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The Story of St. Nicholas

	Around 300 A.D., a man named Nicholas became the
	bishop of Myra, a small seaside town on the western coast
	of Turkey. Bishop Nicholas used his enormous wealth to
	help the needy people of his parish. He disguised himself
	and secretly visited the homes of the most needy,
	delivering food, clothing, and money.  The people had no
	idea where the gifts came from.  They simply thought that
	the Lord had answered their prayers.

	The most famous story of Nicholas's generosity is about
	a poor family who could not afford a dowry for their three
	daughters.  In those days, if a woman did not have a dowry
	to offer at the time of marriage, she would not be married.
	Nicholas secretly tossed bags of gold into the poor family's
	home for each daughter's dowr.  Although his identity was
	discovered by the father of the house, Nicholas made him
	promise that he would never reveal the secret.

	Upon his death, the people of Myra picked up where
	Nicholas left off.  If someone received an anonymous gift
	he would say, "Saint Nicholas must have brought it!"

	Italian sailors, who frequently visited Myra, took the
	story and teachings of Saint Nicholas to Italy.  Before long
	the practice of secret gift giving had spread.  Wherever the
	story of Nicholas was told, generosity filled the hearts of
	the listeners.

	When the story reached Germany, the saint's name was 
	translated to Sankt Nikolaus.  From Germany, the story was
	carried to Holland.  In the Dutch language, his name
	bacame Sinter Klaus.  Settlers then brought the tradition to
	the New World in the early 1600's. In English, Sinter Klaus
	became Santa Claus.
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Origin of Christmas

	CHRISTMAS, in the Christian church, annual festival, held on
 	December 25, to celebrate the Nativity, or birth of Christ. The	origin of the festival is unknown. Scholars believe that it is
	derived in part from rites held by pre-Christian Germanic and
	Celtic peoples to celebrate the winter solstice. Christmas 
	festivals, generally observed by Christians since the 4th 
	century, incorporate pagan customs, such as the use of holly,
	mistletoe, Yule logs, and wassail bowls. 

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The Origin and Meaning of the Christmas Tree

By Pastor Richard P. Bucher

	What was the origin of the Christmas tree? As much as I would 
	like to embrace as fact the oft- quoted story that Martin
	Luther was the first to set up a Christmas tree (or at least a
	lighted one), I cannot -- for the story is pure legend. Many 
	years of intensive Luther scholarship has turned up nothing to 	support it. There is scholarly consensus, however, that the
	Christmas tree originated in Germany. Indeed, the earliest
	record of an evergreen tree being used and decorated (but
	without lights) for Christmas is 1521 in the German region of
	Alsace. Another useful description has been found among the
	notes of an unknown resident of Strasbourg in 1605, who writes
	that "At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlors at
	Strasburg and hang thereon roses cut of many- coloured paper,
	apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets . . ." Some fifty years later	(about 1650) the great Lutheran theologian Johann Dannhauer
	wrote in his The Milk of the Catechism that "the Christmas or
	fir tree, which people set up in their houses, hang with dolls
	and sweets, and afterwards shake and deflower. . . Whence comes	this custom I know not; it is child's play . . . Far better
	were it to point the children to the spiritual cedar-tree,
	Jesus Christ." 

	Several conclusions can be gleaned from these quotations. First	we are told some of the items with which the first Christmas
	trees were decorated: paper roses, apples, Communion wafers,
	gold, foil, sweets, and dolls. Second, even in 1650 a noted
	scholar like Dannhauer did not know the origin of Christmas
	trees. Third, not all Christians approved of these trees, even
	in the beginning. Fourth, the first Christmas trees, as far as
	we know, did not have lights. According to Weiser, the first
	mention of lights (candles) on a Christmas tree is in the
	seventeenth century.

