At Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated by Christians. In Western Europe, December 25 is considered Christmas Day and December 26 as Boxing Day. Various elements in the way in which people celebrate Christmas go back to pre-Christian and Germanic traditions. In recent times, the party has been highly secularized in large parts of the western world.
The word Christmas is originally used in Catholic circles, while Christmas feast was more common in Protestant circles.
Around December 25, the Germans celebrated midwinter or joyal festivities. (The birth of Jesus did not occupy a special place in the ecclesiastical calendar, although it was celebrated). Joeels of gratitude for what had been and hope for what was yet to come. They lasted 13 days and 12 nights (from 24 December to 6 January) and immediately followed the big slaughter time. A huge amount was eaten, drunk and made noise. The noise was meant to dislodge the spirits that appear by the end of the year. There were constantly huge bonfires on which burnt offerings were brought to the gods, goddesses, ghosts and dead. Everything became decorated with evergreen branches and twigs, which were seen as a symbol of fertility and the expulsion of witches, spirits and sickness. Not only the Germans knew these midwinter festivals and symbolism, also Romans, Egyptians and many more people celebrated this ‘festival of light’ in the winter. It was not until 381 that the Christian element came into play: 25 December was chosen as the birthday of Christ. Before 381, only His crucifixion, circumcision and resurrection were commemorated and celebrated (Easter).
The pagan ‘festival of light’ then merged with the Christian ‘feast of peace’. In this way, the church made good use of the enormous popularity of the funeral parties to further spread Christianity.
The use of giving presents at Christmas has no unambiguous origin. Like many other Christian festivals, Christmas is influenced by many older, pagan customs. For example, gift giving was already a custom with the Romans during a public holiday that was celebrated on 21 December. At this feast devoted to Saturn, it was customary to give presents to the host as if invited for a dinner.
So this is one of the possible influences of the custom to distribute gifts at Christmas. Another possible influence of gift giving originates from the Christian tradition. According to the Bible, just after his birth Jesus was visited by the “wise men from the east” or the “Three Kings” who followed a star to Bethlehem. These kings fell upon their knees as soon as they saw Jesus, and gave him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Giving these presents would have developed later in giving presents at Christmas.
Christmas tree and balls
In the Scandinavian languages, Christmas is still called jul. At this party trees were placed in the house. It was not until the fifth century that the decorated fir rose in the form of Tree of Life in Mystery plays in German churches. The Christians could not let the pagan rituals disappear, so they adjusted. Christians decorated the trees that were placed indoors with apples, symbol for the Garden of Eden. These apples were later replaced by Christmas balls. In the Netherlands, the Christmas tree was known to the general public through Sunday schools. The artificial Christmas tree was introduced in 1883 by the department store Sears, Roebuck & Company. For 23 cents they bought a tree with 25 separate branches, decorated with red berries. These trees were nicknamed ‘feather tree’ because the branches were made from dyed down. The artificial trees are nowadays almost indistinguishable from the variants of nature. Big difference with a real one is the price: some artificial trees increase to more than 500 euros. The advantage is that they last a lifetime, while a real spruce is often dehydrated and bald at the garbage is put.
No Christmas tree is complete without balls. These too are subject to fashion. It has not even been that long ago that only boring balls were for sale. With a little angel hair, the tree was complete. The Christmas ball can be traced back to the time of the midwinter party. It was then thought that you could banish bad luck by hanging shiny objects. Evil spirits and witches would be afraid of mirrors and thus the hung objects offered protection against this evil.
The nativity scene
The nativity scene as we know it originates from Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226) This monk, whom we know of his love for animals, was completely full of the stories surrounding the birth of Christ. He drew the fate and the circumstances in which Jesus was born, and told it over and over again to anyone who wanted to hear it. Because Francis thought that his contemporaries had little regard for the human side in the story of the birth of Jesus, he decided to make it visual. He hoped that people would take such an example to Jesus and would also go through life soberly and humbly. Francis had a stable built in 1223 in the middle of the forests of Greccio. He made sure an ox and a donkey came and asked a farmer from the village to portray Joseph, a farmer’s wife would stand before Maria and he would put a small child in a feeding trough. He made something that we now call a living nativity scene. Christmas night he wore the Mass there, the whole village came to see and everyone was deeply impressed. The result was that the people more and more wanted to have depicted the birth story in this way in a domestic way. They cut their figurines of wood or molded them from clay and that is how the current nativity scene took shape. (Source Ashtown.nl) There are even people who claim that the stable is the forerunner of our hobby; Christmas villages …
Christmas is preceded by Advent. During the Advent, the Christians wait for the coming of Jesus. Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and lasts until Christmas Eve. Children get an Advent calendar with a ‘door’ for every day that has something nice hidden behind it. An Advent wreath with four red or yellow candles is placed. The first candle is lit on Advent Sunday and every Sunday after it is lit a candle extra.
The Christmas card
Department 56 carries the “J. Horsley christmas cards” house in her Dickensvillage collection. Around 1843, the busy British businessman Sir Henry Cole, the English draftsman John Callcott Horsley, asked to design a Christmas card because he was too lazy to send all friends and family a handwritten letter. J.C Horsley then made the first Christmas card with the now catchy text
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
This first card showed a Christmas celebration of a family. J.C Horsley had thousands of Christmas cards printed on solid cardboard using lithography. Cole sent his family, friends and acquaintances a Christmas card and the rest was sold in a shop in London.
The illustration, which showed that people had to give to the poor at Christmas, showed a woman who gave a sip of red wine to a little girl. This was not done in conservative England. But because of all the controversy, the following year a large number of printed Christmas cards came on the market.
In the year 1843 the costs of sending letters in England were also drastically changed. Previously, a small letter cost four pence, a whole amount at that time, but with the introduction of the stamp prices went down considerably and the costs of sending a small letter were reduced to 1 pence. The arrival of the penny post made the sending of large numbers of Christmas cards financially attractive, and eventually the sending of Christmas cards became popular among the British population.
Today, billions of Christmas cards were sent every year in December all over the world, but that is rapidly becoming less with the arrival of the Internet, so the Department 56 house clearly pays tribute to this declining tradition.
A Christmas market is a market that takes place in the advent time and has Christmas as a theme. Usually the Christmas market is stationed in the center of the city on a square and the surrounding streets. The phenomenon Christmas market is originally from Germany, where the Christmas market is still an annual tradition. In the history books already in 1384 mention is made of a Christmas market in Bautzen. A now still very well-known Christmas market, Dresden, was first held in 1434. This Christmas market attracts about 1.7 million visitors a year. The December market in Vienna is even older. This was already written about in 1294.
France also has several Christmas markets, most of which take place in Alsace. This is due to the German roots of that region. The Alsace was German territory until the 17th century. The most famous and oldest Christmas market in France, and one of the oldest in Europe, is the Christmas market in Strasbourg. The Christmas market from this city dates back to 1570; a long-standing tradition. In the Netherlands, a Christmas market is held in many places. Some of the larger and most well-known Christmas markets in the Netherlands are the Christmas market in the Gemeentegrot in Valkenburg, the Christmas market in Dordrecht, the Dickens Festijn in the medieval center of Deventer.