Notable Origins of Common Christmas Traditions


It’s the Christmas season again, and before we get tired of the eggnog, the fruit cake and the Christmas music played over and over again, we enjoyed it for a couple of weeks.

But have you ever wondered where some of our strange Christmas traditions come from? I mean, we tell our children that a fat man is coming into our house at night; we bring trees to throw them all over the carpet; and we kiss under parasitic plants, all in the festive spirit. How the hell are these related to Jesus, whose birthday we’re supposed to celebrate?


The History of Christmas Cards & First Christmas Card


Christmas, as most of us know, is the Christian tradition that honors the birth of Christ, although it is not celebrated solely as such in our modern society. For us, Christmas represents a moment of joy, gifts and family. Christmas, as we know it, evolved from the Roman tradition of Saturnalia, a festival that honors its god of agriculture, Saturn, on the winter solstice. Due to the already unbridled celebration that takes place on the date and reverence of the light and the sun, it was a natural development to celebrate the birth of Christ on the same date. Many Roman writers give references to the date of December 25 and to Christianity between the second and third centuries, and it is believed that the feast was widely celebrated by Christians at the end of the fourth century. Although Christmas is celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ, we do not know the exact date, or even the year of his birth.

Give presents

Sometimes it is said that the tradition of giving gifts began with the 3 wise men, who visited Jesus and gave him gifts of myrrh, incense and gold. If you want to start a Christmas tradition, I guess the first Christmas would be a good date to start. However, as with many other entries on this list, the true origin of gift giving lies in pagan beliefs.


During Saturnalia, children would often be given gifts of wax dolls, an act with a rather macabre story in itself; the dolls were used to represent the human sacrifices that Rome had given to Saturn in the past as payment for good harvests. Branches of certain trees and other plant materials were also a common gift during Saturnalia, and were used to represent abundance and good harvests.



While some quite ignorant groups in the Americas believe that the abbreviation “x-mas” is an attempt by the “dirty liberals” to “keep Christ out of Christmas,” the true origins have a solid foundation in Christianity. In the abbreviation, the X represents the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. The name of Jesus has also been abbreviated as XP, a combination of the first and second letters of the Greek word for Christ. From XP comes the labarum, a sacred symbol in orthodox Christianity that represents Jesus.

The term Christmas has been used since the sixteenth century, although it gained prominent use in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the modern world, X has been taken as an abbreviation of any word with Christ or the sound “krys” in it, even in words that have no etymological connection. Chrysanthemum, for example, is sometimes shortened to “xant” in florist signs, and glass is sometimes abbreviated as “xtal”.



Many people know that St. Nicholas is the basis of Santa Claus, but the practice of filling can be traced back to his charitable donations in the fourth century. Nicholas believed that childhood should be savored and enjoyed, but at a time when children under 10 had to work to support their families, this was not always possible. Therefore, he gave what he could in homemade food, clothing and furniture. The bishop even distributed oranges, which would have been very rare and expensive in Lycia, where he lived.


The problem became where to leave these gifts for children to find them. According to legends, he saw the girls’ stockings hanging over the fireplace, and old Saint Nick (paraphrasing) thought: “Why the hell not?” From then on, the children will hang their stockings waiting for San Nicolás to visit them that night. Beyond San Nicolás, the practice goes back to the Scandinavian countries that still had their pagan beliefs. The children would leave their shoes full of carrots, straw or other similar foods for Odin’s mythical horse, Sleipnir. When Sleipnir ate the food, Odin left sweets or other treats in his place.



Since classical antiquity, the crown has been used as a symbol of power and strength. In Rome and Greece, kings and emperors often wore laurel wreaths, a practice they themselves borrowed from the Etruscans, who preceded them. The Greeks and Romans connected the laurel wreath with their sun god, Apollo, and considered the crown to embody their values. The cups of the shell – the predecessors of our modern decorations – were used in rituals for good harvests and predate even written history.

Ancient European animists often used evergreens in their covers to symbolize strength and fortitude, as an evergreen tree will survive even in the harshest winters. As for the connection with Christianity, since the cups symbolized tenacity and eternal life, they were often used at the funerals of important people, specifically in the burial of saints and martyrs.

The History of Christmas Trees

Christmas tree

The modern Christmas tree differs a lot from its roots; Today, we decorate an eternal artificial construct with bright lights and dazzling ornaments, while traditionally, the tree was of course, real and more important, decorated with edibles such as apples and nuts. The tradition, like that of the crown, began with the elements symbolized by evergreens in the pre-Christian winter festivals: immortality and fortitude. It was also known that the evergreen tree represented the same values ​​for a variety of cultures, including the Egyptian and Chinese. and Hebrews The worship of trees was also very common in European Druidism and paganism.

