Christmas is indeed a 'ubiquitous' festival, as it is celebrated throughout the world. The festivity of Christmas is resplendent in an estimated 26 million Indian homes. The joys of the season is palpable atleast a month before Christmas, where people are seen making the most of the special bargains and discounts of the season, to spruce up their wardrobe in time for the celebration. Plans are afoot in great enthusiasm as homes are decorated with glitter and sparkle, exotic delicacies are stirred up, and mellifluous Christmas carols pervade the air, in anticipation of the big day - celebration of the birth of the king of kings, Jesus Christ.
'Merry Christmas!' fills the air and a unique camaraderie binds the revelers, as they pray for the good of mankind, spreading warmth and love which is the essence of the teachings of Lord Christ, who was born this day. There are numerous customs that have become associated with Christmas out of which the Star, Santa Claus and Christmas tree have become synonymous with the celebration. Let us take a peek into some of the interesting stories behind these traditions.
Christmas carols have their origins in Ancient Greece, where caroling was known as 'choraulien', implying 'to dance to a flute'. Every year during Christmas, these beautiful melodies lend their charm to the celebration.
Santa Claus or Father Christmas has been the darling of children from time immemorial. Santa Claus is alluring to children, the way he is - in a red suit, sporting a snow-white beard, with a big fat belly. In their little innocent world, children wait gleefully for Santa to arrive on his reindeer sleigh with a red nosed-reindeer, carrying a bagful of gifts for them.
The tradition of Santa Claus appears to be a leaf out of Saint Nicholas's life. Saint Nicholas loved children and was a very noble and kind hearted saint whose heart went out for the poor. Legend has it, that on a particular Christmas night, St Nicholas witnessed a poor family, a father and his three daughters sobbing uncontrollably because they were extremely hungry and had no money. Saint Nicholas was so moved that he threw three bags of gold from the top of the chimney that slipped into the stocking of each of the daughters. The money brought back the laughter in their lives and happiness in their heart. Ever since, Santa Claus has become an inseparable part of Christmas.
The custom of using a star to light up homes has an interesting story behind it. According to the legend, it is believed that a shining star made its appearance inexplicably, on the eastern sky. The light emanating from the star was the guiding light for the three wise men, known as 'the magi', to take them to their destination - the new born Jesus Christ. The wise men were also astrologers, so when they made the calculations it was evident that this baby born was no ordinary human, but a divine birth on Jewish soil. During Christmas, people decorate their homes with stars as a symbol of God, happiness and love in their lives.
Tracing the roots of the Christmas tree, it is said that one day when Martin Luther, a well known German monk was crossing the woods, he was simply awed by the breathtaking sight of dew drops twinkling on fir trees. Taken up by the divine beauty of the tree, it is said that he brought a miniature tree to his home and decorated the tree to recapture the splendour of the sparkling tree, he had seen.
Legend has it, that when Jesus was born, the foliage on the earth, along with all creatures, sent a little gift to the baby. The palm tree offered dates and other trees sent their succulent bounty, but the fir tree was crestfallen because it had nothing to give. A passing angel understood the poor tree's plight and decorated the tree with stars. Baby Jesus was so happy with the beautiful sight, and over the years, it became a custom to decorate a tree during Christmas.
Christmas essentially spreads the message of love. It is a valuable lesson in caring for others, and cheering by giving. The gifts are not as important as the thought behind the gifts. So gifts are exchanged between friends and families in celebration of loving the other, selflessly. This practice too is rooted in tradition. It is believed that when Jesus was born, the three wise men or the magi from the east carried costly gifts for the baby. It is believed that one of them carried gold to crown the baby as the king of kings, another brought frankincense with him, while the last of them carried myrrh, the burial balm embodying pure traits, which symbolizes the purpose of the birth of the lord, Jesus Christ, as a savior of the world. People from everywhere flocked to gift baby Jesus. The Lord blessed each one, not by the value of the gift, but by the love and faith behind the gesture. It is this sentiment that is behind the Christmas gifts of today. People spread love, merriment and cheer by gifting their dear ones to make them happy. The gifts are usually packed and placed at the bottom of the Christmas tree. People wait until midnight to open the goodies and celebrate the sparkle of Christmas with gifts, looking forward to the choicest blessings from God.
On Christmas Eve, churches hold midnight mass and day services to preach the message of God to the people. A mass is held during midnight, for it is believed that Jesus Christ was born at the stroke of midnight. A night mass usually comprises of carols, hymns, and scripture reading, culminating in a profound display of love and comradeship, in the form of a 'hug' or 'meeting of the hands',as they wish each other 'Merry Christmas', and pray for harmony in each others lives.