5 Christmas traditions and what’s behind them

The birth of Jesus, the star of Bethlehem, the Christmas tree, Santa Claus and the presents. What are the different Christmas traditions about??

Was Jesus really born on Christmas Eve??

"But it came to pass at the time that a commandment went out from the emperor Augustus that all the world would be appreciated. And this estimate was the first and happened at the time Cyrenius was governor of Syria", this is how the evangelist Luke describes it. At the same time, the evangelist Matthew tells us that the cruel King Herod had all the children of Bethlehem murdered after he heard of the birth of the new King of the Jews.

The two historical events cannot be reconciled with the biblical Christmas story: The census described was used to calculate potential tax revenues and took place in 6 or 7 A.D. And the hated Herod died already in the year 4 v.Chr., So there are about ten years between the two events.

Also the date of birth 25. December is not found in the Bible, it was first mentioned in the fourth century under Emperor Constantine I. deliberately set on this day, since pagan cultures such as the Romans, Celts or Germanic peoples celebrated the winter solstice on this day. With the calendar reform in 16. In the 19th century, the winter solstice moved to the 21st century. December.

Besides the year and day of birth, the place of birth of Jesus is also disputed: Possibly the evangelists deliberately shifted the place of birth to Bethlehem because, according to the Old Testament, King David had already been born there, whose descendant was to be the Messiah.

The birth story was intended to characterize Jesus as the Son of God and, by linking him to historical figures such as Quirinius or Herod, to place him in context with prevailing expectations of salvation. The Bible is not a history book, but a collection of writings that is regarded in Judaism and Christianity as Holy Scripture with a normative claim for the entire practice of religion.

Did the Star of Bethlehem really exist??

For half an eternity, scientists have been searching for an explanation of the bright star that led the three wise men from the East to Jesus, as described in the Gospel of Matthew.

From historical sources it is known that Halley’s comet approached the earth about 2000 years ago. It is also known that at the time of Jesus’ birth the two planets Saturn and Jupiter came very close to each other three times within one year – an extremely rare spectacle. But despite the proximity, there were two points of light, not just one bright star, as described by the evangelist Matthew.

According to other theories, the cosmic event could have been a supernova, the explosion of a large star that outshone all other stars.

No, Coca-Cola did not invent Santa Claus!

Does Santa Claus exist?

No, it was not a US lemonade manufacturer who invented Santa Claus. The basis for the Santa Claus figure is St. Nicholas, who was born in the 4th century BC. Jesus was the bishop of Myra in southern Turkey in the sixteenth century and is the subject of numerous legends. His episcopal figure was changed in 19.Century secularized and its liturgical chasuble including Mitra as a coat and Zipfelmutze represented.

But since Protestants rejected the veneration of saints – and thus also the veneration of St. Nicholas – the Christ Child became the focus of attention with the Reformation. In the future, the Christ Child brought the presents – at least in Southern and Western Europe. In Northern and Eastern Europe, on the other hand, St. Nicholas and his servant, Ruprecht, retained the role of Santa Claus. In the course of time, the angelic Christ Child became independent and the reference to Jesus became more and more diffuse.

His characteristic appearance gave Santa Claus the German-American illustrator Thomas Nast, who in 1863 in Harper’s Weekly magazine a gentle, chubby Santa Claus in a red coat with long Rauschebart and reindeer sleigh portrayed. Nast has oriented itself thereby at the Palatine "Belzenickel", a fur-wearing Christmas figure from the 19th century. He was still acquainted with the figure of Santa Claus from his childhood. When he later colored the drawing, he chose the colors red and white.

In 1931, the Swedish graphic artist Haddon Sundblom also used this image for a Coca-Cola advertising campaign that existed until 1966. The U.S. lemonade manufacturer thus played a decisive role in shaping the image of Santa Claus.

The search for suitable gifts often dominates the Christmas season

When will there be presents?

The time of the Bescherung varies from country to country. Originally, children were given milk on the commemoration day of St. Nicholas, 6. December, given presents. After the Reformation, in Protestant regions the giving of presents was moved to Christmas Eve, since Protestants rejected the veneration of saints and did not celebrate their name days.

In the past, the giving of presents in Germany took place at midnight on the night of the 24th. to the 25. December, after the Christmas mass, instead of. Because the little ones were not necessarily allowed to stay up until midnight, the giving of presents was brought forward to the early evening.

In the U.S. and the U.K., it is still customary for Santa Claus or. Father Christmas brings the presents down the chimney at midnight and the children are allowed to open them on the morning of Christmas Day.

