The First Christmas
The New Testament of the Bible tells of a young woman selected by God to carry and give birth to Godís son. At the time of the babyís birth His mother, Mary, and His father, Joseph, had traveled to the small town of Bethlehem to pay the taxes demanded by the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus.
Because of the crowds gathered to pay taxes Mary and Joseph were forced to spend the night in a stable in Bethlehem. While they were in the stable Mary gave birth to the baby whom she named Jesus as she had promised God she would.
When Jesus was born God sent an angel to tell people about the birth of His son. The angel also expressed that this baby would be the savior for the world. Shepherds who were told went to worship the baby, as did kings who were told. In addition to worshipping God the kings also brought the infant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Christians today celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as Godís gift of salvation for the earth December 25th of each year.
The use of evergreen plants as a symbol for Christmas stems largely from pagan beliefs and practices. Evergreens were used during pagan winter solstice practices as reminders of the coming spring. Some pagan groups also worshipped trees and Ancient Romans placed evergreen wreaths on their doors as a sign of victory in fighting or games.
For Christians at Christmas evergreens symbolize the everlasting life offered by the Christ Child. The color red used to accent the green, as holly berries in a wreath, are said to represent the blood Jesus shed in giving the gift of everlasting life.
The first Christmas tree is credited to a German preacher Martin Luther who lived in the 16th century. After seeing the stars in the night sky shine through the branches of an evergreen tree while walking home, he was reminded of the Star of Bethlehem. Luther went home and told his children what had happened and later brought home a similar tree which he decorated with candles.
Christmas trees were first bedecked with edible ornaments, cookies and apples. Candles were usually present as was a bucket of water kept nearby to douse any fires that might start. Later trees were decorated with small presents, and strings of popcorn and cranberries were popular with settlers in America. By the 1800ís trimming Christmas trees was a custom practiced in many countries.
The practice of giving gifts originates with the gifts given to the baby Jesus by the three kings, the gifts of the Magi. The three kings, or wisemen, described in the Bible, who traveled to worship Christ brought gifts to offer. These gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh each held significance at the time they were given. Gold represented that Jesus was the king of kings, frankincense was used to show that He would always be worshipped, and Myrrh symbolized the suffering Jesus would endure.
This giving of gifts was originally a simple representation of the gifts of the Magi. Traditionally, as it still is in some countries today, gifts were given on Epiphany, January 6, or the day the Kings were said to give their gifts to Christ.
Later the giving of gifts at Christmas grew to focus more on the delight of children. This occurred because of a man named Saint Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Children and Sailors. Said to live in the fourth century working as a Bishop in the area now called Turkey, it is possible that this man did not exist, but was rather humanized from one of the many pagan sea gods.
Many legends surround Saint Nicholas, but each one describes him as a kindly man. In some stories Saint Nicholas saves children from becoming human sacrifices and in others he gives gifts of money and food secretly to the poor.
Over the years and miles between countries, Saint Nicholas has changed. He is called Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Christ Kind, Kris Kringle, Sinter Klaas, and Santa Claus. He has ridden or been pulled by a horse (usually white), a donkey, goats, and reindeer which often can magically fly. Sometimes he is accompanied by a cruel helper named Black Peter who keeps track of whether children are naughty or nice, and at other times by small, happy elves.
St. Nicholas can also be depicted as a tall man in a Bishopís robe and hat, in beggars clothing, in a long flowing cape, or in a red suit trimmed with fur as a short, chubby elf.
- Be sure that a live Christmas tree is fresh and kept moist.
- Place any Christmas tree, live or artificial, away from heat sources of any type.
- Keep all candles and open flames away from holiday decorations and out of childrenís reach.
- Be aware that many holiday plants such as mistletoe and poinsettias are poisonous if ingested and keep them out of the reach of children and pets.
- Follow all safety instructions and directions for proper use on any holiday lights.
- Purchase only age appropriate gifts for infants and children.
- Follow all safety instructions for assembling and using new toys or equipment.
- Remember to ask about alcohol content before partaking in eggnog, cider, or other holiday drinks that may have alcohol added.
