boots to find them filled with goodies, nuts, fruits, and sweets. In the 1920’s a Coca-Cola advertising campaign in America painted him into the jolly fat man in a red suit as we still have him today. The campaign slogan was ‘the drink for all seasons.’ So much for the power of marketing. ‘Santa Claus’ was how the Dutch pronounced his name (Saint Nicolas); it stuck for convenience and became so popular that we lost the focus that “Christ is the real reason for the Season.”

Of cause, different places and cultures have all added their version to this festive season. Some to point to Christ with thanks to God’s majestic miracle of coming amongst us, while others find it a good excuse for party and holidays. But amongst it all, it has stayed as a season for family to get together. Just as Mary and Joseph travelled for the census count to go back to their family location, so we still travel today to spend time with family. God blessed families everywhere by coming into the world born as a baby – just like us all.

Please keep those families in your prayers who are missing their loved ones, or are in grief over their loss, or are filled with sorrow and anguish because of broken homes and lost relationship. As Luther saw an opportunity during winter to share the message of hope by decorating a tree, or St.Nicolas found a way to look after those less fortunate, so maybe we can also bring hope and good cheer to those who need it at this time. After all, the Gospel is meant to be ‘Good News.’ Let’s share more of that blessing around over the coming year.

Pastor Dirk Willner,
Christmas 2016.