Though Christmas is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth, this date became more and more popular in South East Asia and especially in Vietnam where it’s celebrated by many people regardless of their religion. For most of them, Christmas is a family holiday when everyone spends some happy time and has fun together. In HCMC, for Christmas, a lot of street decorations are prepared weeks before to make the whole town shine, and when the day come, thousand of people come downtown to celebrate it. The way people held Christmas night differ from region to region in Vietnam, but there are always some traditional symbols that always appear that day and can not be replaced: the Christmas tree, stars, the Christmas wreath, Christmas stockings and Santa Claus. These symbols are certainly familiar to you but do you know the meaning behind them? Let’s find out with Bliss.
The evergreen tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals for pagans and Christians for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God. The Christmas tree represents the hopes and the new life coming, and the Paradise Tree. The tree’s point is considered to be the connection between man and the Lord. The first documented use of a tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is argued between the cities of Tallinn in Estonia and Riga in Latvia. Both claim that they had the first trees; Tallinn in 1441 and Riga in 1510. Both trees were put up by the ‘Brotherhood of Blackheads’ which was an association of local unmarried merchants, ship owners, and foreigners in Livonia (what is now Estonia and Latvia). Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable, not only in Britain but also with the East Coast American Society.
The Christmas star symbolizes the star of Bethlehem which according to the New Testament, has guided the three kings to the infant Jesus. Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar, coming from Iran and Syria (today territory). They followed the star which led them to Bethlehem to the newborn child where they brought him some gifts: Gold, Incense, and Myrrh.
The wreath has been used symbolically for centuries. Pre-Christian or Pagan cultures placed much importance on the December celebration of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. For them, this was a time of death and rebirth, a celebration of the end of the ever-shortening days and the anticipation of the future promise of spring. Across time, the circle or ring shape of a wreath with no beginning and no end symbolizes eternity or eternal rebirth. Today, the wreath’s symbolic attributes are much simpler than all this. The Christmas wreath has evolved into a sign of welcoming and an acknowledgment of holiday cheer for this season that emphasizes generosity, giving, and the gathering of loved ones.
The Christmas stocking refers to an empty sock that children hang on on Christmas Eve in the belief that it is to be filled with presents by Santa Claus. The gifts are generally of a small nature, usually consisting of small toys, goodies like candies and fruits, coins. The tradition of Christmas stockings is said to have originated from the actions of a kind nobleman named Nicholas, who was born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor. While still young, his wealthy parents died in an epidemic. Nicholas became a Christian priest and used all his riches to help the poors and the suffering and dedicated his life to the service of God. Through centuries many stories and legends have been told of Saint Nicholas’ life and deeds. One popular account says that a poor peasant who lived happily in a small cottage in Patara (Turkey), Saint Nicholas’ hometown, with his wife and three daughters did not have enough money to marry his three daughters after his wife death. At night, after finishing their washing for the day, the girls used to hung their stockings by the fireplace to dry. St. Nicholas came to the cottage and carefully put a bag of gold in one of the girl’s stockings and went away as stealthily as he came. When the father found the bag the next morning and opened it, he was ecstatic. There was enough gold in the stocking to pay for the dowry of one daughter. On another night Saint Nicholas set off with one more bag of gold and threw it carefully into another stocking so that the second daughter was provided for and he did the same for the third daughter. With Saint Nicholas’s blessings, the poor father was able to see his three daughters getting married. This is how the tradition of Christmas stockings is said to have started in European countries.
The name “Santa Claus” is coming from “Saint Nicholas” the name of the saint who dedicated his life to Christian religion. The same man who used to purvey treats in children’s socks. Saint Nicholas was especially praised for his generosity and love for children. In 16th, Dutch children often put their wooden shoes or socks beside the fireplace in the hope that St Nicholas will fill them. The name St. Nicholas was mispronounced by the Dutch and became Sint Nicholaas, then Sinterklaas and finally becomes Santa Claus. In 1882, Clement Moore wrote his famous song “A visit from St. Nick “but then it was published under the name” The night before Christmas “(Christmas Eve). In the song, Moore has modernized the image of Santa Claus, and that is why children nowadays are always waiting for a fat old man with red suit coming to visit them on Christmas Eve!