Christmas Customs, Christmas-Eve is celebrated because Christmas-day, in the Primitive Church, was always observed as the Sabbath day, and, like it, preceded by an eve, or vigil. - Brand.
It was once believed, that if we were to go into a cow-house, at twelve o'clock at night, all the cattle would be found kneeling. Many also firmly believed that bees sung in their hives on Christmas-eve, to welcome the approaching day.
Christmas-Day is so called because of its derivation from Christi Missa, the mass of Christ; and thence the Roman Catholic Liturgy is termed their Missal, or Mass-book. About the year 500, the observance of this day became general in the Catholic Church.
Yule formerly used to signify Christmas, because of its derivation from the word ol (ale), which was much used in the festivities and merry meetings of this period; and the I in Iol, icol, in Cambrian, as the ze and zi in zehol, zeol, ziol, Saxon, are premised only as intensives, to add a little to the signification, and make it more emphatical. Ol, or Ale, did not only signify the liquor then made use of, but gave denomination to the greatest festivals, as that of zehol, or yule, at mid-winter ; and as is yet plainly to be discovered in that custom of the Whitsun ale at the other great festival.
Crucifixes. Certain initials are affixed to crucifixes because of their signifying the titular tributes paid to the Saviour of the World. The letters I.N.R.I, are universally agreed to be the initials of the Latin words Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum; that is, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, a title which Pilate wrote and affixed to the cross. - See John, ch. xix. The initials I.H.C. appended to other crosses are said to imply Jesus Humanitatis Consolator (Jesus the Consoler of Mankind); and I.H.S. imply Jesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus the Saviour of Men). The first-mentioned initials are, however, found on the most ancient crosses.
Carols are so called because of its derivation from cantare, to sing, and rola, an interjection of joy. - Bourne.
Bishop Taylor observes that the "Gloria in Excelsis," the well-known hymn sung by the angels to the shepherds at Our Lord's nativity, was the earliest Christmas carol. Bourne cites Durand to prove that in the earlier ages of the Churches, the bishops were accustomed, on Christmas-day, to sing carols among their clergy. Fosbroke says - "It was usual, in ancient feasts, to single out a person and place him. in the midst, to sing a song to God."
The present carols were substituted, by the Puritans, for the original carols, which were festal chansons for enlivening the merriment of the Christmas celebration; and not such religious songs as are current at this day with the common people, under the same title.
Dr. Johnson, in a note on Hamlet, tells us, that the pious chansons, a kind of Christmas carol, containing some Scripture history thrown into loose rhymes, were sung about the streets by the common people, when they went at that season to eg alms. - Brand.
Laurel is used with other evergreens to deck houses at Christmas, because of its use among the ancient Romans, as the emblem of peace, joy, and victory. In the Christian sense, it may be applied to the victory gained over the Powers of Darkness by the coming of Christ. - Bourne.
Mistletoe is so called because its seeds are said to be dropped by the mistle-thrush, which feeds on its berries. The mistletoe was held sacred by the Druids because they had an extraordinary reverence for the number three, and not only the berries, but the leaves of the mistletoe grow in clusters of three united on one stalk. Its growing upon the oak, their sacred tree, was doubtless another cause of its veneration.