History, Origins and Traditions of Christmas

Where does Christmas come from? From the Bible or from paganism? What is the true origin of Santa Claus, the holly and ivy wreath, Christmas tree? What is the origin of exchanging gifts?

Every year after Thanksgiving Day, people start preparations for the arrival of Christmas. This is the time when professed Christians concentrate on Jesus Christ. After all, it is the season of his Nativity!

People start decorations with holly garlands, decorated trees, mistletoe. They prepare greetings and play appropriate jingles to welcome the season. They roast chestnuts on the open fire. Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Santa Claus are all associated with this party. Christmas is a wonderful time for family reunions and gifts. All this brings a warm atmosphere to those who celebrate this holiday. All this is presumably centered on Christ's adoration.

Most people never reflect on why they believe what they believe or do what they do. We live in a world full of habits, but few people ever try to understand their origin. We generally accept them without a doubt. Most people do what everyone does because it's easy and natural!

Let us examine the roots of Christmas. Let's take a look at why people follow the customs that associate with it. Why is it celebrated on December 25th? This article is full of historical facts that together, give us a complete picture.

Christmas Pagan Origins

The origins of these ancient cults must be sought in what is the beginning of life on earth. From the beginning, the sun has been the object of worship and of veneration. There were annual and seasonal festivals and rites of propitiation and renewal.

At the dawn of humanity, the people in the primitive period followed the cycle of nature. The ancient man felt part of that nature but in a position of weakness. For this reason, through the rite, he sought to make friends with this or that strength inherent in it.

During these festivals, fires were burnt down. Often these were fertility rituals and related to reproduction. Hence the custom, in ancient celebrations, of dances. Mating took place in ancient Celtic and Germanic, but also Roman and Greek rites.

In the Roman world, the Saturnalia was a time of fun and exchange of gifts. December 25 was also considered as the day of birth of the mystery of the god Mitra, the sun of justice. People decorated houses with green and light and offered gifts to children and the poor. The German and Celtic Catalan rites of the Teutonic tribes were similar. People celebrated with food and friends. They prepared the Christmas Cake. The fir trees, gifts, and greetings commemorated various aspects of this festive season. Fires and lights were a symbol of warmth and longevity. They have always got associated with winter festivals.

Jesus Christ and Christmas?

Christ was born in the autumn. December 25 was not chosen because it was the birth of Christ or because it was close to it. It got chosen because it coincided with the Pagan idolatry of the Saturnalia. In any case, we do not know the exact date of Christ's birth. Eastern Orthodox Slavic Churches celebrate Christmas on January 6 and January 7.

According to the liturgical calendar, Easter is the most important Christian holiday.

Christmas was a universal tradition and was not part of religion. Christmas got celebrated in all the cultures of the world. Christmas does not have Christian roots! Almost all aspects of Christmas have their roots in Roman tradition and in religion. The first reference to Christmas on December 25 comes from the 2nd century after the birth of Jesus.

The first celebrations of the Christmas were in reaction to the Saturnalia. It was a festival of the harvest that marked the winter solstice and the return of the sun. People honored Saturn, the god of agriculture. From 529 AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire. The Justinian Emperor then made Christmas a civic celebration. The celebration of Christmas reached its peak in medieval times. Then it became a time of conspicuous consumption and unmatched baldness.

Christmas was not among the first festivals of the Church. The first evidence of the festival come from Egypt. Christmas was not observed in the first century of the Christian Church. Christian's use to celebrate the death of important people rather than their birth. Christmas got established as the birth of Christ in the fourth century. In the fifth century, the Western Church ordered that the celebration is on the day of Saturnalia.

It was 300 years after Christ that the Roman Church celebrated Christmas.

Who was Saturn?

Saturn was the god of agriculture (of sowing).

The celebration of the Sol Invictus, the birth of the sun, on December 25 was as per a decree of Emperor Aurelian in 274 AD. Sun was also revered at this festival of the death of winter so that he could return. It happened every year, around the beginning of winter, or in the winter solstice. This was the time when the sun had taken its lowest course in the sky and the days began to stretch. The heat of the sun was necessary to allow sowing and growth of cultures.

