Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

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Thoughts on Christmas Customs

Every year we hear about “Xmas,” a commonly used abbreviation for Christmas. Such an abbreviation does not leave Christ out of Christmas. Only we can do that. There was a time when God’s name could not be spelled, neither should it be pronounced (i.e. Yahweh). That carried over into Christianity. Out of respect, one would not be so bold as to misuse the name of Jesus the Christ. From early in the first century the Greek letter “X” stood for Jesus of Nazareth; he who was crucified.

Do I personally think it inappropriate?

No. There are so many wonderful aspects relating to this terrific season that I feel we have more important issues at hand.

I fondly remember a boat owned by Mr. Self (Plymouth-Chrysler dealer, Farnham), housed at Windmill Point long yesteryears ago. Emblazoned across the stern were the letters IAFTYTMITT. Many folks stewed over and pondered time and time again, how to pronounce the name. You couldn’t. Heated conversation, wasted words and more than a few cocktails notwithstanding, her name was unpronounceable. Mr. Self said that he once was boat-less when a son-in-law talked him into buying another yacht. When it came time to name the vessel Self said: “It’s a fine thing you talked me into this time.” Name aside, she was still a yacht.

Christmas, on the 25th of December, was set some two centuries after the death of Jesus, by the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Gregory I (540-604 AD) allowed Christian missionaries to give established folk-customs Christian reinterpretations.

Some Eastern Orthodox churches have not accepted either the reforms of the Gregorian calendar or the revised Julian calendar. Their Ecclesiastic holiday will fall on the civil date of January 7th for the years from 1900-2099.

The Armenian Church celebrates Epiphany, but not Christmas.

Secular dates for the Christmas celebration also vary. In the United Kingdom, the Christmas season traditionally runs for twelve days following Christmas Day. These twelve days of Christmas, a period of feasting and merrymaking, end on Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany.

Christmas now begins early, allowing more time for shopping and get-togethers, and extends to New Year’s Day. This later holiday has its own celebration, and in Scotland, Hogmanay, is celebrated more than Christmas. It’s theme song is “Auld Lang Syne.”

Some cultures recognize Christmas Eve. Some follow Christmas day with Boxing Day. In the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia and Poland, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are called First and Second Christmas Day.

Customs with secular, religious or national aspects surround Christmas. They include: the Christmas tree, the Christmas ham, the Yule Log, holly, mistletoe and the giving of presents; many appropriated by Christian missionaries from the earlier pagan midwinter holiday of Yule (Winter solstice). Yule was widespread and popular in northern Europe long before the arrival of Christianity.

Today some view Christmas as a pagan holiday not sanctioned by the Bible and do not celebrate it.

Santa Claus is an adaptation of Saint Nicholas, a 4th century bishop of Asia Minor. The Dutch modeled a gift-giving Saint Nicholas around his feast day of December 6. English colonists adopted aspects of this celebration into their Christmas holiday. Sinterklaas became Santa Claus, or Saint Nick. In the Anglo-American tradition, he makes toys, and keeps lists on the behavior of children. He travels on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, drops down the chimney, leaving gifts for the children. In some cultures Santa Claus is married and is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, or Black Peter.

Around the globe, Saint Nicholas Day is a day for gift giving. In much of Germany, children put shoes out on windowsills on the night of December 5th to find them filled with candy and small gifts the next morning. In such places, including the Netherlands, Christmas remains more a religious holiday.

Some who recognize Saint Nicholas as the bearer of gifts do so on December 5 or 6. In Spain, and countries with similar traditions, gifts are brought by the three Kings (Magi or Wise Men) at Epiphany, January 6th. Gifts were given in the UK to non-family members on Boxing Day, December 26, though the 25th is winning out of late.

Even Judaism’s Chanukah (Festival of Lights) has evolved into a similar tradition of family gift giving. It is one of the few Jewish holidays not mentioned in the Bible. The story of Hanukkah is in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees (which are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible).

Our exchanging Christmas cards is a way to maintain relationships with distant relatives, friends and business acquaintances.

Decorating a Christmas tree with lights and ornaments, and the interior of our homes with garlands and evergreen foliage, particularly holly and mistletoe, are common traditions. So is decorating the outside of houses with lights, illuminated sleighs, snowmen, nativities and other seasonal figures.

Our traditional Christmas flower is the poinsettia. Other popular holiday plants are holly, red amaryllis and Christmas cactus.

Many religious celebrations begin with Advent, the anticipation of Christ’s birth, around the start of December.

A remaining popular English tradition is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols such as celebrated at Cambridge; which began in 1878 when reportedly the choir of Truro Cathedral sang a service of carols on Christmas Eve.

Our religious season ends with the feast of the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, the traditional date of the visit of the Three Kings to Jesus.

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