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Mary’s Musings: Christmas traditions

By Mary Bridges, chaplain

Here it is December, which means Christmas is right around the corner. According to Wikipedia Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25, as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. For many faiths, it is preceded by the season of Advent, which begins the Christian liturgical year. There are many Christmas traditions from around the world that are part of the fabric of Christmas in the United States.

Both my maternal and paternal grandparents came to America from the Volga River area of Russia after their ancestors immigrated to Russia from Germany at the invitation of Catherine the Great.

The first Christmas trees decorated and named after the Christian holiday appeared in Strasbourg, Germany, at the beginning of the 17th century. After 1750, they began showing up in other parts of Germany. Perhaps that is why when I was growing up we really only had one decoration at Christmas time—our tree, which sat in the corner of the living room and had those wonderful old bubble lights.      

In the 1820’s the first German immigrants decorated Christmas trees in Pennsylvania. After Germany’s Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, he introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. In 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home in just a few years.

When we moved to Lindsborg, we learned about the Swedish tradition of honoring St. Lucia on December 13. The celebration of St. Lucia Day began in Sweden by the mid-19th century and spread to Denmark and Finland. Light is the main theme of St. Lucia Day, as her name derived from Latin, meaning light.

Poinsettias came to us from Mexico where children take turns hitting paper mache sculptures called piñatas that are filled with candy and coins. In Central America, a manger scene is the primary decoration. St. Francis of Assisi created the first living nativity in 1224 to help explain the birth of Jesus to his followers.

According to reports by Captain John Smith, the first eggnog made in America was consumed in his 1607 Jamestown settlement. Nog comes from the word grog, which refers to any drink made with rum. In Greece, gifts are usually exchanged on January 1, St. Basil’s Day.

I loved the Christmas season when my children were growing up. Kenny and I made tons of homemade decorations and we had a large tree that was covered with them. As we have downsized to a 975-foot condo, we have simplified Christmas decorating. However, my German heritage is still at the center. We no longer decorate a full-sized tree. Instead, I have about a dozen, various colored trees from six inches to eighteen inches tall, and I put them on the mantle and bookcases and enjoy their beauty.  

The most important thing about Christmas is that it invites us to reflect on the most important things in our life—our faith, our family and our freedom. Our faith gives us hope, our family gives us love, and our freedom gives us the opportunity to practice our faith and to love each other—and of course the Holy Family.  

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