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Uncovering the Language of the First Christmas

Uncovering the Language of the First Christmas


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Around the Christmas period, the now typical jokes pile up on social media. The three wise men fret: “We’re running low on Frankincense. Don’t worry, though, there’s myrrh where that came from.”

But all this facetious word play prompts me to think a little more seriously about the language used in traditional accounts of the nativity, and the language – or languages – that might have been used by the participants themselves.

Let’s begin at the beginning. The Christian Christmas drama begins with a baby in a cot, or rather a “manger” – a feeding trough. In biblical times, this was probably an alcove or a ledge projecting from the wall of a stable on which hay was placed as animal feed. In a private house, it may also have been a rectangular stone container or simply a depression in the lower part of the family living space where animals spent the night. The English word comes from the French manger, to eat, via the Old French maingeure, and in turn from the Latin manducare, to chew.

The Biblical reference to an improvised crib uses the Greek φατνη ( phatnē), regularly translated as a stall, though some commentators insist that it denotes a feeding box and not a larger enclosure. It has been rendered in Hebrew as אֵבוּס, ebus, which can mean a trough or a booth, and as אֻרָוֹת ( urvah), a stall. Mary ( Maryam) and Joseph ( Yosep) might have described it in their own language, Aramaic, as ܐܽܘܪܺܝܳܐ ( awriyah).

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Hard day’s night: a more typical manger. Angela/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The Words of God

But enough of the props, what of the location and the script?

Well, the Greek word commonly translated as “inn”, κατάλυμα ( kataluma) can mean a caravanserai or inn, a house or a guest room, but can also be translated as the vaguer “lodging place”. This leads interpreters to disagree on whether the nativity took place in a public guesthouse or a family home made available to the travellers in line with Palestinian traditions of hospitality.

Aramaic was the language spoken by the common people in נָצְרַת ( Naṣrat) and בֵּית לֶחֶם‎ ( Bet Lehem ) – we know them as Nazareth and Bethlehem, of course. However, Hebrew was the official and liturgical language of Palestine, and Greek was used by scholars, administrators and diplomats across the eastern Mediterranean and Near East. Latin, the language of the Roman colonisers, would not have been spoken by many poorer people in the territories in question in the first century AD.

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The language of Bethlehem (pictured) was Aramaic

The Hebrew historian Josephus described Hebrew words as belonging to “the Hebrew tongue” but referred to Aramaic words as belonging to “our tongue” or “our language” or “the language of our country”.

Aramaic survived to become the common language of Jews both in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the Middle East by around 200AD and remained so until the Islamic conquests in the seventh century introduced Arabic. Its descendant dialects, formerly known as Syriac, are still spoken today by the Assyrian people of northern Iraq, northeast Syria, southeast Turkey and northwest Iran. I’m not the first to try to connect imaginatively with the authentic voices of the Christmas story, as a 2009 recording of a carol sung in Aramaic testifies.

Interpretations

The wise men from the East, whatever their native tongues, would have communicated with King Herod via his officials in Greek – Herod would also have been familiar with Latin, Hebrew and possibly an Arabic dialect from his youth. Unless they knew some Aramaic, they would have done the same, with or without the help of interpreters, when they paid their respects to the Holy Family.

The shepherds – ποιμὴν ( poimén) – who feature in one of the two versions of the nativity would have had few difficulties expressing their veneration of the Christ-child, being Aramaic speakers, though not with the Galilean accent shared by the newborn’s “ imma”, mother Mary and “ abba”, father Joseph.

We don’t know what social status Mary and Joseph enjoyed, but unless it was fairly elevated they would not have been fluent in Greek or Latin and their knowledge of Hebrew would likely have been limited to some devotional terms. Although Aramaic shared some elements with Hebrew, the two were at least as different as modern English and German.

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‘Three men walk into a stable…’ Waiting For The Word/Flickr , CC BY

So, frustratingly, even those few key words of Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew that are present in the original Bible account are open to multiple interpretations. If we go on to consider the familiar words that became attached to the story more recently – “inkeeper”, “stable”, “cattle-shed”, “kings”, even the “little town” and the imperial “decree” that summoned the family – we find no ultimate justification for them at all.

They only serve to conjure up an enduring legend of outsiders grappling with adversity, to dramatise an interplay of the royal, humble and supernatural in surroundings that are at once impoverished and magical.


