Christmas Traditions

People celebrate Christmas in many different ways, but some Christmas traditions can be found all over the world. Each of these traditions has a unique story and a unique way of reflecting the real meaning of Christmas.

Where Did the Christmas Tree Come From?

For thousands of years, the evergreen tree has been a sign of hope and life. For ancient people, it was a reminder in the winter that sunlight and good weather would come again. For Christians, it's a reminder that Jesus came to bring us the hope of eternal life.

While sixteenth century Germans are said to be the first people to bring Christmas trees into their homes, St. Boniface, an eighth century Catholic missionary to the Germans, is credited with creating the first Christmas tree. This happened one Christmas Eve when he chopped down a large oak tree that the Germans used for pagan worship. He pointed to a nearby evergreen tree, saying that it represented peace and eternal life. He told the crowd of Germans to gather around evergreen trees in their homes in a spirit of kindness and love, to commemorate the child Jesus.

In the early 1800s, German settlers brought the Christmas tree tradition to Pennsylvania. The rest of America adopted the tradition in 1846, and slowly but surely the Christmas tree gained popularity. Now, Christmas trees are seen in homes and on display all over the world. Their beauty and light remind us of the hope we have in Jesus.

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Why Do We Decorate with Lights?

Candles and lights are prevalent at Christmas time. Glowing warmly at the darkest time of year, they symbolize the light of Jesus shining through the darkness of sin and death.

Today’s strings of electric Christmas lights evolved from candles. It’s not clear when candles first became a Christmas tradition, but one historical record mentions that a large candle was used in the Middle Ages as a symbol of the star of Bethlehem.

During the 1500s, Christians began using candles to decorate their Christmas trees. The flickering glow of the small flames amid the evergreen branches created a beautiful image of hope, but it was a fire hazard. In 1882, Thomas Edison’s friend Edward H. Johnson created the first string of electric Christmas lights, making it much safer for people to light their trees.

Why Do We Exchange Gifts?

When Jesus was born, there were wise men, or magi, who came from distant lands to worship him. They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. One reason we give gifts at Christmas time is to follow the example of the magi.

Giving gifts is also a way to remember how, on that first Christmas night in a stable in Bethlehem, God gave us the greatest gift of all—his only son, who would die for our sins about three decades later. When we give gifts at Christmas, it is a wonderful opportunity to give of ourselves, imitating God’s amazing generosity and showing his love to others.

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