	From the mid-seventeenth century on the Christmas tree slowly
	grew in popularity and use. However, it was not until the
	beginning of the 19th century that the use of the Christmas
	tree grew into the general German custom that it is today. Also	at this time it spread to the Slavic people of eastern Europe.
	The Christmas tree was probably first used in America about
	1700 when the first wave of German immigration settled in
	western Pennsylvania. During the War of Independence, Hessian
	soldiers supposedly set up Christmas trees. It is widely held
	that the Christmas tree was first introduced into France in
	1837 when Princess Helen of Mecklenburg brought it to Paris
	after her marriage to the Duke of Orléans. The Christmas tree
	made its royal debut in England when Prince Albert of Saxony,
	the husband of Queen Victoria, set up a tree in Windsor Castle
	in 1841. After this it grew in popularity, though in 1850
	Charles Dickens was still referring to it as a "new German 

	But from where did Christians get the idea of the Christmas
	tree? Was it a new idea or was there a historical custom upon
	which they were building? 

	Karas has amply demonstrated that evergreens have been a symbol	of rebirth from ancient times. Bringing greenery into one's
	home, often at the time of the winter solstice, symbolized life	in the midst of death in many cultures. The Romans decked their	homes with evergreens and other greenery during the Kalends of
	January. Living trees were also brought into homes during the
	old German feast of Yule, which originally was a two-month
	feast beginning in November. The Yule tree was planted in a tub	and brought into the home. However, the evidence just does not
	exist which shows that Christians first used trees at Christma
	as a symbol of rebirth, nor that the Christmas tree was a
	direct descendent of the Yule tree. On the contrary, the
	evidence that we have points in another direction. The
	Christmas tree appears to be a descendent of the Paradise tree
	and the Christmas light of the late Middle Ages.
	From the eleventh century, religious plays called "mystery
	plays" became quite popular throughout Europe. These plays were	performed outdoors and in churches. One of the most prevalent
	of these plays was the "Paradise play." The play depicted the
	story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their
	banishment from Paradise. The play would end with the promise
	of the coming Savior and His Incarnation (cf. Gen. 3:15). The
	Paradise play was simple by today's standards. The only prop 
	on stage was the "Paradise tree," a fir tree adorned with
	apples. From this tree, at the appropriate time in the play,
	Eve would take the fruit, eat it, and give it to Adam.

	Because of abuses that crept into the mystery plays (i.e.,
	immoral behavior), the Church forbade these plays during the
	fifteenth century. The people had grown so accustomed to the
	Paradise tree, however, that they began putting their own
	Paradise tree up in their homes on Dec. 24. They did so on
	Dec. 24 because this was the feast day of Adam and Eve (at 
	least in the Eastern Church). The Paradise tree, as it had 
	in the Paradise plays, symbolized both a tree of sin and a 
	tree of life. For this reason, the people would decorate 
	these trees with apples (representing the fruit of sin) and
	homemade wafers (like communion wafers which represented the
	fruit of life). Later, candy and sweets were added.

	Another custom was to be found in the homes of Christians on
	Dec. 24 since the late Middle Ages. A large candle called 
	the "Christmas light," symbolizing Christ who is the light 
	of the world, was lit on Christmas Eve. In western Germany,
	many smaller candles were set upon a wooden pyramid and lit.
	Besides the candles, other objects such as glass balls, 
	tinsel, and the "star of Bethlehem" were placed on its top.
	Though we cannot be certain, it seems highly likely that the
	first Christmas trees that appeared in Germany in the early
	sixteenth century were descendants of both of these customs:
	the Paradise tree and the Christmas pyramids and lights. The
	Paradise tree became our Christmas tree. Decorations that had
	been placed on the pyramids were transferred to the Christmas

	For many Christians the Christmas tree still retains the
	symbolism of the Paradise tree. The tree reminds us of the 
	tree in Eden by which Adam and Eve were overcome and which
	thrust them into sin. But more importantly, the tree reminds
	us of the tree by which our sin was overcome, namely the tree
	upon which Christ Jesus was crucified. Is it a stretch to 
	refer to the cross as a tree? Hardly, for this is the language
	of the New Testament itself! For example, Paul writes in
	Galatians 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law
	by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is
	everyone who is hung on a tree" (quoting Deut. 21:23). And
	Peter writes, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the 
	tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;
	by his wounds you have been healed." Therefore, the Christmas
	tree is a wonderful symbol and reminder of our salvation and
	forgiveness through Jesus Christ! 

Enjoy these other Christmas Meanings & Traditions online....

  • The Christmas Story from the Bible

  • Candy Cane Line

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