The Old Farmer’s Almanac for 2021 had some Christmas trivia listing the origins of some customs of Christmas. Here are a few of them:
XMAS – The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The Greek letter for “C” is “Chi,” written like our letter “X” and pronounced “kye.” The equivalent of our letter “R” was written like our lower case “p.” The Greeks represented the name Christ (Christos) using the first two letters, “X” and “p” superimposed. Many have assumed that writing Christmas as “X-mas” is a nod to universalism – that all faiths are equal. Actually, it was just the opposite.
CHRISTMAS TREES – Plants that stayed green all year had a special significance for people who lived in cold winter climates of northern Europe. They put evergreen boughs over windows and doors, believing that living plants would repel illness and evil. The Romans decorated evergreen trees with trinkets and topped the tree with an image of their sun god at the festival of Saturnalia. About 400 years ago, people in Germany used the evergreen as a sign of everlasting life with God.
GIFTS – Some cultures celebrated the winter solstice around December 21, which has the shortest daylight hours. Winter can be a depressing time, and the Romans brightened the worst of winter by giving each other gifts on what they called “calends,” the first day of January. Some early Christians began giving gifts to copy the actions of the “magi” (a Greek word referring to the “wise men” of the Bible).
In Europe, every country had traditions of gift-giving, usually involving children during December. For example, people thought of Santa Claus or Father Christmas on Saint Nicholas Day, December 6. In the Netherlands, children left clogs or shoes out on December 5 (Saint Nicholas Eve) to be filled with presents. In Germany, people thought an angel called the Christkind came on Christmas Eve. In Italy, it was an old witch named Befana who brought gifts. In Spain, children celebrated “Three Kings Day” on January 6.
Since America was a melting pot of various cultures, these practices and many others came together. As we consider this Christmas trivia in today’s world of conflict, we need a time of peace and harmony to enjoy our friends and neighbors and share God’s love with them. Have a joyous holiday, however you celebrate it.
— John N. Clayton © 2021