No one can deny that Christmas is one of the most popular holidays in the year, being celebrated annually by billions of people all over the world. As with every major holiday, people get into some sort of shopping frenzy or hysteria, but with Christmas the drama is twice the size. Within a society driven by consumerism and where advertising dictates spending habits, Christmas has turned from a time to commemorate Jesus’ birth and help others to a peak selling point in every store’s calendar. Christmas, as we celebrate it today, is only a ghost of what our ancestors experienced a few centuries ago. Let us find out the true origins of our Christmas traditions.
1. Why is it on the 25th of December?
Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Jesus’ birth on the 25th of December? The truth behind this tradition is that if you read the Bible from cover to cover, you will find nothing to support this hypothesis. On the contrary, the sacred texts offer few clues, if any; they do not mention the date or the time of year when Jesus was born. However, there is a reference in Luke 2:8, according to which at that time the shepherds were watching over their flocks in the fields which indicates that the event probably happened sometime during the spring months. Clement of Alexandria, one of the first Christian teachers to write about Jesus’ birth suggests that the most probable dates when it occurred were either on the 20th of May or on the 21st of March. Later on, by the fourth century C.E. there were two dates, widely recognized and associated with Jesus’ birthday: December 25th (the Romans) and January the 6th (Egypt, Asia Minor).
2. What’s with Santa flying in a sleigh?
The tales of Santa Clause can be traced back to the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas or to the historical Saint Nicholas who brought gifts to the poor. Every other detail about Santa’s whereabouts at the North Pole, his febrile preparations together with his magical elves just before the 24th of December, his magical powers of reading into children’s hearts and seeing whether they were good or naughty, his down-the-chimney method of delivering presents, and even the reindeer pulling his sleigh – all of these can be gradually attributed to the fervent imagination displayed in books such as: “A New Year’s Present, to the Little Ones From Five to Ten” (1921), and “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (1823) in which Clement Clarke Moore named part of Santa’s reindeer for the first time.
3. Kisses under the mistletoe?
Not many of us may know this, but the mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant with poisonous white berries. So how is it that it has become associated with kissing and affection? The mistletoe Christmas tradition can be partly attributed to the Celtic Druids. Because the mistletoe grew on their sacred tree, the oak, they not only considered it a sign of good fortune, but also thought that it could heal illness, disperse bad spirits, and even increase fertility. Druid priests used to perform a ceremony for its cutting, and then gifted one spray to each Druid family to hang over a doorway. Although it underwent several drastic changes, the “kissing ball” was revived beginning with the Victorian era in England, spreading worldwide as a symbol of holiday affection and warmth.
4. The First Christmas tree?
There are a number of theories as to the real origin of the Christmas tree. Apparently pagan Europeans used to decorate their houses and barns with evergreen trees at New Year’s in order to scare the devil away. Also, during the middle ages the evergreen tree was decorated on every 24th of December with apples to commemorate the Paradise Tree, and Adam and Eve. In present-day Latvia and Estonia, around 1440, the evergreen tree was decorated on Christmas Day with sweets for the first time. The records show that the next years the beautifully decorated tree was taken in the Town Hall Square where everyone danced around it to celebrate Christmas Day. Later on, during the 18th and 19th centuries, the custom was gradually adopted by the European nobility, afterwards spreading to Canada, and then to the rest of the United States.