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
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 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
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.