middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the
world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early
Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter.
Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the
winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and
extended hours of sunlight.
Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter
solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun,
fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on
fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take
as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire
represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.
end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of
Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they
would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only
time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most
wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for
Germany, people honored the pagan god Odin (or Woden) during the mid-winter
holiday. They were terrified of Odin, as they believed he made
nocturnal flights through the sky on his eight-footed steed, Sleipnir,
to observe his people, and then
decide who would prosper or perish. But he was also brought gifts to
his people as they slept, much like another latter-day giftbringer with
long hair and a beard.
Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north,
Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of
agriculture—was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up
to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was
a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal
Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would
become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and
schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.
around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia,
a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the
upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the
unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an
infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was
the most sacred day of the year.
songs don’t keep. People sing them for a few years, then
lose interest. New tunes replace the old in a continuous cycle and
yesterday’s lyrics are soon forgotten.
Christmas carols, the most traditional sounds in American music,
have fairly shallow roots. The most popular Christmas song to date,
White Christmas, was composed by Irving Berlin in 1942. Do You Hear
What I Hear? only dates back to 1962 and Away in a Manger is just over
a century old.
anyone sings old Christmas classics like La Bonna Novella
any more. Both were big European hits in the 16th and 17th centuries.
So was the German carol Es
ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
(”Lo, How a
Rose E’er Blooming.”)
a well-worn pair of boots left on the back porch, old songs lie
forgotten until they lose their usefulness. Then they don’t
seem to fit any occasion.
tree, an evergreen trimmed with
lights and ornaments, is
derived from the so-called "paradise tree" symbolizing Eden in German
The use of evergreen trees as a symbol of Christmas began early in the
17th century in Strasbourg, France, spreading from there through
Germany and then to Northern Europe. In 1841, Prince Albert (Consort of
Queen Victoria) introduced the custom to Great Britain.
America consumes about 35 to 40
every Christmas season whereas Great Britain does about 8 million
Trees. An estimated 20, 000 Americans grow Christmas trees
447,000 acres of farmland.
Artificial Christmas trees are mostly
sourced from China.
The tradition of Santa Claus
(an old, white bearded man attired in red)
emanated from Holland where the Dutch celebrate St
on December 6, when gifts are given to
settlers in the Americas adopted this custom as part of their Christmas
The little man in red gear called Santa Claus is also referred to as
Father Christmas. He
is a mythological figure who denotes gifting for children, who
expect gifts from him in
their stockings during the night.
Other names for Santa Claus include St.
Nikolaus, SinterKlass, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Joulupukki,
Natale, Saint Basil, and Father First.
The image of Santa Claus most common in North America was
by the German cartoonist Thomas
Nast in 1863.
traditional Christmas cake made with chopped candied fruit
dried fruit, nuts, and spices, and often soaked in spirits.
In 18th century England, slices of fruitcake were given to poor women
who sang Christmas carols in the street. This is the first known
association of fruitcake with Christmas.
Also a popular wedding cake, it was believed that if unmarried
wedding guests put a piece of fruitcake under their pillows they would
dream of who they are going to marry.
plant that grows on
mistletoe has leathery evergreen leaves and waxy white berries. As
Christmastime it is tradtionally combined with other evergreens to
create "kissing bushes" that are hung in rooms where people would
frequently pass each other. Young men have the privilege of kissing
girls if they both pass beneath the bush. A berry should be plucked
from the bush for each encounter, and when all the berries are picked,
the privilege ends.
was an important plant in the folklore of Celts, Roman and
Greeks - often being attributed magical properties (such as ensuring
the fertility of cattle). But why hang sprigs of mistletoe from
ceilings? And why kiss people unexpectedly as they pass beneath some
waxy green leaves and white berries?
kissing custom probably originates from a Norse myth concerning
the goddess Frigg and her love for her son Balder. Frigg was an
overprotective mother, and from her fear that harm would come to her
son, she secured promises from everything in the world that they would
never harm her son. Everything, except a little mistletoe bush which
she deemed too young to make such a pledge. Loki, a trickster,
discovered this loophole and fashioned an arrow from a mistletoe branch
which he gave to Hod, Balder's sightless brother. Loki then guided
Hod's bow hand and the arrow pierced Balder's heart, killing him. The
distraught and outraged Frigg banished mistletoe to the tree tops. The
gods duly brought Balder back to life and Frigg was so overjoyed that
she made mistletoe the symbol of love.
Druids believed that mistletoe fell from heaven and grew onto a
tree that sprang from Earth, therefor signifying a connection between
heaven and Earth and God's reconciliation with humanity. A kiss under
mistletoe symbolizes acceptance and reconciliation.
Mystery of Mistletoe in Rural
The most common of the Christmas decorations are the Christmas
tree, Christmas lights, stockings,
mistletoe, red amaryllis, Christmas
nativity scenes, wreaths,
While the Christmas tree tradition is rooted in ancient Winter Solstice
celebrations, Germans first used the Christmas tree as we know
today in the 18th Century.
which has its origins in Mexico, was introduced to the U.S. by its
Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. It is known as
Cuetlaxochitl in the Nahuatl Mexican language, as well as
flame leaf, Christmas star, Winter rose, Noche Buena, Lalupatae,
Atatürk çiçeği ("Flower of
(Alexandrian, in Greece), Pasqua and Stella di Natale (in Italy).
Other Christmas decorations include lights, snowman, Santa and
A traditional Yuletide and New Years’ carol, the
this song is an old Welsh
The “fa-la-la” refrains were popular
in medieval ballads and
usually accompanied by a harp. The
lyrics are believed to have originated in American in the 19th century.
halls with boughs
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Don we now our gay apparel
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol
See the blazing Yule before us.
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Follow me in merry measure.
While I tell of Yule-tide treasure.
away the old year passes.
Hail the new year, lads and lasses
Sing we joyous, all together.
Heedless of the wind and weather.
Eating KFC at home on Christmas Day is a popular tradition in Japan.
Customers place their orders for the Colonel’s fried chicken two
months in advance. The chicken dinner feasts began in 1974 when KFC was
introduced to Japan for visitors who wanted a dinner resembling a
traditional holiday meal.
Magic Yule Logs
Odin Riding Sleipnir
Roman Festival of Saturnalia