Christmas Truce of 1914

The Christmas Truce occurred on and around Christmas Day 1914, when the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front during World War I in favor of holiday celebrations. During the unofficial ceasefire, soldiers on both sides of the conflict emerged from the trenches and shared gestures of goodwill.

WATCH The Christmas Truce on HISTORY Vault

Did you know? On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire, but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce.


The Dates of Christmas

Why do we celebrate on December 25th?

There are two specific theories for why we use the date of December 25th for Christmas.

First, people and religions of the day celebrated some sort of holiday around that time. From Jewish Chanukah to Pagan Winter Solstice to Germanic Yule to Roman Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Birth of the Unconquered Sun) the sheer number of celebration days with trees, decorations, yule logs, mistletoe and feasts seem to point to a season of celebration to which Christians added the birth of Jesus as a counter-cultural event and possibly even an escape from the pagan holidays for early believers.

December 25th was the Saturnalia Festival of emancipation, gift giving and the triumph of light after the longest night. The Christian sees the truth implicit in this pagan tradition that reflects: Christ the Light of the world, His triumph over the night of sin in Luke 1:78-79:

". Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

The second theory centers around the date “accepted” by the Western Church of March 25 as the Annunciation or Immaculate Conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. December 25 is 9 months later and thus celebrated as the birthday of Jesus. Regardless of the possible reasons for the date, the church calendar was set in the West during Constantine’s reign while the Eastern Church held onto the date of January 6 for some time.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Caleb Woods


A Medieval Christmas

Whilst the term “Christmas” first became part of the English language in the 11th century as an amalgamation of the Old English expression “Christes Maesse”, meaning “Festival of Christ”, the influences for this winter celebration pre-date this time significantly.

Winter festivals have been a popular fixture of many cultures throughout the centuries. A celebration in expectation of better weather and longer days as spring approached, coupled with more time to actually celebrate and take stock of the year because there was less agricultural work to be completed in the winter months, has made this time of year a popular party season for centuries.

Whilst mostly synonymous with Christians as the holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus (the central figure of Christianity), celebrating on the 25th December was a tradition that was borrowed, rather than invented, by the Christian faith and is still celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike today. Indeed the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, in honour of Saturn the Harvest God, and the Scandinavian festival of Yule and other Pagan festivals centred on the Winter Solstice were celebrated on or around this date. As Northern Europe was the last part of the continent to embrace Christianity, the pagan traditions of old had a big influence on the Christian Christmas celebrations.

The official date of the birth of Christ is notably absent from the Bible and has always been hotly contested. Following the instigation of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the latter part of the 4th century, it was Pope Julius I who eventually settled on 25 December. Whilst this would tie in with the suggestions of the 3rd century historian Sextus Julius Africanus that Jesus was conceived on the spring equinox of 25 March, the choice has also been seen as an effort to ‘Christianise’ the pagan winter festivals that also fell on this date. Early Christian writers suggested that the date of the solstice was chosen for the Christmas celebrations because this is the day that the sun reversed the direction of its cycle from south to north, connecting the birth of Jesus to the ‘rebirth’ of the sun.

In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas was not as popular as Epiphany on 6 January, the celebration of the visit from the three kings or wise men, the Magi, to the baby Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Indeed, Christmas was not originally seen as a time for fun and frolics but an opportunity for quiet prayer and reflection during a special mass. But by the High Middle Ages (1000-1300) Christmas had become the most prominent religious celebration in Europe, signalling the beginning of Christmastide, or the Twelve Days of Christmas as they are more commonly known today.

The medieval calendar became dominated by Christmas events starting forty days prior to Christmas Day, the period we now know as Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming”) but which was originally know as the “forty days of St. Martin” because it began on 11 November, the feast day of St Martin of Tours.

Although gift giving at Christmas was temporarily banned by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages due to its suspected pagan origins, it was soon popular again as the festive season in the Middle Ages became a time of excess dominated by a great feast, gifts for rich and poor and general indulgence in eating, drinking, dancing and singing.

Many monarchs chose this merry day for their coronation. This included William the Conqueror, whose coronation on Christmas Day in 1066 incited so much cheering and merriment inside Westminster Abbey that the guards stationed outside believed the King was under attack and rushed to assist him, culminating in a riot that saw many killed and houses destroyed by fire.

