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Christmas Traditions

© Beverley Paine

Christmas is a special time of year. For many it is merely a cultural holiday, the deeply religious significance overshadowed by centuries of tradition, now overlayed with an overwhelming commercial influence. It is hard to loose track of the real meaning of Christmas, and this often varies in definition from person to person. However people celebrate this time of year it is a fascinating one, rich in history, with many interesting facts, theories and stories to be told. Here are some I have dug up over the years - hope you find them interesting!

Santa Claus

In Asia Minor , in about 250-350 AD, lived Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. He was known for his great generosity, and his love of children. It is said that he often went in disguise to give presents to the poor. As stories of his good deeds spread, people began to think of St Nicholas as the donor of unexpected presents in general.

During the 11th century, the saint's remains were carried back to the Italian city of Bari , and became enshrined as a centre of pilgrimage. The stories about him were taken by pilgrims throughout Europe , and he became known as Sanct Nikolaas or Kriss Kringle in Germany , and Saint Nicholaas or Sinterklaas in Holland . Dutch colonists carried his legend around the world, and in many places he became known as Santa Claus, or Father Christmas. He was thought of as a little rotund man, and his present day character was gradually developed by illustrators in the 19th century.

Santa Claus traditionally arrives, bearing gifts of toys and food or candy, on Christmas Eve, but in some countries arrives on December 6th, the feast day of Saint Nicholas. In Spain he is replaced by the Three Wise Men, who are said to pass through on their way to Bethlehem each year, and the children receive their gifts on Epiphany.


December 25th was an important holiday long before the rise of Christianity. The Romans knew it as natalis solis invicti - the day of the birth of the unconquered sun. On this day they gave thanks for the lengthening periods of daylight that seemed to mark the rebirth of the sun. This day fell during the great winter festival, the Saturnalia. It was also the most important feast day of the Mithraic religion, one of the chief rivals of early Christianity.

In northern Europe the Teutonic tribes also held a winter festival at the end of December. After the tribes converted to Christianity, many of the traditions and customs were incorporated into the Christmas celebrations.

In the early days of Christianity it became customary to honour saints, martyrs and other distinguished personages on the anniversary of their death rather than birth. Birthday celebrations were a pagan custom, and early Christian theologians were therefore strongly opposed to them. Despite this opposition, many Christians had begun to observe a festival for the birth of Christ by about 200 AD. In 350 Pope Julius I declared that December 25th was the true date of the Nativity. The leaders of the Church willingly accepted this day as the most probable date, and the long standing pagan traditions were integrated into a Christian festival without changing the form of worship.

The Legend Of The Christmas Candle

Many years ago a cobbler and his wife lived in a cottage at the edge of a village in Finland . They had few possessions, but whatever they owned they shared with others. Symbolic of their generous love of humankind was the lighted candle they placed in the window their cottage. Through the years, war, famine and destruction fell upon the village. Yet the cobbler and his wife suffered far less that the other villages.

"There is something special about them. They are often spared from our misfortunes," said the villagers. "Let us put candles in our windows and see if this is the mysterious charm."

Now it happened that the night the first candles were lit in every home, was Christmas Eve, and before the first rays of the morning sun appeared, a messenger rode into the village to bring the great news - Peace has come! That Christmas Day there was awe in the hears of the humble villagers.

The beautiful custom of placing a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve is being observed throughout Scandinavia until today, sending forth a message of Love, Hope and Cheer.

The Tradition of the Christingle

The tradition of the Christingle goes back 500 years. The name means Christ Light - the Christingle itself is an orange representing the world. The candle on top represents the Light of the World. Around the candle are nuts and fruits symbolic of the fruits of the earth. The red ribbon symbols blood.

Children love to make Christingles (eating the ingredients as they do). To do so, make a candle shape hole in the middle of an orange. Push the candle firmly into the orange, making sure it is kept upright. Use the toothpicks to hold dried fruit, jubes, jelly fruit. Almond slivers can be pushed into the orange. Tie a red ribbon with a bow, around the orange using a pin to secure it.

Admire them, decorate the Christmas table with them, have "Carols by Christingle", then eat them!

Russian Christmas

Easter Orthodox Christmas is celebrated in early January. In Russia the children talk at Christmas time of Mama Babouska and wonder what gift she will bring them. Russian children place their shoes beside the fireplace, hoping that Babouska will pile them high with toys and good things They tell a story about Babouska that shows why she loves to be kind to children.

The Christmas Tree

Trees have long been worshipped. It was a common practice to tie tributes of fruit and food shaped as animals tied to the boughs of sacred trees. Oaks were popular in Europe , and Christianity introduced the evergreen tree in the 8th century. The Druids thought that evergreens had magical powers, and considered the mistletoe sacred and effective against evil spirits and disease. The evergreen tree is a symbol of immortality and of the Christian spirit.

Christmas Cards

Christmas cards originated during the 1840's in England , when several men had cards made and sent to their friends. Louis Prang, a printer, introduced them in the USA in 1875. They have increased in popularity ever since!

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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Welcome to the World of Home Education
and Learning without School!

We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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