The custom of exchanging presents at Christmas is commonly linked to the Maji's visit to the infant Jesus and their gifts to him of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gift-giving at the time of the winter solstice was also a Roman custom before Jesus' time. The custom is related to the generosity of the fourth century's St. Nicholas and the gifts that the baby Jesus is supposed to bring on his birthday. But these gifts were always small tokens, nothing like the lavish items exchanged in America. The American version began around the same time as the modern Santa with the nineteenth century commercialization of the holiday.
Gifts Under The Christmas Tree
The association of joyous songs with Christmas dates back to St. Francis, an early proponent of religious singing. Christmas songs spread through Europe, but were banned during the Reformation of the 17th century. Many of the original songs were lost. That is why most of the carols we sing today date from the 18th century.
Christmas, in the Christian church, annual festival, held on December 25, to celebrate the Nativity, or birth of Christ. The origin of the festival is unknown. Scholars believe that it is derived in part from rites held by pre-Christian Germanic and Celtic peoples to celebrate the winter solstice.
Christmas festivals, generally observed by Christians since the 4th century, incorporate pagan customs, such as the use of holly, mistletoe, Yule logs, and wassail bowls. The Christmas tree, an evergreen trimmed with lights and other decorations, is derived from the so-called paradise tree, symbolizing Eden, of German mystery plays.
The use of a Christmas tree began early in the 17th century, in Strasbourg, France, spreading from there through Germany and then into northern Europe. In 1841 Albert, prince consort of Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree custom to Great Britain; from there it accompanied immigrants to the U.S.
Meanwhile, Dutch settlers had brought to the New World the custom of celebrating St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6, and especially St. Nicholas’ Eve, when gifts were given to children, of whom the saint was patron. British settlers took over the tradition as part of their Christmas Eve celebration. The English name of the legendary jolly, red-garbed man who delivers christmas gifts to good children at Christmas, Santa Claus, is derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas, a modification of Sint Nikolaas.
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