Some well known modern Christmas traditions have their roots in the Medieval celebrations:

Christmas or Xmas? Although many people frown upon the seemingly modern abbreviation of Xmas, X stands for the Greek letter chi, which was the early abbreviation for Christ or the Greek ‘Khristos’. The X also symbolises the cross on which Christ was crucified.

Mince Pies were originally baked in rectangular cases to represent the infant Jesus’ crib and the addition of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg was meant to symbolise the gifts bestowed by the three wise men. Similarly to the more modern mince pies we see today, these pies were not very large and it was widely believed to be lucky to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas. However, as the name suggests, mince pies were originally made of a variety of shredded meat along with spices and fruit. It was only as recently as the Victorian era that the recipe was amended to include only spices and fruit.

Carol singers. Some of us enjoy the sound of carollers on our doorsteps but the tradition for carol singers going door to door is actually a result of carols being banned in churches in medieval times. Many carollers took the word carol literally (to sing and dance in a circle) which meant that the more serious Christmas masses were being ruined and so the Church decided to send the carol singers outside.

Anyone for humble pie? While the most popular choice for Christmas dinner today is undoubtedly turkey, the bird was not introduced to Europe until after the discovery of the Americas, its natural home, in the 15th century. In medieval times goose was the most common option. Venison was also a popular alternative in medieval Christmas celebrations, although the poor were not allowed to eat the best cuts of meat. However, the Christmas spirit might entice a Lord to donate the unwanted parts of the family’s Christmas deer, the offal, which was known as the ‘umbles’. To make the meat go further it was often mixed with other ingredients to make a pie, in this case the poor would be eating ‘umble pie’, an expression we now use today to describe someone who has fallen from their pedestal to a more modest level.

The Christmas crib originated in 1223 in medieval Italy when Saint Francis of Assisi explained the Christmas Nativity story to local people using a crib to symbolise the birth of Jesus.

Boxing Day has traditionally been seen as the reversal of fortunes, where the rich provide gifts for the poor. In medieval times, the gift was generally money and it was provided in a hollow clay pot with a slit in the top which had to be smashed for the money to be taken out. These small clay pots were nicknamed “piggies” and thus became the first version of the piggy banks we use today. Unfortunately Christmas Day was also traditionally a “quarter day”, one of the four days in the financial year on which payments such as ground rents were due, meaning many poor tenants had to pay their rent on Christmas Day!

Whilst the excitement and frivolities of Christmas make it easy to forget the more serious aspects of the festival, it can also be argued that the tradition started by the wise men with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh continues today, although with perhaps slightly less exotic gifts!


Contemporary customs in Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodox churches honour Christmas on December 25. However, for those that continue to use the Julian calendar for their liturgical observances, this date corresponds to January 7 on the Gregorian calendar. The churches of the Oriental Orthodox communion celebrate Christmas variously. For example, in Armenia, the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion, the church uses its own calendar the Armenian Apostolic Church honours January 6 as Christmas. In Ethiopia, where Christianity has had a home ever since the 4th century, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebrates Christmas on January 7. Most of the churches of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East celebrate Christmas on December 25 at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, however, the Syriac Orthodox celebrate Christmas on January 6 with the Armenian Apostolic Church. Congregations of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria follow the date of December 25 on the Julian calendar, which corresponds to Khiak 29 on the ancient Coptic calendar.


The Battle of Hastings

King Harold II of England is defeated by the Norman forces of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, fought on Senlac Hill, seven miles from Hastings, England. At the end of the bloody, all-day battle, Harold was killed–shot in the eye with an arrow, according to legend𠄺nd his forces were destroyed. He was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England.

Just over two weeks before, William, the duke of Normandy, had invaded England, claiming his right to the English throne. In 1051, William is believed to have visited England and met with his cousin Edward the Confessor, the childless English king. According to Norman historians, Edward promised to make William his heir. On his deathbed, however, Edward granted the kingdom to Harold Godwine, head of the leading noble family in England and more powerful than the king himself. In January 1066, King Edward died, and Harold Godwine was proclaimed King Harold II. William immediately disputed his claim.

On September 28, 1066, William landed in England at Pevensey, on Britain’s southeast coast, with approximately 7,000 troops and cavalry. Seizing Pevensey, he then marched to Hastings, where he paused to organize his forces. On October 13, Harold arrived near Hastings with his army, and the next day William led his forces out to give battle.

