The Unusual Origins of our Christmas Traditions
Everybody knows that Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December: whether you’re religious or not, most people in the UK celebrate Christmas.
It’s the time of year when the streets look full and magical, people are busy readying their homes for all their guests and the scent of cooking is always in the air.
What does the sparkling tree have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ ???
Why is a roast turkey the typical Christmas meal ??
In this article, we will explore the unusual origins of our modern Christmas celebrations and how they link back to the real reason for Christmas: the birth of Jesus.
"Christmas" Why December 25th?
Different countries celebrate Christmas at different times but in the UK and the US, Christmas is normally celebrated on the 25th of December.
However, ask most Historians and they will tell you that Jesus was most likely born in Spring. Read the nativity accounts from the Bible and you will see that
the ‘shepherds watched their flocks by night’,
which would indicate that it was warm and it was also lambing season- both pointing towards the time of year being spring. ------- So,
>>>>>>> Why do we celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December ????
It all comes down to the introduction of Christianity to Western Europe by the Romans.
When the Roman empire became a Christian empire, it decided to spread Christianity across all regions of the empire, including Britain. However, it wasn’t easy for the Romans- people in Britain had worshiped their Pagan gods for centuries and they weren’t just going to convert to Christianity because the empire told them to. So,
the Romans had to get creative with their conversion tactics; one of the ideas they came up with was an amalgamation of Christian and Pagan traditions, starting with the times that the major religious celebrations happened.
In Britain at the time, all pagan worshipers would have celebrated the Winter Solstice- also called Midwinter- which celebrated the coming of the shortest day and usually fell between the 20th and the 26th of December. In order for British Pagans to convert to Christianity, the Romans realised that they would have to see some commonalities between the two religions and so they decided to move the celebration of Christmas to the 25th of December in order to convince Pagans to celebrate Christmas instead.
So, due to the Roman’s wishes to convert all of Europe to Christianity, we now celebrate the birth of Christ on the 25th of December. So, as it goes, Winter Solstice is the reason for the season!
Who is Father Christmas Santa Claus ??????????????????????
Every December, children everywhere get excited for the coming of Father Christmas. They will be writing lists of gifts that they want to receive from him,
but what does Father Christmas have to do with the birth of Jesus? And why is he said to have reindeer that he travels around the world on ??
Anybody who knows anything about Christmas will say that Father Christmas is actually Saint Nicholas, a Christian saint known for being kind and charitable to children. However, of all the pictures and icons drawn of St Nick, he is usually depicted as a thin man with brown hair; not the rotund man with grey hair and a big fluffy beard.
So where do we get this image of Father Christmas from ???
Well, much like the reason for Christmas being celebrated on the 25th of December, the reason for our modern-day idea of Father Christmas comes from ancient European Pagan beliefs.
In Britain at the Winter Solstice, the Green man would have been worshiped. The Green Man is a Pagan god who protects all things in nature.
British Pagans would have gone out into nature to celebrate the Green Man and it was their belief that on the Winter Solstice, the Green Man gave the gift of nature springing back to life, due to the fact that after the shortest day in winter, plants would start growing again.
The Green man was depicted as a chubby man with grey hair and a big beard, usually with evergreen plants around his face (like holly and ivy), who wore a big robe and boots that were coloured green. Sound familiar?
The only difference between the image of the Green man and Father Christmas is the colour robe he wears; Father Christmas obviously wears red!
Up until the Victorian era, Father Christmas was always shown wearing green. It wasn’t until the Coca Cola corporation used Father Christmas in their advertising campaign that he started wearing red to sell more Coca Cola. It obviously worked, because almost everybody around the world who celebrates Christmas today will think of Father Christmas as wearing red!
You may still be asking:
but why do we think of Father Christmas as flying around the world on reindeer?
This is down to another European Pagan god, The Norse god Odin. You may have heard of Odin, as he’s the dad of Thor! Odin was a god who was also depicted as having grey hair and a beard, but he is also very famous for his eight-legged flying horse Sleipneir. Odin was known for flying around the world on Sleipneir to look down on his people- seeing who was good and who was evil so that he could judge them. This is where our idea of Father Christmas comes from; flying around the world on reindeer and checking who’s ‘naughty or nice’.
Again, due to the Roman’s attempt to convert Europeans to Christianity, a mixture of the Winter Solstice and Christmas celebrations were formed.
Christmas Gift giving -------
Father Christmas is not the only one who gives gifts at Christmas, we all like to exchange gifts with our family and friends. Which part of Christianity does this come from? Well, you would be right in saying that in the nativity scene, the three Kings give gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus at his crib; but does this equate to us giving gifts to each other? Many Christians will give gifts to those less fortunate than themselves- maybe to homeless shelters or charities to show love to others as Jesus taught.
