Much of them are based on religious ideology, some times back fitted to create a religious connection, but even with the appropriation by religious groups, the history is fascinating.
There are many colors associated with Christmas such as the red of holly berries, of Santa Claus or Father Christmas outfit; the green of fir trees; the gold of candles and stars; the whiteness of snowy fields.
Red is the color that is considered the greatest excitement, and is also the color of the month December. As the religious symbol it stands for fire, blood and charity.
Green is the symbol for nature, youth and the hope of eternal life. It is for this reason that Christmas is a feast of hope, with a newborn child as its central symbol.
White is the religious symbol which stands for light, purity, joy and glory. White is seen in the robes of Christmas angels, in Santa’s beard and suit trimmings, as well as in Christmas snow and snow flakes. In Northern Europe and in some of America, snow covers the ground at Christmas. In southern California roses are blooming. In the warmer climate but the snow is artificial, so as to show the link with the Northern Yuletide.
Gold stands for sunlight and radiance. It is the color of the Christmas stars, tinsel, candles, electric lights.
The custom of the Christmas tree can be traced back to Germany in 700 AD. According to legend, the British monk St. Boniface used an undecorated fir tree in his missionary efforts to convert tribe of Germans. Replacing the oak tree which was sacred to the Druids, St Boniface preached, “Let this be called the tree of the Christ Child”. From then on, Germans began celebrating Christmas with the planting of a fir sapling. Another custom it seems that fir trees were used as Christmas decoration in Alsace in the 16th century. This region now belongs to France but during the 16th century it was German. It is said that in 1539 Christmas trees were being sold in Strasbourg, in Alsace. A play based on Adam and Eve, performed in Strasbourg in 1604, featured a fir tree decorated with apples, candles and candy and called the paradise tree in the Garden of Eden. This tree proved to be so popular that some families put similar trees in their homes. However, it is not until the 19th century that the Christmas tree became popular in Germany. There are accounts of the use of a tree with lights, in the letters and writing of various Germans. It is also featured in paintings and sketches of this period. Christmas Trees are always evergreen trees, because the evergreen tree is the “tree of life”. It stays green all winter, and gives us the feeling of hope. In ancient cultures before Christ was born used to bring them into their homes. Some evergreens can even produce flowers and fruit during the winter, seemed magical to these people. People in Estonia and Latvia used to dress Christmas trees with artificial roses, and then set them on fire. They hoped to encourage an early Spring. In 1834, Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert brought the first Christmas tree to Windsor Castle for the Royal family. This tradition then spread through to popular culture in Britain and the rest of the English speaking world. The Duchess of Orleans is said to have introduced the Christmas tree to France.
The Wreath which is traditionally displayed on the front door of a home during the weeks of Advent and the Christmas season once was a multiple role. The wreath is intertwined with red ribbons which is done to express the festive spirit, while its evergreen leaves were symbolic of the everlasting life promised to the faithful by the birth of Jesus Christ. The circular shape was a reminder of the crown of thorns placed on His head by the Roman soldiers when they ridiculed Him as the ‘king of the Jews’. Another reason for the wreath being used as part of celebrations related to the god Bacchus, whose worshippers were thought to have worn circular ivy crowns. Another practical purpose for the wreath was that the evergreen boughs were believed to protect a home from evil spirits, which were thought to be plentiful during this dark time of the year. During the Middle Ages the red berries of holly were believed to keep witches out of the home; this is why holly became the traditional and lucky evergreen for the wreath-making.
Bells being rung on Christmas morning has been and is done to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. A legend that has been told is that the bells were rung for an hour before midnight on the first Christmas eve, this was said to have been done to warm the forces of darkness of the imminent birth of the Savior. At the stroke of midnight, the peal of the bells changed pitch into a joyous peal. The bells sounding was also for another purpose as well. Just as bells are tolled to announce the death of someone they were also rung to tell the ‘death’ of the Devil which was brought upon by the coming of Jesus Christ. The church bell was also known as ‘the Old Lad’s Passing bell’, ‘Old Lad’ which was said to be a euphemism for Satan. The bells pealing has also been assumed to chase away evil spirits, which are said to be repelled by noise of any kind. There are many types of Christmas bells for the season. They can be heard on Christmas morning, they are used as decoration on Christmas cards as well as on the Christmas tree. Wassailers would use them to announce their presence by ringing them, so did Father Christmas, with jingling bells accompanying his sleigh progress.
The crib, representing the manger in which the baby Jesus Christ was laid after his birth in a stable in Bethlehem, has become a favorite Christmas decoration. It has been used for centuries to bring to life the story of Christmas. Francis of Assisi, who was renowned for his love of animals, instituted the custom of the nativity scene. After receiving permission from the Pope, he erected the first one during the Christmas of 1224 in a cave outside the town of Greccio in Italy. It was not a hand crafted or modren type of crib but a live scene. When people gathered to watch the spectacle. Francis stood in front of the manger and would recite the Gospel relating to the scene; then he would deliver a sermon. Nowadays, nativity scenes with all the figures such as Joseph, Mary and the three wise men along with an ox and an ass, have become popular throughout the Christian world.