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About Christmas

Depictions of the Nativity
Depictions of the birth of Christ are among the most common subjects in Christian iconography. They can be categorised into a number of different thematic groups, ranging from simple depictions of Jesus in the manger watched over by Mary and Joseph, to elaborate scenes featuring shepherds, sheep, an ox and an ass in a humble stable with Bethlehem as a backdrop and a comet in the sky above. Some authors describe Nativity scenes that are actually staged recreations of the scene of Christ’s birth with figures that display the characteristics of different regions of the world and other peculiarities of local or regional environments. In this way the universality and symbolic importance and message of this birth on a global scale is emphasised.

Twelfth Night wassailing
Several centuries would pass before the Church separated the celebration of the birth of Christ from celebrations to mark the start of the new year. At one time the date of Christ’s birth even coincided with the first day of the year. Numerous customs and traditions that have changed over the course of history show a series of similar features and contents. Carol-singing or wassailing was a widespread custom. Costumed groups would go from house to house and from place to place singing songs and exchanging greetings as they wished people a happy and healthy new year. These costumed groups represented the biblical Magi, otherwise known as the Three Kings. As well as Twelfth Night or Epiphany wassailers there were New Year’s wassailers. There was, of course, also an important social element to the custom, since the gifts of food given to the wassailers, who were often individuals from poorer families, helped them to survive the harshest weeks and months of winter.

Janez Bogataj