Gift giving to one another was happening in Western Europe way before Christianity hit Britain’s shores. During the Winter Solstice, it was normal for Pagans to give gifts of homemade food, ornaments and toys to one another.
The Winter Solstice was a celebration of joy and new life, it was a time for families to come together to make merry, a part of this being giving gifts to one another. Giving gifts symbolised the giving of life that the Green Man would give to the land after the Solstice. In these times, the coming to life of plants were vital for staying alive, so giving gifts to one another would have symbolised the joy that would come with the growing of new crops and therefore food.
When the Romans came to Britain and wanted to convert all the Pagans to Christianity, they decided that the giving of gifts- although not usually done at Christmas- could fit very well into the Christmas celebrations. Thinking of the gifts of the three Kings to Jesus and the gift of new life that Jesus brought to the world, giving gifts to one another would be a very good way of convincing Pagans that Christianity was worth converting to, and maybe not so different to what they already knew.
(Christmas Decorations 2017 / 2018)
We already know that historically speaking, Jesus was born in the spring time, so why do we normally think of a snowing winter scene at Christmas? This is due to Winter Solstice being the reason for the season.
This still leaves the question:
what exactly do >>>> trees, baubles, twinkling lights, red and green tinsel and holly and Ivy have to do with Christmas?
As for the use of evergreen (fir trees) as Christmas trees, many sources will say that this links to the birth of Christ because it symbolises the everlasting nature of the love of God for humans: but as with everything else so far, this also pre-dates Christianity.
Ever thought that bringing a tree inside and decorating it was an odd way to celebrate the birth of the Jesus Christ?
That’s because it is, but it makes complete sense if you understand the Pagan roots of this tradition.
Evergreen plants were seen as holy and magical to Pagans, this was because they were the only plants that managed to keep looking fresh and alive throughout all the seasons. Whilst all other plants wilted and died during winter, evergreen plants such as fir trees, holly and ivy would stay a vivid green colour and brighten up the landscape.
Pagans saw it as their duty (in treating nature well) to bring evergreen inside their homes to make sure that they would be able to stay alive and healthy throughout the winter.
Once inside, the fir trees would be decorated in anything bright to show respect and then wrapped in colourful blankets to keep the trees warm.
""Christmas Decorations "" Christmas Decorations""
Holly and ivy would be brought inside to brighten up the home and decorate the table for the Winter Solstice feast.
Once most Pagans converted to Christianity, this tradition continued into modern day but obviously changed a bit over time. Instead of blankets, trees are now decorated with tinsel, baubles and lights. In some parts of Germany and some Nordic countries, the tradition of covering Christmas trees in blankets still exists today!
As for covering the house in lights, of course electricity didn’t exist back then but they instead covered the inside and outside of the house with candles. This was to symbolise the coming of new life and to light the way for the Green Man to bring everything back to life. Today however, fairy lights are preferred due to their safety (over candles) and how pretty they look! Of course, for Christians, lights and candles represent the ‘light of the world’; Jesus.
Christmas Food -- wOW
Today, a Usual Christmas dinner in the UK is a roast turkey with all the trimmings. The idea of a big feast at religious celebrations has existed for eons. In the UK though, Winter Solstice was always a time for a big feast. Coming in from the cold weather to a lovely big meal with lots of wine would have been very traditional. It wasn’t always a turkey on people’s plates though!
Up until the 1500s in Britain, a wild boar or any poultry that could be caught in the winter would be served up on Christmas day. Turkeys weren’t native to the British Isles, so it wasn’t until the British started venturing to the ‘new world’ of the Americas that we were introduced to turkey. Once over in what is now the USA, turkeys started to be the Centrepiece of the Christmas meal.
Who is it that we have to thank for this becoming popular in the UK ???
King Henry VIII! He thought it was new and trendy to have this ‘exotic’ turkey at Christmas, and so over the next few centuries it went from being only for those in high society to appearing on everybody’s table.
So, whether it was the Romans using Pagan belief to popularise Christianity or the monarchy introducing new trends to the UK; our Christmas traditions have changed and morphed since the start of this celebration.
Does this mean that the modern celebration of Christmas doesn’t relate to Christianity?
Of course not!
The way an amazing event is celebrated is up to the people doing the celebration.
The fact that it is being celebrated at all is all that matters!
It is completely normal for celebrations to change and morph over time, it happens all over the world in all cultures. Keeping the celebration alive is the most important part! So have fun, be merry and enjoy all these amazing traditions this Christmas 25 December 2017.