Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Traditions: Unearthing the origins of Yuletide customs.

Ted Olsen@ discusses the origins of Yuletide customs.
  • Christmas cards began instead as New Year's greetings.
  • The Christmas tree was associated with the Edenic Tree of Knowledge and decorated with apples—forbidden fruit.
  • Holly was thought to be the tree from which the cross was made.
  • Hanging mistletoe comes from an old Scandinavian military custom: enemies encountering each other under the plant laid down their arms in truce until the next day.

Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226)

Francis's friars (and perhaps Francis himself) were the first to write simple, happy, Gospel-based songs. These were much lighter and festive than hymns and are considered by historians as the first carols.

Francis also is the first person on record to create a Christmas nativity scene.

On Christmas Eve 1223, in order to "Set before our bodily eyes … how he [Jesus] lay in a manger," Francis and his companions worshiped in a cave near Greccio, Italy, surrounded by the traditional oxen, sheep, and donkeys.

An early Francis biographer recounted, "Neighborhood people prepared with joy according to their capacity, bringing candles and torches to illumine the night that has been the light of the world through its star. Finally, the saint of God arrived and saw it and was glad. The manger was ready, hay was spread, and the ox and ass led in.

"Thus, simplicity was honored, poverty exalted, humility praised. Greccio was made a new Bethlehem. The night became as day to the joy of men and animals. The people were happy at this great mystery. the forest echoed with the voices of the congregation; the rocks cried out in jubilation. The friars sang their debt of praise to God, and the night echoed with their hymns. The saint of God stood near the manger, overwhelmed with love and swelling with happiness."

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