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Origins of Christmas Traditions

Why the tree, the wreaths, and mistletoe? Find out about the real origins and meanings of our most popular traditions.

Scientists and Scholars now agree that Christ was very likely not born on December 25, nor anywhere near that date. It has come to be known that the date was celebrated far before that time by Roman Pagans, Druids, and other people long before the time of Christianity. When early Christians tried to remove the ancient ways, they were unsuccessful, so renamed the day, gave it a new meaning, and assigned new meanings to the popular traditions. Here are the real reasons we have those traditions, and their real meaning.

To start let us first accept that in the old Julian Calender, the Winter Solstice, the 24 hour period with the least day light in the Northern hemisphere, was December 25, in our current calender it falls on or around December 21. Most cultures had some sort of celebration on this day, sometimes the festivities started a week earlier and ended on this day.

The Christmas Tree

Probably one of the most recognized symbols of Christmas, right? Wrong. Decorated trees were around long before Christmas. Because winter is typically a time of death, the evergreen was thought by ancient Druids to be magical, and brought protection if a part of it were brought inside during this time of year. Often it was just branches brought indoors, but trees outside were decorated with apples, additional pine cones, and lit candles. Roman pagans also noted that it was a special plant and would cut one down and offer it to Saturn, the God of agriculture, frequently adorning it first.

Photo from Wikimedia

Ball Ornaments

These round orbs, are representational of the Sun, and were symbols of worship to the Roman Sun God, Mithras, of course they were not made of plastic back then.

Gifts

Gifts have been exchanged at this time of year for many centuries, even predating the time of Christ.

The Nativity Scene

There have been numerous deities assigned the birth date of December 25 (which if you recall was the shortest time of light according to the older Julian Calendar). From Sol, to Apollo, to Mithras, and in Roman times nativity scenes were made to honor each.

Photo from Wikimedia

Stars

In ancient times the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a day to honor the God Saturn, the god of Agriculture, seeds and planting. They did not know Saturn was a planet not a star. They also represented Saturn with yellow discs, we now refer to these as halos.

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  1. Darla Smith

    On December 6, 2008 at 9:37 am


    Great and interesting article! I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jasin

    On December 6, 2008 at 9:47 am


    Great article, knew about most of that except the wreaths.

  3. Will Gray

    On December 6, 2008 at 9:49 am


    Great article! I learned a lot!

  4. psychobutterfly

    On December 6, 2008 at 10:01 am


    very nice and interesting article!! i really liked it!! keep up the good work

  5. Clay Hurtubise

    On December 6, 2008 at 10:04 am


    Nice, but if your going to mention cookies, well, shouldn’t you send some out so we have a better understanding!?
    Thanks,
    Clay

  6. Moses Ingram

    On December 6, 2008 at 7:19 pm


    A very interesting read and very well written. I recently wrote an article here about Mummering, a Christmas tradition that’s still practiced in parts of Newfoundland. I had heard somewhere that it may have had it’s roots in ancient Rome. Amazing!

  7. eddiego65

    On December 7, 2008 at 3:31 am


    Truly very interesting! It’s always nice to learn new things! Thanks!

  8. eddiego65

    On December 7, 2008 at 3:33 am


    Great information! Very interesting indeed. An enjoyable read. Thanks!

  9. Jenben

    On December 9, 2008 at 9:40 am


    Actually just two points;
    Point #1 As a matter of fact Dec. 21 was the Pagan holiday because of the winter solstice not Dec. 25.
    Point #2 Scientist and well anyone with alittle bit of Hebrew knowledge know that the way Dec. 25 has come about is because Jews calculated from the time of conception. So if you take on Christ was 33 when he was crucified, they went back 33 years and then added 9 months on to that and came out with two dates either December 25 or January 6..

  10. Culprititus

    On December 9, 2008 at 2:13 pm


    Jenben – look into the different calendars used in the ancient world and their relations to the one currently used by most of the western world

    also

    point #2 makes no sense because winter celebrations and festivals occurred previous to any “Christ” mythology.

  11. Zel

    On December 9, 2008 at 2:15 pm


    So December 25th is the day of his conception? And didn’t he die in April, Easter thingy. So 9 monthes prior (Birth) would be what, June or July. Your math confuses me….I am glad it is just a myth anyway.

    Also, what calendar are you using?