- Plan a designated driver who will not drink anything containing alcohol.
Crafts for Christmas
Star Light Candle HolderYou will need:
- 2 small aluminum pie tins
- 1 nail or ball-point pen
- corrugated cardboard (to protect the surface you work on)
- 1 short, fat candle
Cut a circle of paper to fit in the bottom of one of the pie tins. Use the pencil to draw the Star of Bethlehem on the paper circle. Then place the paper with the star side up in the bottom of one tin.
Put the pie tin with the star on a large piece of corrugated cardboard. Use the nail or ball-point pen to poke holes through the pie tin along the outline of the star you have drawn. Stand the pie tin with the star on its edge inside the other pie tin. Using the stapler, attach the sides of pie tin to the lip of the second pie tin.
Have and adult help with or supervise this next step. Place the candle in the bottom pie tin and light it. Turn the candle holder to best view the candle light shining through the star.
Think of other simple outline shapes to create new candle holder designs. Try bells, Christmas trees, or angels. What other shapes can you think of?
A Wreath of MittensYou will need:
- one Styrofoam circle or wreath shape
- pencil (optional)
- green and red construction paper or felt
- straight pins
- glue and glitter (optional)
- ribbon (red, gold, or silver)
Use the scissors to cut mitten shapes from the paper or felt. Young children will find the paper easier to cut and it may help to draw the mitten shape on the paper first. If you choose, decorate each mitten using glue and glitter. Allow the glue to dry.
Using the straight pins, attach each mitten to the Styrofoam wreath covering it completely on one side. Use the ribbon to tie a large bow at the top of the wreath and to hang it on your door.
If you prefer to use this idea as a way to help others who are less fortunate, collect pairs of real childrenís mittens new or used and in good condition. Use straight pins to attach the mitten pairs to the wreath and give the wreath to a local homeless shelter or other organization working for the poor. If you like, tuck a note with a poem, happy thought, or holiday wish into one mitten of each pair before attaching it to the wreath.
Books for Children
- Merry Christmas Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola is a wonderful story in which Big Anthony causes Strega Nona difficulties in her yearly preparation for the Christmas Eve feast. Appropriate for children ages 4-10. (amazon.com has it)
- The Little Drummer Boy illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats - This traditional Christmas carol is beautifully illustrated and the music is included in the back. Nice for children ages 3-8. (amazon.com has it)
- Santaís Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki - Santa tells the story of the birth of Christ to the forest animals. Interesting for children 3-8. (amazon.com has it)
- Baboushka retold by Arthur Scholey - A traditional Russian folk tale of why a woman, Baboushka, searches everywhere for the Christ child, leaving small presents for each good child along the way. This book is currently out of print so check your local library for a copy.
- The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by John Steven Gurney - This is a nicely illustrated version of the well known poem. Appropriate for children ages 3-10. (amazon.com has it)
- The Legend Of The Poinsettia retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a Mexican legend of how a simple gift of weeds, offered by a young girl to the baby Jesus, bloom into the beautiful poinsettia flowers. Interesting for children ages 5-10. (amazon.com has it). The same book in Spanish but it is out of print, so check your local library.
- The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg - Expressive illustrations accompany the story of a young boy who has not lost his faith that Santa Claus exists. Children 4 -10 will find this story interesting. (amazon.com has it), a Spanish copy of the book (amazon.com has it), and A Guide for Using The Polar Express in the Classroom (amazon.com has it).
- Christmas Traditions Around the World by Santa's Net - This site briefly describes the customs from more than 35 different places on earth.
- Christmas Where did it come from? Where is it going? by SOON gives a history of Santa Claus, Boxing Day, and Christmas Cards, as well as the story of Christ's birth.
- Will There Be A White Christmas This Year? by STORMFAX, Inc. displays a map for eastern, central, and western states and lists the chance in percentage of 1, 5, or 10 inches of snow in major cities for each state.
- Abigail's Christmas Collection - This site has crafts, recipes, carols, prayers, and trimming ideas to enjoy.