The holiday's spirit is what you bring to it Christmas, 1998: During this celebration of good wishes, anyone can start or revive a tradition.

December 25, 1998

A GREAT thing about Christmas is that your way of celebrating it is just as good as anyone else's.

Christmas, after all, is a melange of traditions old and new, pagan and religious. That's why it is such a big event in much of VTC the world, regardless of climate or culture.

Many commonly accepted American trappings of Christmas reflect this mixed heritage. The hanging of mistletoe was derived from the druids of Scandinavian mythology. The Christmas tree is a relatively recent German transplant, which was enthusiastically adopted and spread through the world by Victorian England. Egg-nog, or egg-hot, also comes from England.

Santa Claus is of Germanic origin, and today combines the characteristics of Krishkinkle, who descends the chimney and rewards good children and the furry Pelsnichol, a predecessor of St. Nicholas, who punishes bad kids.

The religious content of Christmas has also evolved over the centuries. In the earliest times, some communities of Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus in early January or in March or April, during the time of the Jewish Passover, or during the Feast of Tabernacles in late September. The Puritans denounced Christmas as superstitious and not warranted by the Scriptures.

All of this underscores that Christmas is what we want to make out of it. To many Christians, it is the celebration of the mystery of Virgin birth. To others, it is the festival of lights, a merry diversion during the shortest days of the calendar.

At the center of these observations is a child. In the manger or in home. Full of awe and innocence.

In medieval times, it was a Central European custom for cities to declare a Christmas peace at the beginning of the holiday. Such a declaration put an end to mundane quarrels, fights and arguments. Manifestations of good will and love were encouraged.

These are the gifts we extend to our readers. They are the best kind; they need not be purchased.

Pub Date: 12/25/98

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