"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
December 12, 2014
Celebrating Christmas Traditions
by Dian Thomas

Christmas is filled with traditions that have been passed down for centuries.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, although it has never been seriously claimed that December 25 was his true birthday. Before the forth century, it was celebrated in April or May, which more closely matches the scriptural account.

As Christian festivals were substituted for pagan ones, the winter solstice festivities of light and rebirth seemed a natural time to celebrate Jesus' birth. Through the centuries, folk customs celebrating the coming of longer days were combined with church observances celebrating the “Sun of Righteousness.”

Christmas today is the sum of customs observed for so long that their origins may have been forgotten.

The Roman tradition of giving New Year's gifts continued well into the Middle Ages, but in the 12th century, the tradition of giving gifts for Christmas began, inspired by the account of the wise men, who brought gifts to the Christ Child.

In English Commonwealth countries, Boxing Day is the first weekday following Christmas. The name comes from the boxed presents given to servants and other helpful folks like the postman and trash collector.

In Sweden, children have their gifts and tree on Christmas Eve. Sometimes gifts are thrown in the front door by mysterious donors who quickly run away.

In Norway, gifts may be hidden away in different parts of the house for the children to find. In both Norway and Sweden, sheaves of grain are put out on rooftops or hung on poles, so that the birds may also enjoy a Christmas dinner.

The custom of decorating the tree comes from Germany. Although trees may have been part of a pagan festival, many people believe it was Martin Luther who thought of decorating the first Christmas tree.

In Italy, a little old woman named La Befana is believed to come and leave delightful gifts in the stockings of good children while she leaves birch rods or charcoal ashes for those who are bad.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas, dressed in magnificent robes, comes riding on a horse and inquires about the behavior of the children. Children with good reports find their shoes full of gifts in the morning, while naughty children find birch rods.

The American Santa Claus was adopted from the Dutch Saint Nicolas when they settled in New Amsterdam. Most of the Santa legend, such as his climb down the chimney and his red suit, are of Dutch origin. His reindeer and the North Pole, however, come from Scandinavia.

It is always fun to discover the ways that families find to build their own traditions. This week I was privileged to participate in a family tradition that was started by the Hunt family in Ogden, Utah. For the past 36 years they have been sharing a special Nativity program with their own live animals.

People throughout the community come and enjoy this generous Christmas tradition. This year the community invited them to do it at the Fairgrounds for four nights. Each night more than 650 people gather to share a tradition that has grown to be a memorable event in the Ogden area.

For ideas to create your own traditions check out Dian’s Holiday Fun Year-A-Round book at http://www.dianthomas.com.

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About Dian Thomas

Dian Thomas was blessed with the good fortune to be born near and raised in the remote, breathtaking Manti-La Sal National Forest in southeastern Utah, where her father was the forest ranger. She took the skills she learned in the outdoors and turned them into a New York Times best-selling book, Roughing It Easy. Her appearance on the NBC's "Tonight" show with Johnny Carson boosted her into the national media scene, where she became a regular on NBC's "Today" show for eight years and then ABC's "Home Show" for six years. After more than 25 years of media exposure and 19 books, she now shares her practical insights and wisdom with audiences who want to savor life.

A former Relief Society president, Dian is currently serving as a visiting teacher. Visit her website at www.DianThomas.com

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