The Origins of Christmas Traditions

Many of our holidays have their roots in Pagan celebrations and Christmas is not an exception. Based on biblical description of events occuring at the time, many historians place Jesus’s birth sometime in September not December.

Winter solstice, which occurs between Dec. 20 and 23, is the longest night of the year after which the Sun slowly begins to return and the long nights become shorter.  Around the world and through time, cultures celebrate this important time of year and our current festivities repeat many of these traditions and rituals. In ancient Rome they called it Saturnalia, honoring Saturn, the God of Agriculture. Part of the fun involved the Mummers, a group of costumed singers and dancers that traveled from house to house entertaining their neighbors. Our Xmas carolers continue this tradition. 

In Northern Europe they called their celebrations “Yule”  a word meaning “wheel” symbol for the sun.  Huge yule logs were burned in honor of the sun and people kissed under the Mistletoe, a plant symbolizing fertility.

The evergreen, a tree that kept its green color in winter, was brought indoors to remind everyone that crops would grow again.  In 1521 we have the first record of an evergreen
being used during a Christmas celebration. “Better they should look to the true tree of life, Christ” cried an angry minister. The controversy continues today with the paganfocus on gift giving, a tradition that started with St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. A real person, Nicholas of Myar, a bishop in Roman settlements in Turkey, was considered a miracle worker and protector of the poor. He heard of a man who could not provide a dowry for his daughters. No dowry, no husband, which would condemn the unfortunate women to a life of slavery. Nicholas did not want his identity known while he did his good deeds so the story goes that he climbed the roof and dropped small sacks of gold coin down the chimney. This particular night the girls had left their stockings to dry by the chimney and somehow the gold found their way into the stockings.

But the return of the light to dispel the long nights of darkness, seems to be  a  perfect symbol for  the birth  of Christ. In 350 AD, in order to help the converted Romans make an easy transition to their new Christian religion, Pope Julius 1 declared the 25th of December to be Christ’s birthday. This allowed them to continue with their traditional holidays.         



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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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