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Christmas is celebrated as a religious holiday and also as a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon.  Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is believed, that due to Caesar Augustus census of the Roman Empire, Jesus’ parents Joseph and Mary traveled into Judaea and the city of David where Mary had her firstborn son, and laid him in a manger since there was no room for them in the inn.

Birth of Jesus

According to Luke, there were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them: and they were afraid.  And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour,which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

    

Harp Cantata                  The Stable in Bethlehem               Cello Cantata

There are a great variety of Christmas popular customs around the world.  From attending church, sharing family meals, decorating the Christmas trees, and exchanging gifts, this is a special time for love, sharing and great joy.

 

A Romantic Christmas        A Family Christmas        Trimming the Tree 

The tradition of Santa Clause is based in the life of Saint Nicholas, a Christian Bishop of Myra, Turkey who lived during the 4th century.

Saint Nicholas

The custom of the Christmas Stockings is based in the legend that a nobleman was devastated by the death of his beautiful wife, and wasted his entire fortune, living his three young daughters without any inheritance.  Being aware of this situation, the generous St. Nicholas, and wishing to remain anonymous, rode his white horse by the nobleman’s house and “threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney, where they were fortuitously captured by the stockings the young women had hung by the fireplace to dry.”

By 1820 a new tradition is created where Santa Claus lives at the North Pole with Mrs. Clause and a large number of magical elves and flying reindeer’s.  Everyone recognizes the image of Santa Clause as a white bearded man, full of joy, wearing a red coat and trousers and black belt and boots. This modern image is believed to come from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas.  Christmas Day has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870. 

     

Santa’s Little Secret   Santa’s Midnight Ride            Down the Chimney

 From my childhood in Spain, I always remember the mystery and magic of Christmas, as represented by the Belen or Nativity display inside the Roman Church of my little town.  It was Don Jose, our Pastor, who faithfully coordinated the display of this miniature figurines representing the city of David.  I’m wondering if he realized how much joy he gave us with such beautiful exhibit.  It was magic every Sunday after mass, to approach the display and wonder at the Angel over the stable; Mary, and Joseph attending the baby Jesus and the adoration and offerings of the shepherds with their little animals.  The little houses in the hills and the ducks crossing the river, made of silver paper, created the reality of the far away city of Bethlehem.  We felt the cold in the manger, and every Sunday until January 6th, we were consciously checking the movement of the Three Wise Men through the hills of Bethlehem, until their final arrival on January 6th to offer baby Jesus, gold (symbolizing Jesus’ role as the King of Kings), frankincense (a type of incense burned in churches, representing Jesus’ priesthood) and myrrh (an embalming ointment prophetically signified that Jesus was born to suffer and die.)

The evening of the 5th of January was pure excitement.  I remember placing my little shoes by the balcony, hoping that when Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar passed by our house, they will leave me some toys and candy.  I also remember how many times I woke up during the night and run to the balcony, to unhappily discover that was nothing yet in my shoes.  It is this night from the fifth to the sixth that the Spanish children receive their gifts.

          

                  Melchior                        Gaspar                          Balthasar

The Christmas Tree tradition was popularized in England and the United States during the Victorian era, when the “famous Illustrated News etching in 1848, featuring the Royal Family of Victoria, Albert and their children gathered around a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle.” 

Queen Victoria,Prince Albert and their Children with the Christmas Tree

It was Prince Albert who brought the tradition from his native Germany, where it is believed that Martin Luther, back in the 16th century, was the first to adorn a small fir-tree inside his home by placing candles on the branches.  His inspiration came when walking home one December evening and observing the beauty of the stars shining through the fir-tree branches. 

               

                            Great Christmas           Evergreen of Peace

As a descendant of the ancient Celtics, it is nice to remember “their belief that mistletoe have magical healing powers.”  However, our current mistletoe tradition comes from the Scandinavians who associated the plant with their goddess of love Frigga.  That’s why we have the custom of kissing under the mistletoe to ensure happiness and good luck in the new year.

      

        Santa’s Little Secret        Holiday Wishes                Talk to Me

The Holiday Wishes figurine (center above) is a typical Christmas scene with a boy and a girl who might be brother and sister, in the company of a Golden Retriever dog, placing their letters to Santa Claus into a mailbox (the envelope reads: “To Santa, North Pole”).   They are depicted with naturalism in an updated scene with a focus on small details: the winter garments worn by the children have a woolen-knit texture; a traditional cast-iron mailbox has an antique flavor; there is snow on the mailbox as well as on the ground, and a Christmas wreath with mistletoe and a red ribbon.

      Train (re-deco)       Little Roadster (re-deco)   Christmas Wishes Set

  

              Christmas Bell               Nutcracker               Christmas Ball

No matter which traditions we celebrate, this is a season of love, peace and joy to share with everyone all year long.

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