Every civilization has a god of fire and sun. The Egyptians (and sometimes the Romans) called it the Vulcan. The Greeks called it Crono, as well as the Phoenicians but they also called Saturn. The Babylonians called him Tammuz, and the Druids called him Molek or Baal. All these were the names of Nimrod. Nimrod was the father of all the Babylonians.

This kind of pagan idol worship has spread all over the world since then. The names vary according to country, language, and culture. In Egypt, it was Isis and Osiris, in Greece Aphrodite and Adonis, in the pagan Rome Fortuna and Jupiter. Even in China, Japan, and Tibet you can find this counterpart.

Sacrifice of children

The Phoenicians every year sacrificed their beloved and single-born sons to Saturn. But why was a human sacrifice so important for the adoration of this terrible God? What benefit could human beings get by massacring their own children? They believed that the fire purified them from the original sin. The pagan doctrine of spending the time in purgatory to purify the soul from all sin comes from this belief!

Many people have heard about the Druids. Few know who and what they were. We must first establish their historical role in human sacrifices. Druids seem to have visited oak forests and acted as priests, teachers, and judges.

The Druids were in charge of public and private sacrifices, and many young men went to them for education. They judged all the public and private disputes. The Druid's main doctrine was that the soul was immortal. They offered human victims to those who were ill or in danger of death in battle. Druids chose criminals as a preference, but they sacrificed innocent victims if necessary.

Most civilizations have a tradition that has involved cannibalism. Civilizations also linked a divine meaning to its practices.

What about the Santa Claus myth?

Parents think they have to hand over all the Christmas myth to their children! Christmas traditions focus on children and are at the center of most of what happens. Santa was a common name for Nimrod in Asia Minor. This was also the same god of fire of the ancient pagans.

Today, in English Santa Claus comes from St. Nicholas. Most of the rest of the American Christmas traditions are still more recent than this. The Old Nicola got recognized as a term for the devil.

The origin of the Christmas Tree

No Christmas brochure is complete without any explanation about the Christmas Tree. We have touched the subject without focusing on it. The modern Christmas tree originated in Germany. But the Germans took it from the Romans, who took it from the Babylonians and the Egyptians.

An old Babylonian tale talked of an evergreen tree that sprouted from a dead tree. The old log symbolized the dead Nimrod. The new evergreen tree symbolizes that Nimrod had come back to life in Tammuz! Among the Druids the oak and among the Egyptians the sacred tree was the palm. In Rome, the fir tree got decorated with red berries during the Saturnalia and Brumalia!

The Christmas tree is from Egypt, and its origin dates back to a much earlier period Christian era.

The origin of holly wreaths, Christmas straws, and mistletoe

The holly, the mistletoe, the Christmas tree are relics of the pre-Christian era. The Christmas straw got used in a Teutonic rite of adoration of nature. The Europeans carried holly worms in their homes. They offered them to the fairies of the woods, as a refuge from the storms of the frigid winter. During the Saturnalia, holly branches got exchanged as a symbol of friendship.

There are dozens of different types of holly. Female holly plants can not have berries unless a male plant is near. It is easy to see why holly garlands found their way into pagan rituals as a symbol of friendship and fertility!

Christmas is incomplete to many unless they include kissing under the mistletoe. This pagan tradition was the infamous orgy-like spirit. They thought the mistletoe had special healing powers on those who enjoyed it under it.

The mistletoe has had a ritual meaning in Druid ceremonies and lives in today's folklore. The mistletoe is a parasite that lives on the oaks. The ancient Celts used to give the mistletoe, as a remedy of herbs, to sterile animals to make them fertile. It is still known as the healer of everything in Celtic.

Like the mistletoe, holly berries got sacred to the god of the sun. Christmas is also called Yule. The resurgence of the sun and the proliferation of the days get celebrated. The Julmond, who is also called Nytungl or Nykung gets greeted with ritual jubilation. It marks the beginning of the new year. The houses got decorated with evergreen branches. The beech tree, yew, spruce, fir, holly, pine, ivy, and juniper had protection and healing powers.

In Scandinavia, many of the medieval customs get preserved. The Christmas festival is still called Yule. And so Christmas in Norwegian today is called Jul. Christmas gets celebrated with special Jul Cake, with raisins and cardamom. As well as the good juleøl, the Christmas beer. The Estonian word Jõulud for Christmas is the Scandinavian word Jul.

