This holiday season, millions of American families will be partaking in their annual Christmas traditions. These traditions are passed down from generation to generation and their symbolism and purpose is often lost as the years pass. Here are three of the most common and ancient Christmas traditions that are hardly ever thought twice about.
The Christmas Tree
According to infoplease.com, this might be one of the most ancient traditions of Christmas, and it came from the worship of the tree itself. The Christmas tree tradition most likely began in the 8th century. St. Boniface wanted to convert the Germanic tribes during the crusades. But this was proving to be a difficult task because the tribes did not want to leave behind their traditions. When Boniface realized that the tribes worshipped trees, even decorating them for summer solstice, he cut down an oak tree to attempt converting them. After he cut it down, a fir tree grew in its place and so the evergreen was seen as a symbol of conversion to Christianity. This is when the Germans began decorating trees for Christmas.
In more recent history, Prince Albert of Germany brought the tradition to England in 1840. When German immigrants migrated to America, their Christmas tree tradition migrated as well. This is why Christmas nowadays in not complete without a faint smell of pine needles.
Every parent needs a way to keep his or her children in check. The Santa Claus myth is a perfect way to give children an ultimatum: be nice and get presents or be naughty and get coal, or worse – nothing at all.
The story of Santa Claus, or “Kris Kringle, “ began in Germany in the 1600. German Protestants recognized December 25 as the birth of Jesus. This holiday became known as “Christkindl.” It was a day dedicated to giving gifts and giving thanks to God. “Christkindl” evolved into Santa Claus’s name, “Kris Kringle.”
In the Netherlands and Germany, Santa Claus was known to ride through the sky on a horse, not reindeer, to deliver presents to children. Originally Santa did not give coal to the naughty; he was instead accompanied by an elf that whipped naughty children named Black Peter. This seems like a much more traumatizing myth to tell young children, so it’s no wonder the punishment for naughtiness was re-established.
Mistletoe is often seen as an “icebreaker” at the annual Christmas party. It has become the ultimate pickup line. But the original beliefs surrounding mistletoe had nothing to do with picking up a date for the night.
The Druids believed that mistletoe fell from heaven and grew onto a tree from the Earth. Mistletoe represented the joining of heaven and earth, and God’s forgiveness of mankind’s sins. Therefore a kiss under the mistletoe originally symbolized forgiveness and reconciliation, not physical attraction. Remember this at your next Christmas party; it might be the perfect chance to forgive someone of his or her sins against you…
(Submitted by guest contributor, Alexandra Olsen.)