As you gather with family and friends to celebrate this year, take time to think about the origins of some of the traditions of Christmas.
- Santa Claus – his story begins in the 4th century with St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra (an area in modern day Turkey). St. Nicholas was known to be a generous man especially devoted to children. Because he was so kind and benevolent, rumors began that he could perform miracles. He became the patron saint of Russia and was known for his red cape and flowing, white beard. He has his own feast day that is celebrated on December 6…a day of gift giving and charity. The story of St. Nicholas was passed down through generations and his name transformed over time. The Dutch called him Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. This tradition traveled to America with Dutch colonists and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged.
- Christmas Trees – the decorating of fir trees originated in 16th century Germany where trees would be adorned with apples, roses, candies and colored paper. The Christmas tree was brought to England by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, from his native Germany. The first Christmas trees in America were introduced by Pennsylvania Germans and became popular by the middle of the 19th century.
- Mistletoe – mistletoe was used by Druid priests 200 years before the birth of Christ in their winter celebrations. They held the plant in high esteem because it had no roots, yet remained green throughout the winter season. The ancient Celts thought that the plant had magical healing powers. It was also seen as a symbol of peace and it was said that when enemies met under mistletoe, they would lay down their weapons and embrace. Scandinavians associated the plant with Frigga, the goddess of love. This is perhaps where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe began. It is thought that those who kiss under the mistletoe have the promise of happiness and good luck in the year to come.
- The Christmas Wreath – The Christmas wreath is another tradition that has been around for a long time. The first wreaths were created from fresh evergreens. Because they are green year round they were the obvious choice for winter months. The word “wreath” is derived from an English word meaning “to twist”, such as in a circle. Some believe that initially wreathes were hung on doors in Ancient Rome to represent victory. The circle shape with no beginning or end represents eternity or life never ending.
While celebrating with these ancient traditions and with your own family traditions this year, may you be surrounded by peace and joy.