After his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William marched on London and received the city’s submission. On Christmas Day, 1066, he was crowned the first Norman king of England, in Westminster Abbey, and the Anglo-Saxon phase of English history came to an end. French became the language of the king’s court and gradually blended with the Anglo-Saxon tongue to give birth to modern English. William I proved an effective king of England, and the 𠇍omesday Book,” a great census of the lands and people of England, was among his notable achievements. Upon the death of William I in 1087, his son, William Rufus, became William II, the second Norman king of England.


Who Was Jesus?

Most historians believe that Jesus was a real person who was born between 2 B.C. and 7 B.C. Much of what scholars know about Jesus comes from the New Testament of the Christian Bible.

According to the text, Jesus was born to a young Jewish virgin named Mary in the town of Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem in modern-day Palestine. Christians believe the conception was a supernatural event, with God impregnating Mary via the Holy Spirit.

Very little is known about Jesus’s childhood. Scriptures reveal that he grew up in Nazareth, he and his family fled persecution from King Herod and moved to Egypt, and his �rthly” father, Joseph, was a carpenter.

Jesus was raised Jewish, and according to most scholars, he aimed to reform Judaism—not create a new religion.

When he was around 30 years old, Jesus started his public ministry after being baptized in the Jordan River by the prophet known as John the Baptist.

For about three years, Jesus traveled with 12 appointed disciples (also known as the 12ਊpostles), teaching large groups of people and performing what witnesses described as miracles. Some of the most well-known miraculous events included raising a dead man named Lazarus from the grave, walking on water and curing the blind.


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Contents

Christmas in the Gospels Edit

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. The story of how this happened is told in part of the Bible known as the Gospels. There are four Gospels telling the life of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke tells the most about his birth, and the Gospel of Matthew tells another part of the story. The Gospel of John says that Jesus came from God to bring his "Word" or message to all people.

The Gospels say that many years before Jesus' birth, prophets had told a promise to the Jewish people that God would send them a Messiah, or holy teacher. Christians believe that the promised Messiah was Jesus. His mother was a young woman called Mary, who was engaged, but not yet married to a carpenter called Joseph. Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant and was upset. He was wondering what he should do, when an angel came from God to tell him that the baby was the Holy One. The angel said that he must name the baby. This was a sign that he would take care of it like his own child.

At this time, the Middle East was ruled by the Romans. An order came that all the people had to travel back to their home town, to put their names on the taxation lists. Joseph took his new wife to Bethlehem. There was nowhere for them to stay, except a stable where the animals slept. This is where the baby was born. Joseph called him Jesus, as the angel had said.

The baby Jesus had two lots of visitors. On the night he was born, angels told some shepherds in the fields that they would find a newborn king lying in an animals' feed bin (or manger). Jesus' other visitors were some wise men who saw a new star in the sky and followed it, until they found the house where the family was now living and gave the young child expensive gifts of gold, incense and a precious herb called myrrh. (The wise men are often traditionally called the Three Kings, because there were three very expensive presents but the Bible does not say how many wise men there were.)

All these parts of the Christmas story are remembered and celebrated in different ways at Christmas: in pictures, songs, plays, stories and in models that are called "cribs", "creches" or "presepe".

Date of celebration Edit

Most Christian countries of the world use a calendar called the Gregorian Calendar, but some churches use a calendar called the Julian Calendar. Most Christians, such as those of the Catholic and Protestant Churches, celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25 December, although holidays begin on 24 December also known as Christmas Eve.

The Eastern Orthodox Church still uses the Julian Calendar in some regions such as Russia. In such regions, Christmas is celebrated on 25 December in the Julian Calendar, but because of the difference between the calendars it is 7 January in the modern Gregorian Calendar.

Some Christians, like Jehovah's Witnesses, do not celebrate Christmas because there is no instruction from Jesus in the Bible which tells Christians to celebrate his birth. Mormons celebrate Christmas on 25 December but they believe that Christ's actual birth took place on 6 April.

Some [ who? ] believe that Jesus was probably not born on 25 December. Some historians [ who? ] believe this date was used by the Catholic Church to replace the pagan rites that took place at that time of the year.

