By now, with Christmas less than a week away, most of us are hopefully done with shopping, decorating our trees, putting up that holly, mistletoe and garland and planning our feast.
But do you know the origins of your favorite Christmas traditions? You might just find yourself surprised at why we do what we do.
WHY IS CHRISTMAS CELEBRATED ON DEC. 25TH?
And no, it’s not a conspiracy to make us finish our year in debt! The most popular explanation for December 25 becoming the day we officially celebrate the birth of Jesus is that it’s a date borrowed from pagan celebrations. According to tradition, the Romans celebrated their mid-winter festival, Saturnalia, in late December, as well as other groups from western Europe celebrating similar festivals around the same time. So, early Christians like Constantine, looking to convert more pagans to the holiday, chose to encourage the spread of the religion by having one of the biggest celebrations during a time that pagans would already be celebrating.
Still, the bible commemorates the visit of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, informing her that she would be the mother of Christ, on March 25. Using this announcement, commonly known as the Annunciation, puts the birth of Christ, then, in December.
WHY DO WE DECORATE A CHRISTMAS TREE?
Much like the origins of the date of Christmas, the decoration of a tree has origins in pagan folklore as well. The evergreen tree was traditionally used to celebrate winter festivals. Pagans often used branches to decorate their homes, and, according to History.com, some even used evergreens to keep witches, ghosts, evil spirits and illness.
Germany is reportedly the first country to have begun the modern Christmas tree tradition, where devout Christians brought the trees into their homes. Then, Protestant reformer Martin Luther, reportedly began the tradition of adding lighted candles to a tree.
For some time in 19th century America, Christmas trees fell out of favor as symbols of idolatry, before Irish and German immigrants began implementing the tradition more and more.
WHY DO WE KISS UNDER THE MISTLETOE?
Long before mistletoe was associated with Christmas, the plant has been lauded for its healing properties and its ability to blossom even in the winter. Because of that, it was likely seen as a romantic, fertile and vivacious plant to Celts in Europe.
According to History.com, we owe the kissing tradition to Norse mythology. When the death of the god Odin’s son, Baldur, was foretold through a prophesy, his mother Frigg, the goddess of love attempted to make an oath binding the prediction with all the plants and animals. But sister-girl forgot to ask mistletoe, and the evil, scheming god Loki decided to make an arrow from the plant to kill Baldur. Later, when he was resurrected, Frigg declared the plant a symbol of love and vowed to kiss any who passed beneath it.
Man, they had some soap opera tales back in the day.
Anyway, the association with Christmas is a bit unclear, but the tradition continued in Europe, before making it’s way into modern holiday practice.
WHERE DID THE YULE LOG TRADITION COME FROM?
We’re not really sure how many people are still rocking with the Yule Log tradition (unless of course we’re talking about the dessert version, which, yassss), but the custom of burning a log dates back to a Nordic trend as part of what? You guessed it, another pagan trend.
“Yule” is the name of the Winter solstice festivals in northern Europe and the Yule Log was originally a tree that was chopped down and burned slowly over the course of the 12 days of Christmas. As in, they put a whole tree in their house and slow-burned it. It’s a wonder society prevailed.
From there, it progressed into one log, which is the tradition we still have today.
WHERE DID THE SANTA CLAUS STORY COME FROM?
Santa’s story is like a hodgepodge of several different myths folded into one. St. Nicolas, who was born in modern day Turkey, dates all the way back to the 280 A.D., and was a popular saint, known for his good deeds, throughout medieval times. One of the good deeds he was known for was being a protector of children.
The name “Santa Claus” was part of an evolution of St. Nicholas’ Dutch name, Sinter Klaas, which was a shortened version of Sint Nikolaas. His legend made it’s way to the states with immigrants, folklore and popular literature. Author Washington Irving famously named him the Patron Saint of New York in his book, The History Of New York.
In 1822, minister Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem describing a portly old elf who could travel through chimneys. Later, in 1881, cartoonist Thomas Nast gave him the red suit, the North Pole workshop, elves and his wife, Mrs. Claus. This, combined with regional myths from around the world, including Kris Kringle, gave us our modern day Santa.
Do you have a favorite Christmas legend? Share it with us and we will break it down for you!