Friday, 13 December 2013
Christmas Again... Candles and Cards!
Well folks, Lady M still here and pleased that we're having a relatively mild December in the UK. I hope you enjoyed the pretty pics of West Bromwich last week. I can hardly believe it but it is Christmas time again. I know it doesn't seem five minutes since last year but that is a sign of age.
There are numerous customs associated with this time of year. I've talked about the origin of the Christmas tree and last year I looked at the origin of Christmas along with the tradition of candles, light and heat. Today, I'm going to add the custom of card giving at this time of year.
Jesus Christ was born round about 2,000 years ago although no one is really sure as to the exact time of year or date. Many years after his death the early Christians chose 25th December because it was then, under the Julian calendar, the shortest day of the year and the darkest. People worshipped and prayed to the sun in the hope of another summer with long warm days. Christians knew that God had made the sun on the first day of creation and so they decided to worship the 'Son of God' on this day. In 1752, The Julian calendar changed to the Gregorian calendar and the shortest day is now 21st December, but Christmas Day remains on 25th!
It was four centuries before the Romans adopted Christianity and began celebrating the birth of Christ as opposed to sun festivals. They would have processions to church on Christmas morning. The first known celebration in England was in 521 A.D. when King Arthur visited York Minster to remember Christ's birthday. By the Middle Ages, Christmas had become a time of much joy and celebration with great feasts. Later, when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector, Christmas became a solemn time with feasting and fun forbidden. When Charles II ascended to the throne, he restored the old traditions and celebrating Christmas has continued to be a great and grand tradition.
Judaism, prior to the birth of Christ and Christianity, had a festival of light in which candles were burned. The festival was to remember the rebuilding of Solomon's Temple and the candles were an indication that the truth was once again being heard in the Temple. The light of a flame became an emblem for truth. Churches usually have candles on the altar and they are burned during services.
There is a story that Martin Luther first put candles on a Christmas tree to remind people of the stars that shone above Bethlehem on the night of Christ's birth. Candles, originally used for light and heat, have become so much more symbolic over the years. They are now used in memory of those loved ones who have left this life and taken that short walk into the next room.
Cards, unlike the lighting of candles and the decorating of the tree is a relatively new Christmas custom being little more than a hundred and thirty years old beginning in Victorian times. Originally, cards were given at New Year to wish wealth, happiness and prosperity for the forthcoming year although they often had pictures of Jesus on them. One of the first known New Year cards can be seen at the British Museum and has a picture of Jesus on a cloud and was printed in 1467 AD. The tradition moved to the Christmas season and the early cards were rather like Birthday ones with pictures of animals, flowers and children. Cards with Christmas scenes of holly, snow scenes and the Nativity became popular after 1900 AD.
Considering the cost of postage today I fear that this custom may be in decline or change. Cards only sent with gifts or hand delivered. A pack of ten cards can cost less than First Class postage for one. I paid 50pence for an 'Angel' calendar to send to a friend instead of a Christmas card. Imagine my surprise when the Post Office told me that it was too long to be a letter and was considered a parcel and the cost would be £3.00. £3.00 to send a 50 pence calendar? Yes, that is correct but if I were to fold it so that it was the size of a letter I could send it for £1.10p! No prizes for guessing what I did.
Anyway, have a great time with your Christmas preparations, decorating the tree and home, wrapping gifts, visiting friends and wishing good cheer. I invite you all to light a candle this Christmas in memory of loved ones and place it in a window where it can be seen as a light to the outside world, and a beacon of hope.