Both words meant the pre-Christian pagan winter solstice. Scandinavia is the only region in which the old pagan names exist for Christmas to this day. At Christmas, pigs got slaughtered and beer got brewed. All loud activities got forbidden, as the good spirits of that time should not get upset by noise. On Christmas night, the leftovers of Christmas dinner got left on the table for the ancestors. People believed that the dead would come to visit that night. The fire in the fireplace had to burn all night. It was also a custom to take a ritual bath on Christmas Eve.

Jul took place at the full moon of the month, which begins immediately after the winter solstice. Sometimes you can see a buck or a goat figure hanging from straw on the Christmas tree. This is the so-called Julbock before this got taken over by the Santa Claus.

The Nisse or the spirits are also the protector of the house and the yard. To keep them in a good mood, people on Christmas Eve, put a bowl of porridge outside the door. And also for the animals. For the birds of the forest, people tie a bunch of oats to the fence (julenek). The farm cattle get special Christmas food. An old tradition is the baking of a malt loaf. This is a sweet bread that people bake for Christmas.

The malt loaf had a place of honor throughout the Christmas season. After Christmas, the malt loaf got put away in the grain chamber and stayed there until spring. It was only at the beginning of spring that people ate this bread. They were also fed to the cattle. This would ensure a good grain harvest and cows that give plenty of milk.

People also prepare oatmeal, cod or Lutefisk or Fårikål (mutton in cabbage). Then the joint dance takes place around the Christmas tree.

The Julbock is usually placed under the Christmas tree and carries the presents. In southern Sweden, the bock got slain, but then brought back to life by a song. If such a jubbock of straw gets thrown to a dancing group, people caught this buck. It was to bring luck in the next grain harvest. Then again, there are areas where the people disguise as these offer something to eat and drink. For example the Yule beer.

The main focus at the Christmas Eve is a joint meal. After the dessert, the Julklapp parcels get brought out of the hiding places. In the custom of Julklapp, a gift gets wrapped in many layers of gift paper. No one can unpack without reading the verse.

The Yule straw existed in Sweden, Norway, and Finland until the 20th century. The straw got spread out on the ground in houses. There was also the custom of sleeping in the Julstroh before leaving the bed to invisible guests. The Yule bread, which played a special role with the peasant Jól, also came to the fore. It describes a special kind of bread. On Christmas holidays, it got distributed to strangers.

A table got laid for invisible guests. A large bread and a knife got left on the table for the gods to eat. We find this mythical motif in the Celts, the Greeks, the Germans and the Vedic Indians.

A night-light was to be lit, and a great night-fire burned. A straw goat is to come next to the described Jul drinks. This can get traced back to the goats of the god Thor, who pull his chariot. On his back, he still presents the presents in Scandinavia.

Yule is identical with the festivities after the autumnal slaughter of animals. The Yule log was a tree trunk felled on Christmas Eve and remained near the hearth all year round. At the climax of the winter solstice, the old stove fire was now extinguished. With this Yule log, the new stove fire got started again. A candlestick got lighted, as one found in archaeological excavations in Sweden. Even today the English know the custom of kissing under the Mistletoe.

Jews celebrate the Hanukkah or Festival of Lights. On the first day of the Hanukkah, there is a family meal and gifts get exchanged. Among the foods include potato cakes and fritters called sufganiyot. Indians celebrate Diwali. This festival marks the beginning of the new year.

Makar Sankranti in the middle of January is also like Christmas. People celebrate the return of light and heat as the days get longer, as a symbol of the sun god Surya. They give away sweets to friends and neighbors. In many parts of India, this festival is also a New Year.

This time was a good opportunity to sit in the family circle or with guests and to tell each other stories. In the harsh climate of the winter, it was wise to spend the time indoors. A little to eat, to drink and to ward off evil spirits with holy smoke. Or to keep the good spirits ready for food, drink, and a night-camp. The ritual of burnout may also have led to the term smoking nights for this time of the year.

Evil spirits, they said, accompanied Odin's wild army. He whistled across the country in the winter storm and telling anyone who dared to stay outside.