All around the world people are remembering childhood days, the joy of Christmas days past, and making new memories now for their own children. This is a time of year when many families read stories about the birth of the Christ, about the Christmas tree, Santa Claus and the many symbolic meanings of Christmas legends and traditions.
Here are just a few brief stories of the legends of Christmas.
The well loved candy cane that looks so pretty on the Christmas tree or in the hand of a child, has its very own legend and symbolism. Originally the "sweet stick" was straight. A popular belief is that a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany, in the year 1670, was frustrated that the children who should be silent during services of a Living Creche, were quite restless and noisy. The choirmaster decided to give them a treat and asked the local candy maker to bend the top of the sweet stick into a crook to remind the children of the shepherds who, in silence and respect, visited the Christ Child. It is also believed by many that the red and white of the candy cane symbolizes the purity and blood of Jesus.
The mystical, magical power of the mistletoe has been known for centuries. The Druids of ancient times held the plant sacred and used it in their ceremonial rituals. Many English cultures in pre-Christian times, thought the plant was the divine essence of male vitality. After the 3rd century AD when Christianity was more prominent, mistletoe became part of the Christmas season decorations. Many believed that if a maiden was kissed under the mistletoe, it was a sign of proposal.
Holly, when brought into the house during the dark days of Yule, reflected light with its shiny green leaves and added cheery color with the bright red berries. Holly also was believed to be protection against witches and malevolent faeries. The old story of "The Holly and the Ivy" is about a boy dressed in holly leaves and a girl in ivy leaves. As they followed a set pattern around the village, it was meant to bring Nature safely through the dark part of the year and emerge in spring for a good sign of fertility and rebirth. The prickly holly leaves are representative of the crown of thorns that Jesus wore. Holly was considered sacred and it was bad luck to ever fell a holly tree. The branches could be used, but the tree was not to be cut down. If the first holly brought into the house was the prickly leaf, the husband would rule the home -- if it was a smooth leaf, the wife would rule.
It was Christmas Eve and little Pepita cried tears of sorrow, for she had no gift to take to the Christ Child at her church. She was told that if a gift, any gift, was given in love, it would be acceptable. Pepita went out and gathered some weeds and arranged them as prettily as she could. When she placed the weeds at the feet of the Christ Child, a miracle happened -- the weeds turned into brilliant red flowers, poinsettias. This is a legend that is several centuries old from Mexico. In the old days, the poinsettia was called Flores de Noche Buena, Flowers of the Holy Night.
When some 17th century Franciscan priests saw some beautiful plants with red blossoms blooming during Advent, they used them to decorate their Nativity procession in the Christmas celebration. The poinsettias became part of their Christmas each year. The star shaped leaves symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, the red color is a symbol of the blood of Jesus when he was crucified.
The traditional Christmas tree in Christian homes usually has a star or an angel on the top. The star represents the Star of Bethlehem, and the angel represents the Host of Angels.
The present day Christmas tree tradition originated during the Renaissance period and early modern Germany. In pre-Christian times, the use of evergreens in winter rituals was common among the European Pagans. In ancient Egypt, China and the early Hebrew communities the evergreens represented eternal life. This symbolism carried over into Christianity to represent the everlasting life of Jesus.
To find a Christmas tree with a bird's nest in it will bring good luck to the household for the coming year. There is an old story about a bird who could not fly south for the winter with her flock because she had a broken wing. She asked all the trees of the forest to give her shelter for the coming cold months. None of the trees would help her except for a few. The spruce offered her the most sheltered and softest branch to rest in, the juniper offered its berries for nourishment, the big pine tree offered to protect the spruce and the little bird from the cold north winds. The little bird survived the winter because of the kindness of the spruce, pine, and juniper. The Frost King was so impressed with the kindness of these trees that he told the North Wind to not touch even one single branch of the spruce, pine, and juniper -- that is why they are evergreen trees.
Happy Christmas by Viggo Johansen, 1891
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