History of the Twelve Days of Christmas

THE HISTORY OF THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS The “Twelve Days of Christmas” are the dozen days in the liturgical calendar of the Western Church between the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child (Christmas, December 25) and the coming of the Magi to visit at his house in Bethlehem (Epiphany, January 6). The…

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History of Augustus

HISTORY OF CAESAR AUGUSTUS Perhaps it is fitting that our last article on the History behind Christmas should be about the first person mentioned in St. Luke’s story of the first Christmas. He was neither Palestinian, nor Jew, nor shepherd, nor wise man. He was in fact, 1500 miles away, the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus.…

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History of the Star

HISTORY OF THE STAR The star of Bethlehem has puzzled scholars for centuries. Some have skeptically dismissed the phenomenon as a myth, a mere literary device to call attention to the importance of the Nativity. Others have argued that the star was miraculously placed there to guide the Magi and is therefore beyond all natural…

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Science of the Solstice

SCIENCE OF THE SOLSTICE As we’ve mentioned before, the Romans celebrated a holiday know as the Saturnalia beginning on the Winter Solstice. The word Solstice comes from the Latin “solstitium” meaning “Sun, standing-still.” This year it will occur on December 21 at 18:35 UT (Greenwich Universal Time.) Earth enjoys different seasons because the planet is…

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History of the Christmas Tree

HISTORY OF THE CHRISTMAS TREE It is generally believed that the first Christmas tree was of German origin dating from Boniface, English missionary to Germany in the 8th century, who replaced the sacrifices to Odin’s sacred oak by a fir tree adorned in tribute to the Christ child. The legend is told that Boniface found…

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History of a Sacred Oratorio

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HISTORY OF A SACRED ORATORIO The genteel reception accorded the original debut performance stood in marked contrast to the savage hostility which greeted the work less than a year later in the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, London. The English aristocracy and churchmen began an unrelenting campaign against the work and its creator. They…

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History of the Poinsettia

HISTORY OF THE POINSETTIA Some thirty years ago, I studied one summer in Cuernavaca, a little town south of Mexico City. There is a story told there that long ago the people flocked to church on Christmas Eve because they loved to fill the Christ child’s manger with flowers. A little boy named Jose was…

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History of the Creche

HISTORY OF THE CRECHE One of the most beautiful Christmas traditions is setting up a creche during the Advent season. A creche is a model of the scene at the manger on the first Christmas in the stable at Bethlehem. A creche can be a small model, set up in the home or a large…

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History of Christmas: Traditions

TRADITIONS Many of the customs that we associate with Christmas come from largely pagan or pre-Christian backgrounds. The word ‘Yule’ comes from an old Norse word for a twelve-day celebration. Mistletoe was prominent in the traditions of the Druids and the lore of northern Europe. The wassail bowl was first known in Scandinavia. Holly was…

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History of Christmas: King Herod

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HISTORY OF KING HEROD: WHY WAS HE CALLED GREAT The Wise men asked Herod the King: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” While this seems an unlikely question to ask a client king of the great Roman Empire, they were not asking in a complete vacuum. During the century around…

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History of the Wise Men: the Magi

THE WISE MEN You’re familiar with the song that begins “We Three Kings of Orient Are…” but it is inaccurate in at least three ways. We don’t know how many there were, but we know they weren’t kings. They did not originate in the Orient, meaning the Far East. How could they have seen the…

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History of Christmas: Season

.!. NATIVITY SEASON You’ve seen the greeting card — Joseph along with Mary on the back of a donkey making their way to Bethlehem in the wintery snow. But could Jesus have been born during that time of the year, perhaps with snow on the ground? It is possible, as 3 to 4 days a…

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