In the Christian tradition, trees were often placed in December to serve the double purpose of protecting the devil and allowing the remaining birds to perch. The evergreens decorated with apples and wafers were also used in the works of Christmas Eve during the Middle Ages to represent the tree of which Adam and Eve were in the forbidden fruit. As for decoration, the first evidence of decorated Christmas trees comes from the guilds of German artisans during the Renaissance. After the Protestant Reformation, the trees enjoyed a surge of popularity among Protestant homes as counterparts of the Catholic nativity scene.


The carols emerged from the first Christmas hymns, which were developed in Rome in the fourth century. While these Latin hymns were sung in the church for generations, the first true carols were developed in France, Germany and Italy in the 13th century. These Christmas carols, written in the vernacular of the area in which they were composed, were enthusiastically performed at community events and festivals.

They were not specifically composed as Christmas carols, but rather as festive conglomerate songs that were sung at many festivals and separate celebrations. Later, the songs were mainly associated with Christmas and were sung in numerous churches. The carols in the Protestant churches were much more numerous, since the Protestant movement fostered the arts, especially music. The modern practice of going from door to door villancicamente has something to do with the root of carol, “carole” or “carula”, which mean a circular dance. The practice may have developed from the public ceremonies that created the first carols.

Boxing Day - The Day After Christmas! - Celebrated on December 26


Boxing Day

Boxing Day is, unlike the rest of this list, an example in which a secular party emerged from a religious one. In most English-speaking countries, the day of boxing is traditionally the day after Christmas when people receive gifts from their bosses or employers. Today, the day of boxing is known as a shopping day similar to Black Friday. Many important sporting events are also commonly celebrated during the holidays.

The day of the boxing arose from the day of San Esteban, a Christian celebration that commemorates the eponymous San Esteban, the first Christian martyr. Saint Stephen was a deacon in a primitive church in Jerusalem. After an argument with the members of the synagogue, he was accused of blasphemy. While awaiting his trial, he said he had seen God the Father and the Son, although this was not enough to save him, anyway, he was stoned.



Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that perches on the branch of a tree and absorbs nutrients from the trunk, one of the most romantic life forms. But it has been inspiring people to do it for generations. Mistletoe has a great mythological background in 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 branch.

In the Eddic tradition, the mistletoe was the only thing capable of killing the god Baldur, since he had not sworn to leave him alone. Among other pre-Christian cultures, it was believed that the mistletoe contained the masculine essence and, by extension, romance, fertility and vitality. It is used as a decoration stem for the fact that it was believed to protect houses from fires and lightning. Normally it was hung at Christmas only to remain there all year until it is replaced by another twig next Christmas.

The process by which mistletoe was associated with kissing is currently unknown, but was first recorded in the sixteenth century in England as a very popular practice. Mistletoe has a pretty good legacy, as a parasite of a plant that causes diarrhea and stomach pain when swallowed.

The Man Behind the Story of Father Christmas / Santa Claus


Most people know that Santa’s origins are found in San Nicolás, that generous Saint who gave gifts to children in need. However, many other figures evolved in the conglomerate we call Santa Claus. On the one hand, the Dutch Sinterklaas, who has his base with Saint Nick, was the main inspiration for Santa Claus. It’s almost identical to Santa Claus: he dresses in red and white, he knows if you’re bad or nice, and he has helpers from elves known as Zwarte Piet.

However, the legend acquires a much darker legend when one hears that Zwarte Piet’s tasks also include punishing naughty children with “jute sacks and willow canes”. It also differs from Santa in the facts that he wears a bishop’s hat and comes by steamboat from Spain, instead of the North Pole. Another great influence in the design of Santa is the British father Christmas, a figure developed in the seventeenth century as an embodiment of joy and joy Christmas.

Odin also exists as a potential pagan inspiration for Santa Claus; He led a hunting party with other gods in Yule, a German holiday around the same time as Christmas; he rode Sleipnir, a legendary horse with 8 legs; like Santa, he has 8 reindeer; and he would fill the children’s boots with candy, as mentioned above. The modern Santa Claus, contrary to popular belief, was not created by Coca-Cola, but has been in American folklore since the late eighteenth century. His name comes from an Americanization of Sinterklaas, and somewhere along the way, he lost his bishop’s hat. One could write a complete list about the origins of the individual components of Santa’s history, suffice it to say that they all have interesting origins, and would suggest an additional reading.


There may be a couple of levels of separation, but almost all the strange traditions we practice around holidays are born of Christianity, and beyond that, they even have a basis in pagan religions and pre-Christian traditions. And really, are the connections with Christianity important? Christmas is the only time of the year where all (or almost) are kind, generous and get along with each other, does inspiration matter? As a non-Christian, I think we can all learn something of the Christmas spirit, regardless of race, religion or creed.

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