Advent Edit

The Season of Advent, which begins on Sunday about four weeks before Christmas Day, is celebrated by the Catholic and Anglican Churches, as well as others. It is a time for people to prepare themselves for two different things: for the coming of the baby Jesus and Christmas, and for the second coming of Jesus, when he shall rule over all the Earth in peace. Not all Christian people remember Advent. Some people use it as a time of fasting, study, meditation and prayer. Special Advent Calendars are made for children, with pictures or treats for each day of Advent.

Generally, Advent is a time when many people are very busy in preparation for Christmas Day, cleaning and decorating, buying food and presents, writing cards and letters, and cooking the Christmas feast.

Celebrations Edit

Before the 4th century AD, Christians could only worship and celebrate in secret. The feast of Christmas probably began while Constantine was the Emperor of Rome, because it was he who made Christianity a legal religion and built some of Rome's oldest churches. Some old stone coffins or sarcophagi from this time are carved with pictures of Mary and baby Jesus and the Wise Men.

Through the Middle Ages Christmas was celebrated with feasting, singing and plays. The plays were held in churches, and also in castles and in market places, where a big hay wagon was sometimes used as a stage.

Because Advent was a time of prayer and preparation, most parties were held after Christmas, rather than before it. The main pre-Christmas celebration was the Feast of St. Nicholas on 6 December. In some countries, particularly the Netherlands, the tradition grew for children to receive presents on this day, rather than Christmas Day. The name of Saint Nicholas is now remembered in many countries as Santa Claus.

Another festivity that takes place is the Feast of Saint Lucy (St. Lucia Day) on 13 December which is particularly celebrated in Scandinavia, where girls take part in candlelit processions, and the daughters of the house must rise early to bring coffee or chocolate to the family.

For many centuries, the celebration of Christmas often began with a church service or mass, which lasted from late at night to after midnight on Christmas morning. Christmas Day was a time of feasting. On the following day, the Feast of Saint Stephen people from rich households would carry boxes of food out to the street for the poor and hungry. Many people would go back to work but employers would give gifts of money to their workers. The Holy Days continued with the feast of Saint John and Holy Innocents' Day. The feasting and parties ended on the Feast of the Epiphany, the day of the Three Wise Men, often called the "Three Kings". The season is nowadays remembered by the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas". William Shakespeare wrote a play to be performed as part of the celebration, called "Twelfth Night".

For many, Christmas has become a time when having parties, sending messages to family and friends and giving presents has become more important than the celebration of Jesus' birth. Manufacturers and stores have responded to the feasting and present-giving with lots of advertising, decorations and displays. In the US, the Christmas displays are put up right after Thanksgiving, late in November. In some countries such as Australia, stores put up decorations at the beginning of November. Given that Jesus himself called people making money in the Jewish Temple 'robbers' (Matthew 21:13) many Christians are uneasy about profit instead of prophets at Christmas.

Town councils celebrate by decorating streets and squares, and providing Christmas entertainment for shoppers. In countries of the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas falls in Summer, there is a tradition of open-air Carol Services, often organised by the town council, which are attended by thousands of people.

Many Christians celebrate Christmas by attending church, and with prayers and singing. And each year there are Bible readings from the Gospels that tell the story of the birth of Jesus.

Christmas traditions are of several types. There are traditions of the church, traditions which are public celebrations and traditions that are kept by families. These traditions are different in different times, places, cultures and even families.

Traditions of the Church Edit

The celebration of Christmas is a very important time for churches. Almost every church has special services or celebrations. Here are some of the ways that churches celebrate Christmas.

The Crib Edit

It is the custom in many churches to set up a Crib (or Creche) scene of the Nativity or birth of Jesus. The first scene of this type was set up by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. They have been very popular in Italy ever since then, and the custom has spread to other countries.

Nativity scenes can be large with life-sized statues, or they can be tiny enough to fit in a matchbox. They are made of many different things including carved and painted wood, brightly coloured ceramics (pottery), painted paper glued to boards, and mixtures of material with clay, wood, cloth, straw and metal used for different parts.

The Advent wreath is a circle of leaves, usually pine boughs, ivy and holly, with 4 (or sometimes 5) candles in it which is hung up in a church. The candles are lit on each Sunday in Advent, and the central candle is lit on Christmas morning. Churches are often decked with green branches and leaves, and many churches also have a Christmas tree.

