This post is for letter “D” in the 2016 ABCs of Homeschooling Through the Holidays series, click here to see all posts.
I L.O.V.E. everything about Christmas. In fact, we change course for our homeschool studies starting with Advent. From Advent through New Years, we also study Christmas Around the World including Christmas decorations. There is something about the twinkling of lights, the beautiful colors, nativity scene, the sweet aroma of freshly baked cookies and multitude of decorations that just set the season in place.
Our Christmas Around the World Study begins with a reading of “The ADVENTure of Christmas” by Lisa Welchel. I was always (and still am) mesmerized by the wondrous Christmas decorations, but did not realized the history behind the decorations until we read this wonderful book! We have now been reading it for the last 8 years!
What do all the decorations represent? Allow me to briefly share with you a little bit about the history to get you in the Christmas Spirit.
The Christmas wreath is a tradition that has been around for a long time! Crafted from evergreens, in many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away evil spirits and illness, so they were fairly popular throughout. The word “wreath” is derived from an English word that means “to twist,” as in twisting into a circle. It is said that in Ancient Rome, wreaths were hung on doors to represent victory. In Christianity, we use the Christmas wreath to symbolize Jesus Christ.
Christians would decorate the wreaths with four candles. The candle in the middle was lit on Christmas Eve and would mark the glorious birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas. Lighting the candle for the Light of our world is the perfect tradition. We still use a wreath for decorating our doors and also for Advent. If you want to learn more about Advent, I have a ton of resources!
The Christmas Tree
As with the wreaths, evergreen Christmas trees are a long standing tradition. Introduced in the 16th century by devout Christians in Germany, Christmas trees then were not what they are now. The first record of a Christmas tree display in the United States was in the 1830s, by a group of German settlers in Pennsylvania. Up until the 1840s, Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols, oddly enough.
You can read more about the history of the Christmas tree from the History Channel. It’s neat to see how different traditions were (and still are) all over the world!
Much to everyone's dismay, Christmas lights are not put up to help guide Santa Claus to your house. In the 18th century, putting lights on a tree became popular amongst protestants in Germany. However, during that time they used candles. Some candles were attached to trees with melted wax acting like a glue and others were pinned. You can imagine what a fire hazard this could have been! Around the 1900's glass balls were used to house the candles in, that way it would cut down on the danger….at least a little…sort of. As time progressed, eventually the light bulb was invented. With this invention of glass balls of light, what we know now as Christmas lights came into existence. The shape, design and how they're produced has changed many times over the years. They have become safer with the invention of better equipment. Who remembers turning off the Christmas lights before heading off to bed or leaving the house? My mom always told us the lights might get too hot and cause a fire and burn the house down. Now, in my ripe old age of 30-something, we can leave the lights on from the time they're put on the Christmas tree until we take them off without worrying about a house fire. Alas, I digress. So, what do the Christmas lights represent? In the Christmas story, we are told of the Star of Bethlehem that marked the night that our dear Savior was born. The Christmas lights on the tree are a wonderful reminder of that blessed night. However, they also show us as Christians another symbol of Jesus. He came to this earth to be the light of the world, no matter how dark times look. As Christians the light also reminds us that we are to bring the light to others.
The Candy Cane
It’s tough to miss the peppermint takeover that happens near Christmastime! Candy canes are everywhere. Back in the 1920s, candy cane production was much different than it is now. As the candy canes came off the assembly line, they had to be bent manually to form their “J” shape. A Catholic priest named Father Keller invented the Keller Machine that automated the process of shaping them, which is the only religious connection I could find when reading about the origin of the candy cane.
The Colors of Christmas
The colors of Christmas are red and green. We already see them popping out at the stores, but what do they mean?
Green: Holly and mistletoe have been used for thousands of years to decorate. The winter season is cold, dark, and dreary. Evergreen plants like holly and mistletoe were placed not just for decoration but also to remind us that winter doesn’t last forever.
Red: The color of holly berries, red represents the blood of Jesus when He died for us on the cross. Something so simple can remind us of the ultimate sacrifice our Lord and Savior made for us. Atop the paradise tree in Christmas plays, you’d see a red apple representing the fall of Adam.
Other, albeit not as popular, Christmas colors include gold, white, and blue. Gold was brought to baby Jesus by one of the Wise Men and the color gold is often used to show the star they followed. White is for peace and purity. Blue is for Jesus’ mother, Mary. It also represents the sky and heaven.
Colors at Christmastime have more meaning than we realize. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of gift giving and receiving, but subtle reminders such as a gold star atop the Christmas tree can remind us to stay grounded and remember that He is the reason for the season.
Contrary to the belief of some, the term X-Mas isn’t actually “taking Christ out of Christmas.” In the Greek language, the letter chi (X) is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ (Christos). So, the early church used the first two letters of Christos to create a symbol to represent Jesus’ name. That symbol looks like an X with a P on top.
The reason we give gifts at Christmas is to remind us of baby Jesus and the gifts the Wise Men gave Him. Obviously we don’t give frankincense, gold, and myrrh as gifts, but that is where the tradition started. God gave us the Ultimate Gift: Jesus. We know this to be true as we're reminded in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believe in him may not perish but have eternal life”.
The first Nativity Scene was created in the early 1200s by St. Francis of Assisi. He felt the true meaning of Christmas was being “lost in translation” as more people were focusing on gift giving than the birth of Jesus Christ.
St. Francis set out to remind people of the Ultimate Gift God gave to us: Jesus. He created a Nativity scene in a cave in Italy, and it was actually a living Nativity Scene because he created it with real people and animals. We continue to display our Nativity scenes each year to remind ourselves and others to remember the real meaning of Christmas.
Laura is an author and writer over at blogging over at www.awefilledhomemaker.com . She has had articles published many places including Military One Click and National Military Family Association. Laura is a stay at home, homeschooling mom to their three boys. You can find her writing about many topics from education, faith, politics, military life, and parenting on Facebook: Twitter: https://twitter.com/AFHomemaker Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/awefilledhomemaker/ and Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/AFHomemaker/
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