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Getting ready for Christmas is kind of like time traveling. We think back to everything that happened on the day Jesus was born. We remember other Christmases we’ve celebrated.

Let’s get ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day by time traveling back to a time without cards, trees, ornaments, or special calendars. Our first few stops will be in Germany, where many of today’s Christmas customs come from.

Where Did Christmas Trees Come From?

Why do we have Christmas trees? Let’s time travel back about 400 years to a town in Germany and listen to an old story that some people think explains this tradition.

A famous pastor named Martin Luther is walking home from a Christmas Eve service when something catches his eye. He sees stars twinkling through the branches of snow-dusted evergreen trees. The lights remind him of Jesus, the light of the world.

Martin Luther decides to share this thought with his family, so he cuts down a small fir tree, brings it into his house, and decorates it with candles. It’s so pretty that other people begin doing the same thing. Because the evergreen tree stays green throughout the winter, it reminds them of everlasting life. Christians see it as a symbol of Christ, who brought us eternal life.

Why Do We Hang Christmas Ornaments?

Our destination is still Germany, but now let’s go back about 145 years to the year 1860. Some German glassblowers have come up with a new idea—Christmas ornaments made from glass molds.

One of the shapes they’re making is a round glass ball that looks like the round world God made. Its bright colors represent the good news of Jesus coming for all the nations and people. People love these ornaments, and pretty soon they decorate Christmas trees all over the world.

Sadly, many of the German glass molds were destroyed during World War II. After that, plastic molds allowed people to make many other shapes for Christmas ornaments—snowflakes, angels, stars, and all kinds of characters.

One nice thing that ornaments do is remind us of good memories. What family stories are connected to your ornaments?
     How can they remind you of Jesus’ birth?

A Short History of Advent Calendars

German Christians also gave us the gift of Advent calendars to help us prepare for and celebrate Christmas. It started out when parents drew a chalk line for every day in December until Christmas day. It wasn’t long before German printers produced
a printed calendar. After that came calendars with pictures, calendars with candies attached to them, and calendars with little windows that could be opened for each day until Christmas. Some families lighted a candle for each day until Christmas. That led to Advent wreaths with four candles—one for each week before Dec. 25.

What About Christmas Cards?

About 600 years ago in Germany, people made cards with a picture of the baby Jesus on them. Then they gave the cards to other people as a gift.

But let’s travel to the year 1843 in England, where someone has just printed 1,000 copies of the first real Christmas card. Fast forward a little more, and we find ourselves in the United States in 1875, where a contest is being held for the best Christmas card designs. The winning designs are printed, and since then people have made millions of different Christmas card designs.

Back to the Future

Our trip is almost done. As we make our last time-travel stop, we’re landing near Bethlehem around the time of Jesus’ birth. But there is something more than history or tradition going on here. Listen to what a bunch of angels are saying to some scruffy shepherds: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

The “you” in this sentence means the shepherds, of course, but it also means YOU. The baby Jesus, is born to you, a kid living in the year 2005. He is your Savior.

And that’s why we celebrate Christmas each year.

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