The Church has been responsible for the most inspiring Christmas music. They had the message to promote, the venues for the party, and the necessary cash to pay for it. Christmas music is terribly predictable; Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and angels are standard fare. How refreshing if you get an oratorio with a role for the devil.
Santa Claus, or more properly Saint Nicolas of Myra is one of many early church saints whose legend is better known than any historical facts. As many other saints revered in the Catholic Church, he was moved around in the calendar during the reformation instigated by Martin Luther. The reformers ditched the saints' days and he therefore started to appear on Christmas or New Year instead of December 6. As an early church saint, his devotional day is also strongly rooted in the Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe.
For years, astronomers have tried to puzzle out what made three astrologers travel from Persia to Israel at a certain date 2,000 years ago. Missing data, unclear sources, later additions and elisions, and religious bias make the job just more interesting. But are astronomers the right people to unravel an astrological puzzle?
Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio lay in musical archives for over 100 years. They were rediscovered around 1850. And music historians were amazed and dismayed: Bach had composed and used important parts of it before and plagiarized earlier compositions into the work. The originals, however, had very different texts, and these were not at all for Christmas or any liturgical use.
Christians love to put up a Christmas tree before the 25th of December. Many think of it as traditional. Depending on how narrow minded one is, the tradition is either not very old, or rather older than one imagines. The Christmas tree has a history. It was promoted, demoted, forbidden and it developed to its modern form through many stages. Some of its Christian symbolism has even been completely lost.