In Spain and parts of Italy, the presents are not delivered until 6. January, the Epiphany, unpacked. According to the Bible, the wise men from the East brought gifts to the newborn Jesus. But unlike in Spain, in Italy it is not Santa Claus or the Christ Child who brings the presents, but the witch Befana.

And something else has changed fundamentally: Originally only the children were given presents, only in more recent times the adults were also given presents.

Why do we put up a fir tree at Christmas??

No, a fir tree is not mentioned in the Bible either. There is no historically verifiable beginning for this custom, but in many cultures fresh trees or plants were brought into the living area because they embodied health and fertility. At the winter solstice, for example, the "pagans" have been fetching Wintermaien into the cosy home. This cult was adopted all too readily by the early Christians.

The first Christmas trees were not planted until the 15th century. Century set up. Since the first half of the 18th century. century, the news about the Christmas tree began to accumulate. The custom spread throughout Europe via the nobility.

No Christmas without a glowing fir tree. But that was not always the case

The Reformation made the fir tree the Christmas symbol of the Protestants, while the Catholics continued to gather around the manger. Only at the beginning of the 19. At the end of the 19th century, after the wars of liberation against Napoleon, the luminous tree was to be found in living rooms across all denominations.

However, initially only the upper classes could afford a Christmas tree, because fir trees were originally rather rare in Central Europe. The commoners and especially the townspeople had to make do with twigs. This changed only when, from the second half of the 19th century onward. By the mid-nineteenth century, fir and spruce forests were increasingly being planted to meet urban needs.

European emigrants also brought the custom to the New World. It is documented that the German-born Harvard professor Karl Follen was the first to put up a Christmas tree in his home in Massachusetts in 1832, thus introducing the custom to New England. In 1891 there was a "Christmas tree" for the first time in front of the White House in Washington.

In search of the Christmas star

The Magi – on tour once again

Kaspar, Melchior, Balthasar – according to the Christmas story, the "Stargazers from the East" belonged to them to the first visitors of the baby Jesus. Scholars had followed a celestial phenomenon. Whether there really was a "Christmas star" at the time of Christ’s birth is disputed. But one thing is certain: At that time, people saw the stars much better than today.

In search of the Christmas star

At home in Cologne Cathedral

Since the 12. In the twentieth century, the bones of the Three Wise Men from the East lie here – in Cologne Cathedral. In an old shrine, which is considered one of the most valuable and largest of its kind. But what if the Magi no longer wanted to lie in the shrine?? What if they wanted to set out once again to follow the star? Then they would probably have problems.

In search of the Christmas star

A sea of lights and no stars

For this is what the three wise men would see: a brightly lit Cologne Cathedral. And hardly any stars in the sky. For they are simply unrecognizable in too much artificial light. Just 200 to 500 stars can be seen, according to the Dark Sky Association can still be discovered with the naked eye by city dwellers today – in the past, there were around 2500. How to follow the Christmas star?

In search of the poinsettia

Light polluted Europe

"First out of the big city and then in the direction of Bethlehem", might be good advice. But a star guarantee does not exist on the further travel route also. Researchers speak of "light pollution Europe’s. Because this level of artificial lighting is harmful: it affects ecosystems and disrupts the chronobiological rhythms of humans and animals.

In search of the poinsettia

Milky Way? Never seen!

And this is how the starry sky for the Magi would look quite different today than it did 2000 years ago. For example, where is the Milky Way? Half of all Europeans can’t see the galaxy even in clear skies – too much artificial light obscures vision. And also one third of all Germans state in surveys that they have never seen the galaxy.

In search of the Christmas star

Places of stargazing

Perhaps the three wise men from the East should ask where today’s astronomers are setting up their research stations? The world’s largest radio telescope is located in one of the highest and loneliest landscapes on earth: the Atacama Desert. From here you should be able to see the Christmas star – if it exists at all.

In search of the Christmas star

The stable must be here somewhere.

Suppose the Magi do see the poinsettia and make it to Israel. And then? This region is also brightly illuminated by artificial light. The Nile River in neighboring Egypt is also clearly visible in the picture: The river delta makes up only five percent of Egypt’s land area – but as the lights suggest, 95 percent of all people live here.

In search of the Christmas star

Christmas lights everywhere

And here it is: The Church of the Nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem. This is the place where the poinsettia is said to have led the Magi more than 2000 years ago. At that time there was probably less artificial light on this place. The Christmas custom of brightly illuminating streets and houses makes it much harder to see the starry sky in any case.

In search of the poinsettia

Did the Christmas star really exist??

Here it is, in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem: the Christmas star. Science is still puzzling over whether it really existed. Some researchers think the celestial phenomenon could have been a comet. Others believe it was a supernova or the collision of two planets. Too bad we can’t just ask the stargazers of yesteryear.

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