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Most of the Anglo-American Christmas traditions have been borrowed and adapted from Austria and Germany.
In the German-speaking countries, Christmas (Weihnachten) lasts approximately from December 1 to January 6. However, in some parts of German Europe the Christmas season begins as early as Martinstag on the 11th of November! The date of Christmas has fluctuated over the centuries. At one point January 6 was the date of the celebration, and that is still the date for some eastern Orthodox churches.
11. November - For many Germans and Austrians, St. Martin's Day (Martinstag) is the unofficial start of the Christmas season. Just as the late-November Thanksgiving holiday signals the start of the Christmas season in the US, Martinstag on November 11 tells Germans that Christmas is on the way.
While the Advent wreath is a feature in many Catholic homes and even Catholic churches during the season of Advent, it actually originated among the Lutherans of Eastern Germany in the 16th century. It was quickly adopted by both Protestants and Catholics throughout Germany, and it was brought to the United States by German immigrants in the 19th century. The Advent wreath has deeper origins as well, extending back to pre-Christian customs of burning lights during the darkest months of winter. Medieval Christians retained the custom while seeing such lights as a symbol of Christ.
It wasn’t until 1838 that these wreaths made a comeback. A protestant pastor from Hamburg, Johann Wichern, who ran an orphanage, decided to place a giant wooden ring in a room to use it as a type of countdown to Christmas for the children. Each day during the advent, the pastor would light a candle after their daily Bible reading. It wasn’t long before this tradition took hold in other orphanages. The wooden wreath became each time more festively decorated. Yet it wasn’t till the 1860s in Berlin, where the wooden wreath was replaced by an evergreen wreath with only four candles to represent each Adventssonntag. The wreath was therefore smaller and quickly spread throughout German homes. By WWI, the advent wreath was present in almost all German protestant homes. Bit by bit the catholic Germans took up the traditions as well.
Similar to the decoration of the Christmas tree we can find customs of decorating whole trees in medieval times such as the ‘Maibaum’ and the ‘Richtbaum’, all with strong shamanic references. And the church had the habit of decorating a tree of knowledge on Dec 24th to commemorate Adam and Eve and the ‘Paradiesspiel’ the play of paradise.
24. Dezember - Heiligabend, Christmas Eve is the most important time of the Germanic celebration. No waiting for Santa Claus to come down the chimney. The presents (from the Christkindl, Christ Child) are opened under the tree that night
A. Popular myth puts his birth on December 25th in the year 1 C.E.
B. The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth. The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s, written about 65 CE – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus. This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate.
C. The year of Jesus birth was determined by Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk, “abbot of a Roman monastery. His calculation went as follows:
a. In the Roman, pre-Christian era, years were counted from ab urbe condita (“the founding of the City” [Rome]). Thus 1 AUC signifies the year Rome was founded, 5 AUC signifies the 5th year of Rome’s reign, etc.
b. Dionysius received a tradition that the Roman emperor Augustus reigned 43 years, and was followed by the emperor Tiberius.
c. Luke 3:1,23 indicates that when Jesus turned 30 years old, it was the 15th year of Tiberius reign.
d. If Jesus was 30 years old in Tiberius’ reign, then he lived 15 years under Augustus (placing Jesus birth in Augustus’ 28th year of reign).
e. Augustus took power in 727 AUC. Therefore, Dionysius put Jesus birth in 754 AUC.
f. However, Luke 1:5 places Jesus’ birth in the days of Herod, and Herod died in 750 AUC – four years before the year in which Dionysius places Jesus birth.
A. Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration. The festival began when Roman authorities chose “an enemy of the Roman people” to represent the “Lord of Misrule.” Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week. At the festival’s conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman.
B. The ancient Greek writer poet and historian Lucian (in his dialogue entitled Saturnalia) describes the festival’s observance in his time. In addition to human sacrifice, he mentions these customs: widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked; rape and other sexual license; and consuming human-shaped biscuits (still produced in some English and most German bakeries during the Christmas season).
C. In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to take the pagan masses in with it. Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians.
D. The problem was that there was nothing intrinsically Christian about Saturnalia. To remedy this, these Christian leaders named Saturnalia’s concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus’ birthday.
E. Christians had little success, however, refining the practices of Saturnalia. As Stephen Nissenbaum, professor history at the University of Massachussetts, Amherst, writes, “In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been.” The earliest Christmas holidays were celebrated by drinking, sexual indulgence, singing naked in the streets (a precursor of modern caroling), etc.
5. Januar - "Twelfth Night" - the last of the twelve nights or days of Christmas. "On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me..." 6. Januar - Epiphany is known as "Three Kings Day" or Heilige Drei Könige in German. It commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Men (three kings) in Bethlehem. This is the end of the Christmas season in Europe. The last of the Christmas trees go in the trash and the "twelve days of Christmas" come to an end.
Like many of the most ancient Christian feasts, Epiphany was first celebrated in the East, where it has been held from the beginning almost universally on January 6. Today, among both Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, the feast is known as Theophany—the revelation of God to man. In most countries and dioceses, the celebration is transferred to the Sunday between January 2 and January 8, inclusive.
O God, Who by the guidance of a star didst this day reveal Thine only-begotten Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we, who know Thee now by faith, may be so led as to behold with our eyes the beauty of Thy majesty. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Until the Roman church adopted December 25 in the 4th century, January 6 was the day of celebration-today's Epiphany or Heilige Drei Könige (the "Wise Men," "Three Kings," the Magi) in German. To this day, the initials of the Three Kings-C+M+B (Caspar/Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar)-plus the year are inscribed in chalk over doorways in German-speaking countries on the eve of January 6 to protect house and home. In many parts of Europe, including Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, the Christmas celebration does not end until this date, now considered the arrival of the three "kings of the orient" in Bethlehem-and the end of the "twelve days of Christmas" between Christmas and January 6."
The Origin of Christmas Presents In pre-Christian Rome, the emperors compelled their most despised citizens to bring offerings and gifts during the Saturnalia (in December) and Kalends (in January). Later, this ritual expanded to include gift-giving among the general populace. The Catholic Church gave this custom a Christian flavor by re-rooting it in the supposed gift-giving of Saint Nicholas