Carols by Candlelight Edit

A popular tradition in many churches is the Carol Service which is often lit only by candles. The carol service generally has lots of singing and Bible readings. There is a tradition in England which began in the Temple Church in London and has now spread to many other places for a service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The lessons are Bible readings. Some carols are sung by a choir and others by the choir and people (the congregation). Every year one of these services is recorded in a large English Church, often King's College Chapel, Cambridge, and is broadcast on radio and television to be enjoyed by people who love good music and carol singing, but particularly for people who cannot go to a Christmas service.

Public and commercial celebrations Edit

Many cities and towns celebrate Christmas by putting up decorations. These may be banners and bunting which are strung from buildings or lampposts. They may be Christmas lights which can also decorate buildings and street trees. Many large cities put up a huge Christmas tree in a public place, such as those in Trafalgar Square in London, Times Square in New York and Martin Place in Sydney. This is often combined with an appeal to the people of the city to give money or gifts to help the poor and needy.

In many cities, the usual shopping hours are made longer before Christmas so that workers have more time to buy Christmas food and presents. Shop windows are often decorated with Christmas scenes, with large department stores often having animated scenes to entertain children. Shopping malls and big stores often have a Santa Claus, who sits on a throne, while children tell him what they want for Christmas, and have their photos taken.

Many towns hold Christmas parades, street entertainment and concerts. Some towns have a tradition of carols with a choir and entertainers in the town hall, while in Australia and New Zealand, these concerts of Christmas entertainment and carols are usually held outdoors, in parks or even on beaches, with families bringing picnics. The arrival of Santa Claus at the end of the evening is accompanied by a firework display.

A traditional part of Christmas is the theatre entertainment. This includes the performance of classical music such as Handel's Messiah as well as orchestral concerts and band recitals. Pantomimes are often played at Christmas and favourites include "Peter Pan and Wendy" and "Cinderella". Many children's movies are released during the Christmas season.

Because many people feel very lonely, hungry and sad at Christmas, many cities, churches, charities and service organisations try to help the poor and lonely by providing Christmas food and gifts for poor families, and Christmas parties for people who are hungry or who are lonely and without any friends or family.

Family celebrations Edit

Family celebrations are often very different from each other, depending on where a family comes from, and the customs that have grown in particular families.


Origin of Christmas Carols, Songs Represent Christian History

For generations, Christmas carols were sung by the world everywhere during the holiday season, but the evolution of the familiar songs may be much different from popular perception.

The very first recorded vestiges of what became Christmas songs came way before the commercialized holiday, in ancient, second-century Rome. Then, the Christian order of the day demanded the hymns be sung to propagate Trinitarian Christian doctrine claiming that God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all equals, three beings in separate forms. Arianism, on the other hand, claimed that Jesus was deistically lower than God was, because He was created afterwards in human form.

The songs of ancient times were in Latin, the scholarly language of the day, and as such, were immensely unpopular.

The ninth and tenth centuries saw further evolution of what would become the traditional Christmas carol because of rhyming verses. The introduction of rhyme, along with the cultivation of pagan lore like “Veni, redemptor gentium," or “Savior of the Nations, Come,” attributed to Milanese Bishop St. Ambrose, brought tuned chants a bit closer to the Christmas carols of modern times.

St. Francis of Assisi recognized the unpopularity of Christmas hymns, and set out to change it by transforming the holiday through theatrics, music, and for the first time, carols sung in audiences’ native languages. The abandonment of Latin in the thirteenth century was popularized in nativity scenes and productions across Europe.

Martin Luther continued the legacy of folk songs, but by the time the Puritan movement came about, the cheery Christmas spirit was discarded. Puritans did not believe in religious song, and banned the practice in Parliament in 1647.

Nearly 200 years later, historian Davies Gilbert published a number of ancient Christmas carols, and the practice was reborn. Then a little over a decade later, William Sandys created some of the most-sung carols of all time, like “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and “The First Noel.”

A push for more Christmas tradition by Prince Albert in 1840 spurred more English creations. One such creation was Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Today, music artists keep the tradition alive with slews of Christmas-themed albums, like Justin Bieber’s recent work, featuring classics like “Drummer Boy” and “Silent Night.”

The transition from tuned, doctrinal chants, to folksy carols and finally Christmas songs is very telling of the journey Christ’s unofficial birthday celebration had to endure just to be recognized.

Now, when people speak of the “Christmas spirit,” they can hold fast in the fact that carols do not just represent songs, but thousands of years of Christian history.


Watch the video: The First Christmas: Learn English US with subtitles - Story for Children (May 2022).