Christmas Traditions

Some people take the Grinch approach with Christmas, some at the other end of the scale, are happy to wear decorated headbands, earrings, play Mariah Carey or Michael Buble carols incessantly. There are some odd traditions; Boxing Day, mistletoe, stockings… ever thought about how they came about?

Christmas

Christmas, as most of us know, is the Christian tradition celebrating the birth of Christ – though it is not celebrated solely as such in our modern society. Christmas represents a time of joy, gift-giving, and family. Christmas as we know it evolved out of the Roman tradition of Saturnalia, a festival honoring their god of agriculture, Saturn, on the winter solstice.

Gift Giving

It is sometimes said that the tradition of gift-giving started with the 3 wise men, who visited Jesus and gave him gifts of myrrh, frankincense, and gold.
During Saturnalia, children would often be given gifts of wax dolls – an act with a rather macabre history itself; the dolls were used to represent human sacrifices that Rome had given to Saturn in the past as payment for good harvests.

X-mas

While some rather ignorant groups in the Americas believe that the abbreviation “x-mas” is an attempt by the “dirty liberals” to “keep the Christ out of Christmas”, the true origins have a strong basis in Christianity. In the abbreviation, the X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ.

Stockings

Many people know of Saint Nicholas being the basis of Santa Claus, but the practice of stocking-stuffing can be traced back to his charitable donations in the 4th century. Nicholas believed that childhood should be savored and enjoyed – but in a time where boys and girls younger than 10 had to work to support their families, this wasn’t always possible.
He therefore gave what he could in homemade food, clothes, and furniture. The bishop even gave out oranges, which would have been very rare and expensive in Lycia, where he lived. The problem became where to leave these gifts so that the children would find them. According to legends, he then saw girls’ stockings hanging above the fireplace, and ol’ Saint Nick (to paraphrase) thought “Why the hell not?”. From then on, children would hang stockings up hoping that Saint Nicholas would visit them that night.

Christmas Tree

The modern Christmas tree differs greatly from its roots; today, we decorate an everlasting, artificial construct with bright lights and dazzling ornaments, while traditionally, the tree was of course, real and more importantly, decorated with edibles such as apples and nuts.
The evergreen was also known to have represented the same values to a variety of cultures, including the Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. The worship of trees was also very common in European druidism and paganism.

Boxing Day

Boxing Day is, as opposed to the rest of this list, an instance where a secular holiday grew out of a religious one. In most English speaking countries, Boxing Day is traditionally the day following Christmas in which people receive gifts from their bosses or employers.
Today, Boxing Day is known as a shopping day similar to Black Friday. Many important sporting events are also commonly held on the holiday. Boxing Day grew out of St. Stephen’s day, a Christian holiday that commemorates the eponymous St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which perches on a tree branch and absorbs nutrients from the trunk – hardly one of the most romantic forms of life. But it has been inspiring people to go at it for generations. Mistletoe has a large mythological background across many cultures. The Greeks believed that Aeneas, the famous ancestor of the Romans carried a sprig of mistletoe in the form of the legendary golden bough. In Eddic tradition, mistletoe was the only thing able to kill the god Baldur, since it had not sworn an oath to leave him alone. Amongst other pre-Christian cultures, mistletoe was believed to carry the male essence, and by extension, romance, fertility, and vitality.

Its use as decoration stems from the fact that it was believed to protect homes from fire and lightning. It was commonly hung at Christmas time only to remain there all year until being replaced by another sprig next Christmas. The process by which mistletoe became associated with kissing is currently unknown, but it was first recorded in 16th century England as a very popular practice. Mistletoe carries a pretty good legacy, for a parasite of a plant that causes diarrhoea and stomach pain when ingested.

Santa

Most people know that Santa’s origins lie in Saint Nicholas, the generous Saint who gave presents to needy children. However, many other figures evolved into the conglomerate we call Santa Claus.
For one, the Dutch Sinterklaas, who himself has basis with Saint Nick, was the main inspiration for Santa Claus. He is nearly identical to Santa: he wears red and white, knows if you’re naughty or nice, and has elf helpers referred to as Zwarte Piet. However, the legend takes on a much darker legend when one hears that the Zwarte Piet’s duties also include punishing naughty children with “jute bags and willow canes”. He also differs from Santa in the facts that he wears a bishop’s hat and comes on steam boat from Spain, rather than the North Pole.

Another large influence into Santa’s design is the British Father Christmas, a figure developed in the 17th century as the embodiment of holiday joy and mirth. Odin also exists as a potential pagan inspiration for Santa Claus; he lead a hunting party with other gods on Yule, a German holiday at roughly the same time as Christmas; he rode Sleipnir, a legendary horse with 8 legs; like Santa, he has 8 reindeer; and he would fill children’s’ boots with candy.
The modern Santa Claus, contrary to popular belief, was not created by Coca-Cola, but has been in American folklore since the late 18th century. His name comes from an Americanisation of Sinterklaas, and somewhere along the way, he lost his bishop’s hat. One could write an entire list on the origins of individual components of Santa’s story – suffice to say that they all have interesting origins, and I would suggest further reading.

What Christmas means to some of our team:

Michael: Time for family, sunshine, baseball and reflecting on what is important in life.
Robert: I use Christmas time to travel and visit family.
Nisha: It’s a message of hope for happiness.
Jone: Food! Especially fish in coconut milk!
Tash: Definitely champagne… and family.
Joshna: It means stress!
Tess: Always lots of food, everyone’s happy.
Bruce: Bah humbug. Grinch thoughts. It’s a pain in the ass!
Kathy: Time for a lovely holiday to rest and relax.
Tanya: Spend time with family, we’re a big family, so no gifts, but lots of food to share.
Eric: Holiday time!
Angela: Holiday and family time.
Lisa: Travel, food, champers, presents, family, reset button.
Marion: Sleeping off Christmas dinner!
Elaine: A time for gift giving and appreciation.
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Whatever Christmas or Xmas means to you – we wish you a merry, safe and fulfilling time.
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Original article sourced from listverse.com here;
http://listverse.com/2012/12/15/10-remarkable-origins-of-common-christmas-traditions/

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