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Jennifer Priddy

LI 222-02
31 March 2014

Where Traditions Originated
When people think of Christmas, they mostly picture the modern day, religious holiday of
celebrating Jesus’ birth. However, the holiday started very differently. By combining many
aspects of a variety of cultures and customs, we are left with a similar celebration that mirrors
ones celebrated centuries before us.
Christmas is most famously celebrated on December 25th, and is well known as a
Christian holiday. However, the Christians seemed to have borrowed the date from other
religions and ritualistic practices. The winter solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere around
December 21st (The Winter Solstice). The date seems pretty close, yet it gets even closer when
you add the fact that the ancient Romans celebrated a pagan holiday of Saturnalia which was a
weeklong festival that began on December 17th and ended on December 25th (Pagan).
All throughout festivals and rituals, one can find the presence of greenery. The Egyptians
thought that evergreen leaves symbolized the triumph of life over death. Druid priests in Britain
used evergreen leaves in their pagan ceremonies, and the Germans used evergreen trees to
symbolize the new spring (Pagan). The Druids among the Celtic and Nordic people practically
worshipped the trees and would often find sacred groves of trees to perform their religious

people believed that it carried magical qualities. It later evolved to people taking their wassail bowls door to door. proposed to use small light bulbs to light the trees instead (Christmas). It is not a surprise that trees made their way into many religious ceremonies and practices throughout history (Harrigan). The Romans used to hang metal pieces on their trees during Saturnalia. It was then found in random poems and stories throughout history such as Beowulf or History of the Kings of Britain. Putting them together and combined them in harmony. Decorating trees has been a tradition for many centuries. Trees used to be decorated with candles. Druids would cut the plant down in a ceremony in which people would prevent any of the boughs from touching the ground. Within the . To them. Holly and ivy could also be seen in England during the Middle Ages. When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. believing that it would bring fertility to their animals. but that was seen as a fire hazard. There was some lore that said that Martin Luther was the first to decorate a tree indoors though. Wassailing is another popular Christmas tradition that had its roots in old cultures. the goddess of love was so upset when her son Baldor was killed by mistletoe. which then turned into a drinking toast. and they would often sing as they went (Doares). The act of loving underneath the mistletoe originated in Norse mythology as Frigga. the holly symbolized the men and the ivy. the women. It then became a tradition around the 13th century to use a wassail bowl and drink to each other’s health by passing it around with a kiss. Mistletoe is found all over history and in many different cultures.” It started off as a simple greeting. that she made sure that the plant was only used for love instead of death (Perry). The Romans would bring greenery into their homes during the winter because they believed that the gods of rejuvenation and growth could be inside the plants.Priddy 2 ceremonies in. The word ‘wassail’ is derived from the Old Norse ves heil which could mean “be in good health” or “be fortunate. Because the plant is actually parasitic. his assistant Edward Johnson.

Odin was depicted as an older man with a long white beard. The word ‘carol’ literally means to sing and dance in a circle. It is now more commonly known as The Night Before Christmas (Moore). . There are many people who think that the act of gift giving began with the Christian religion. or money was given by masters. tales. Combine this with the practice of Wassailing. Another thing that the two stories have in common is their animals. which would ruin them for some people. Saint Nicholas actually did exist. gift giving was a one way operation. in the eighteenth century. there were people known as ‘carol’ singers. they were banned from the churches and into the street (Trueman). Because of this.Priddy 3 churches in medieval times. Stories. and parents to their workers and children. Odin had an eight legged horse named Sleipnir who could leap great distances and was fast as lightning. it can be assumed that is the basis of the act of giving. however it was in 4th century Turkey. There was never gift giving to someone who was a superior though (Powers). Sweets. trinkets. books. He was the bishop of Myra and worked with sailors and children. and legends were passed down through the years until Clement Moore wrote a poem titled A Visit from St. However. bosses. He became a patron saint who was celebrated on December 6th. Santa Claus has eight reindeer (Wigington). Nicholas also gains some of his characteristics from Norse mythology. It is also outlined in the story The Gift of the Magi. and you would get our modern day Christmas caroling. Because of the close proximity to the 25th of December. The singers would do this in the middle of the church services. and myrrh. frankincense. it was equally as possible to exchange things. However Christmas day was not always the number one day for the presentation of gifts. St. Saint Nicholas soon became associated with Christmas. Nicholas in 1822 (Krystek). Nick. nuts. Seeing as the baby Jesus was presented with gifts of gold. On New Year’s Day. which sounds very similar to the modern description of St. fruit.

ritual.Priddy 4 It is now obvious that the traditions surrounding Christmas are not solely governed by the religious holiday. was borrowed by another ceremony. The traditions that we have borrowed are now easy to see through the cultures and practices that they have mirrored. with the use of evergreen trees to worship. . mistletoe. or practice. In fact. most of the traditions associated with the special day. A good portion of it came from the Nordic culture. and Odin with his horse Sleipnir.

Trueman. 2014. Harrigan. Patrick. 28 Mar. <http://www. Poetry Foundation. Powers. 29 Mar.about. Web. Patty. University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign. Living Heritage Trust. "The History and Legend of Santa Claus. "The Winter Solstice. "The Origins of Santa Claus.. <http://www. Moore. < "A Visit from St. <http://www. 2014. Nicholas." Paganism / Wicca. <http://www. N. 28 2014. <http://www. Doares. <http://www." Colonial Williamsburg. 2012.htm>.htm>.uvm. Web.htm>. 27 Mar. "Pagan Origins of the Christmas Tree. "Holiday Greens and Their Traditions.cfm>." History of the Christmas Tree. Web. n." History Learning Site. 27 2014. "Santa Claus and the Origin of the Christmas Tree. Web. 28 Mar. Chris. "Medieval Christmas. Robert. 28 Mar. 27 Mar. 28 Mar. 2014. Christmas Tree History. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation." The History and Legend of Santa Claus.history. Wigington.history. "Wassailing through History." Poetry Foundation.htm>." Windows to the Universe. 27 Mar.cfm>. 2014. Web.cfm>." Pole-Spirits North and South. 2014. .windows2universe.Priddy 5 Works Cited "Christmas Tree Traditions. <http://urbanext. University of Vermont Extension. "Christmas Customs. Clement Emma L. 2011.unmuseum. Web. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.illinois. <http://livingheritage.html>. Leonard.christmastreehistory.>. Web. National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA). Web. <" Christmas Trees and More. 2014. 2014. Perry." Colonial Williamsburg. 2000-2013. 2014." Holiday Greens and Their Traditions.p. Web. <http://paganwiccan.>. Web. 2003. 2014. 29 Krystek. The Museum of Unnatural History.html>.d. 2014. About.