10 Incredible Christmas Traditions and Their Origins
After you are done with shopping and decorating, it comes a time to actually enjoy the holidays with your close friends and family members. Now the basic idea behind Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and while this seems like a pretty straightforward concept, we all know that there are actually numerous other celebrations associated with Christmas.
Whether we’re talking about Santa Clause, kissing under Mistletoe or bringing a whole tree into our living rooms, we generally respect these traditions without giving them a second thought, but have you ever wondered what are the actual origins of these festive habits? Well we did, which is why we decided to create this list regarding some of the most incredible Christmas traditions and their origins. Are you ready to be enlightened?
As we mentioned before, Christmas is supposed to represent the birth of Jesus Christ, which has nothing to do with giving presents and decorating trees. This highly important and festive celebration that we enjoy so much today is actually a modern interpretation of the Roman tradition of Saturnalia, which was held in honor of Saturn – the god of agriculture, on the winter solstice.
We know this because numerous Roman writers included the date of December 25 in their works between the 2nd and 3rd centuries, while other reports state that Christmas was already being celebrated by Christians at the beginning of the 4th century. That being said, we actually have no idea regarding actual year of Jesus Christ’s birth, not to mention the exact day.
Gift giving is commonly associated with the 3 wise men who visited Jesus upon his birth and presented him with the gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold. However, it makes more sense to link gift giving to the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, when children would often receive gifts consisting of wax dolls, which signified human sacrifices presented to the god of agriculture Other gifts that were meant to represent a good harvest such as trees or plants were also common during Saturnalia.
Some believe that the term X-mas was implemented in order to eliminate the “Christ” word out of Christmas, but this commonly used abbreviation has much deeper roots than that. And that’s because X actually stands for the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter found in the Greek word for Christ. Christ is also sometimes abbreviated as XP, which is a blend of the first and second letters of the Greek word. Nowadays, X is being used to abbreviate any word that contains “Christ” or the similar sound of “krys”.
Hanging out Christmas stockings and waiting them to be filled with gifts is a very common practice nowadays, but the tradition started with a very generous bishop named Nicholas. Now many of you may have heard of Saint Nicholas and his charitable endeavors, since he was known to give away numerous treats, clothes and even furniture pieces to less fortunate families. When thinking about where to leave his treats so that children may find them, Saint Nicholas saw some pairs of girls’ stockings hanging above the fireplace, which gave him the wonderful idea that we still practice today.
Apart from Nicholas, this habit also has deep roots in some Scandinavian beliefs. Children would put carrots or other vegetables in their shoes and leave them there overnight so that Odin’s horse Sleipnir would feast on them. In return, Odin would fill the shoes with treats.
Wreaths were used by the ancient kings of Rome and Greece as symbols of power and affluence, but they were also used long before that in various rituals for good harvests. As far as Christmas and Christianity is concerned, we can tell you that wreaths were used in the funerals of saints and martyrs since they symbolized everlasting life and tenacity.
Since evergreen has a stubborn way of staying green throughout the year, it’s no wonder that people saw it as a symbol for eternity and tenacity. This is true for many different cultures around the globe, including Egyptians, Hebrews and even Chinese. The original Christmas tree was decorated with apples and nuts during the Middle Ages, and it used to represent the tree from which Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit.
As for contemporary decorations, the German guilds were the first to adorn their trees with festive motifs during the Renaissance period.
The first Christmas carols were sung in Church as hymns, but they evolved into the ones we know today in France, Italy and Germany during the 13th century, when they were sung at various festivals and community events.
As the years passed, these songs developed a strong link with Christmas. As for the practice of going from door to door caroling, some believe that it originates in the significance of the word itself, which is related to the term of “carula” meaning circular dance.
Boxing Day traces its roots to St. Stephen’s day – a deacon in an early church in Jerusalem that would become the first Christian martyr. From a traditional point of view, Boxing Day is the first day after Christmas, when people are supposed to receive gifts from their employers. However, Boxing Day is now known as a sort of Black Friday, and it is also the day in which numerous sports events are held.
Even though mistletoe is basically just a parasitic plant that drains the life out of a tree branch, it actually boasts deep roots of its own in numerous cultures. As far as the Greeks are concerned, they believed that mistletoe was carried by Aeneas in the form of a golden bough. The Eddic tradition dictates that mistletoe was the only thing capable of killing the god Badur, while other cultures associated it with romance, fertility and vitality.
Mistletoe was also believed to protect homes from fire and lighting, which is why it was hung during Christmas and left there throughout the year only to be replaced by another strand on next year’s celebration. There is no exact information regarding the practice of kissing under the mistletoe though. Weird.
The concept of Santa is indeed related to the generous Saint Nicholas we told you about earlier, but it actually represents a blend of multiple figures that were known for their gift-giving endeavors throughout history. One such figure was Dutch Sinterklaas, who is pictured as wearing red and white and having elf helpers. The difference is that he was also known to punish naughty children, not to mention the fact that he comes from Spain, not the North Pole.
As a pagan inspiration, the Norse god Odin also boasts some very Santa-ish traits. However, the modern version of Santa Claus exists in American folklore since the late 18th century. His name is actually an Americanized version of Sinterklaas, and he is definitely not punishing any children nowadays, that’s for sure.
No matter what his origins may be, the important thing is that Santa Claus encourages people to be generous and to make their loved ones happy at least once a year. As for Christmas itself, it does not really matter what roots it has to Christianity as long as everyone strives to be friendlier and more caring during the time of its celebration.