  12. Adri

    On December 9, 2008 at 4:46 pm


    Santa’s current image wasn’t created by Coca-Cola, there are instances of a chubby Santa dressed in red and white with a big white beard in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    For all the rest, one must always bear in mind that Christianity today exists solely as a set of rules designed in a number of conferences centuries after Jesus’ death – rules designed to attract pagans as much as to standardise the religion.

  13. Mythos

    On December 9, 2008 at 6:38 pm


    Jenben, those “calculations” you mentioned in point #2 were wrong. Even if Jesus were real, or the stories themselves, there wouldn’t have been shepherds out late at night in December. I’m sure with a quick search in Google, you can become more educated in mere minutes, as opposed to the years of inaccurate doctrine from your religious beliefs.

  14. Brenda Nelson

    On December 10, 2008 at 11:04 am


    to Jenben comment #9- you will note I pointed out that in the old Julian calender solstice did fall on Dec 25.

    to Zel comment #11 – nowhere is it implied that Dec 25 was a day of conception? as for Easter – that is a Pagan holiday for the Fertility Godess “Eastre also called Oester” think of the word “Estrus” as in the females reproductive system…

    to Adri comment #12 – Coke made “Santa”.. there were fat, red and white “Father Christmas’s” but not Sinter Klaus, who was generally depicted as a lean man.

  15. Tony

    On December 10, 2008 at 11:15 am


    The Christmas Cracker is a great British Tradition – Christmas Dinner wouldn’t be the same without them. No they aren’t for eating! There is a page all about them at http://www.squidoo.com/christmas_crackers

  16. Gabriel Knight

    On December 10, 2008 at 11:33 am


    This is an excellent article and very informative. Thank you.

  17. Peter Cimino

    On December 15, 2008 at 3:04 pm


    Wow! What a truly magnificent article!! I LOVE Christmas and now I know all of the true meanings. GREAT job!

  18. PR Mace

    On December 18, 2008 at 12:17 am


    Interesting and well done article. Very good.

  19. allen

    On December 22, 2008 at 12:49 am


    Thats one way to look at it. The fact that Jesus was born (read the bible,the King james version) has evry thing to do with christmas. That is the whole reason we celibrate it, to worship his birth. Eventualy die on the cross for our sins.

    The presents was given to him as a syomble of thanks to him like sacrifice. Department stores in the act of lets make a profit has tunded in to a commercal holiday that it is and the real meaning of christmas is geting lost.

    As for the other the lights and candels and all that might be true and somewhere it merged. In Fl we like to have hurricane parties and if it was popular more people would get involed and get there ideas in it to make it better or more profitable (hince the modern Santa Clause) and Give it 500 yrs and see what it will turn in to.

    Christmas is about celibrating Christ and family and loved ones and being with them not how can I have the bigest and most expensive and best present out of evry one else and if I don’t I will be upset. God bless you all and have a Marry Christmas and happy New Year.

  20. C LEBLANC

    On February 5, 2009 at 11:11 pm


    I agree with Allen, Jesus was born, is real, and died to save us. Christmas is about celebrating his birth and being with the people you love. Other religion’s may have used the day but it is about Jesus, anyway’s, let christmas be special. It’s about the only time of year that pretty much everybody is nice to one another.

  21. Truth

    On November 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm


    We’re actually commanded in the bible to celebrate Jesus’ death and not his birth. His death and the reason he died was more important than his birth. Today, Christmas is widely celebrated and over commercialized. Most folks today are into Christmas for what they can get out of it, gifts. Jesus is no longer a little baby in a manger but ruling as a mighty King next to his Father in heaven now. He would not be happy with a celebration tied heavily to pagan customs. He’s not even receiving any gifts. What good is a birthday celebration without the guest of honor present? Not to mention it’s the wrong day to celebrate his birthday. This is just another tactic Satan uses to distract or discredit God and his son Jesus Christ. And it is sad this is the “only time of the year that pretty much everybody is nice to one another”.

  22. Look it up

    On November 9, 2010 at 7:16 pm


    I agree with Truth and Something else no critic can explain: The census itself fulfilled a prophecy! In the sixth century B.C.E., Daniel prophesied about a ruler who would be “causing an exactor to pass through the splendid kingdom.” Did this apply to Augustus and his order to carry out a census in Israel? Well, the prophecy goes on to foretell that the Messiah, or “Leader of the covenant,” would be “broken” during the reign of this ruler’s successor. Jesus was indeed “broken,” executed, during the reign of Augustus’ successor, Tiberius.—Daniel 11:20-22.

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