by Dr. Brad Black
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I have been explaining Christmas traditions for several years now, and I was struggling a little bit to find a subject I have not already talked about. With a few suggestions from my wife, I have a found a few and learned some things myself.
Christmas Eve is one tradition that most people take for granted, but I have learned that it started a long time ago and held great importance to the church. In fact, Christmas Mass, held at midnight on Christmas Eve, was the most important church service of the year for the early Catholic Church. The Christmas mass communion service is the only communion service the Catholic Church allowed to take place after sundown. People would fast all day Christmas Eve and take the meal time to pray for the service that evening. After mass and the communion service, they would break their fast with a huge meal. As time passed, in some countries, people would exchange gifts after the meal. Over time, other countries would hold the big meal just before the communion service and then go to Christmas Mass, and they would exchange their gifts then. In fact, several European countries still do this today.
Christmas Eve was also the day that they put up the Christmas tree and decorated it in several European countries in preparation for the Christmas Mass and the Christmas celebration. Also, the other greens, as they are called, are put up on Christmas Eve. These greens would include Mistletoe and Holly. (I will include old blogs on the Christmas tree and greens)
Another tradition that is done on Christmas Eve is the lighting of the Yule log. People would keep a piece of wood from the previous year’s Yule log fire. In England, the children would decorate it, it would be lit on Christmas Eve and they would not let the fire go out until the twelfth night, Jan 6. This date is traditionally celebrated as when the Wise man arrived to see the Christ child.
The tradition of the Christmas tree and lights was started by one of my heroes in the faith; Martin Luther. Tradition says that Martin Luther was returning late one Christmas Eve after leading the Christmas service. This was after Martin Luther had posted his 95 thesis on the door of the Wittenberg Church. At this time most of Germany had become Lutheran, a church denomination that followed the teachings of Martin Luther. The Lutheran church kept many of the traditions of the Catholic church, such as the “Christ Mass” on Christmas Eve, which is still practiced today.
As Martin Luther was coming through the snow that Christmas Eve, the beauty of what he saw, a fir tree silhouetted against the star lit sky, struck him. He thought it was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen, and it was more so because he had seen it on Christmas Eve. Later, as he was trying to describe this to his wife and children, words would not work. So Martin Luther, being a very brash man, went out and cut down the nearest fir tree and brought it into the house. He then decorated it with lighted candles trying to capture the same beauty he had seen. When asked about this later in life, Luther explained that the lighted candles demonstrate the light given to the world through the birth of Jesus. The evergreen tree represented the deathlessness of the living God. This is why this picture was so important to him.
Mistletoe has green leaves and red berries which later turn white and have the traditional meaning of green being evergreen or everlasting life and the red representing the blood of Jesus, the white represents the washing away of our sins through the spilt blood of Jesus. Oh, but there is more to Mistletoe than just the colors, continue reading to find out the rest of the Mistletoe story.
First, Mistletoe is found in trees in the winter, it is there during the summer, but it is only seen in the winter because it is the only thing living. Mistletoe comes from the old English word Misteltan where mistel mean dung and tan mean twig. They literally believed that the mistletoe sprang out of the bird droppings. These ancient people saw Mistletoe as a sign of God’s power to bring life out of death to make something beautiful out of something ugly.
The tradition of mistletoe actual has two different origins from two different countries. The English version is “When Christ’s Message was beginning to shake the very core of the world, the leaders in power decided to hang Him to a tree. They believed this would end Christ’s influence and halt his message. However, like the mistletoe, the beauty and power of the Son of God sprang forth from the tree on which he was nailed, and the world took note. For Christians, the plant thus became a symbol of life after death, of faith that was so strong it could grow even in the midst of the darkness. Like mistletoe, God’s love and true faith could survive even the most barbarous time and the darkest days and believing in Jesus as Savior brought personal peace even in the midst of war.” (p128 The Stories behind the great traditions of Christmas)
Unfortunately, the idea of Mistletoe being the symbol of God’s love was missed, and it became a symbol of just love. This led to another tradition of Mistletoe; kissing beneath it. The saying was that if a young couple passed under the Mistletoe they must kiss and if they did, God would bless them with everlasting love.
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