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December 25
Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. While December 25 is not generally considered to be the actual date of Christ's birth, that is the date Christmas Day is celebrated. Christmas Eve is the preceding day, December 24.

In Germany and some other countries, Christmas celebrations commence on the evening of the 24th.

During the Christmas season, people traditionally exchange gifts and decorate their homes with holly, mistletoe, and Christmas trees. The word Christmas comes from Cristes maesse, an early English phrase that means Mass of Christ.

History of Christmas

The 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.

In 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.

The 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 drinking.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.

In 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.

Also 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.

Continued... Out of the Past

A Carol’s Tale

Most 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.

Even 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.

Hardly anyone sings old Christmas classics like La Bonna Novella and Nowell 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.”)

Like 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.

Continued at Out of the Past

Christmas Trees

The Christmas tree, an evergreen trimmed with lights and ornaments, is derived from the so-called "paradise tree" symbolising Eden in German mystery plays.

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.

Presently, America consumes about 35 to 40 million trees every Christmas season whereas Great Britain does about 8 million Trees. An estimated 20, 000 Americans grow Christmas trees on about 447,000 acres of farmland.

Artificial Christmas trees are mostly sourced from China.

Santa Claus

The tradition of Santa Claus (an old, white bearded man attired in red) emanated from Holland where the Dutch celebrate St Nicholas Day on December 6, when gifts are given to children. British settlers in the Americas adopted this custom as part of their Christmas celebrations.

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, Babbao Natale, Saint Basil, and Father First.

The image of Santa Claus most common in North America was created by the German cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1863.


Fruitcake A traditional Christmas cake made with chopped candied fruit and/or 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.


A semi-parasitic plant that grows on deciduous trees, 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.

Mistletoe was an important plant in the folklore of Celts, Roman and Greeks - often being attributed magical properties (such as ensuring the fertility of cattle). Yet

This 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.

Ancient 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.

see The Mystery of Mistletoe in Rural Delivery.

Christmas Ornamentations

The most common of the Christmas decorations are the Christmas tree, Christmas lights,
stockings, mistletoe, red amaryllis, Christmas cactus, nativity scenes, wreaths, poinsettia and holly.

While the Christmas tree tradition is rooted in ancient Winter Solstice celebrations, Germans first used the Christmas tree as we know it today in the 18th Century.
Orange Christmas Cactus Plan

Poinsettia, 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 Mexican flame leaf, Christmas star, Winter rose, Noche Buena, Lalupatae, Atatürk çiçeği ("Flower of Atatürk", in Turkey), Αλεξανδρινό (Alexandrian, in Greece), Pasqua and Stella di Natale (in Italy).

Other Christmas decorations include lights, snowman, Santa and reindeer, candles, candy, and angels.

Deck the Halls

A traditional Yuletide and New Years’ carol, the tune
for this song is an old Welsh melody. 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.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Don we now our gay apparel
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.
Troll the ancient Yule-tide carol
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

See the blazing Yule before us.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Follow me in merry measure.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
While I tell of Yule-tide treasure.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

Fast away the old year passes.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Hail the new year, lads and lasses
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Sing we joyous, all together.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
Heedless of the wind and weather.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

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