Deck the halls with boughs of holly, because it’s finally Christmas. But why do we celebrate cutting down trees or kissing under a leafy branch?
Here are three Christmas traditions and where they came from:
1. Christmas tree
History.com explained that evergreen trees and plants have long been used in the winter to ward off evil spirits, witches or illness.
Some countries used evergreen plants to symbolize everlasting life or to please their gods.
Around 16th century in Germany, devoted Christians would bring pine trees into their homes and decorate them with fruits, nuts and lighted candles, according to the History website.
Most people believed the practice to be a “pagan mockery” of Christ’s birth. It did not become widely accepted until the mid-1800s, when Britain’s Queen Victoria and her German Prince were sketched in front of their Christmas tree for the London newspaper.
2. Santa Claus
Many versions of Santa Claus exist, as National Geographic explained in the article, St. Nicholas to Santa: The Surprising Origins of Mr. Claus. However, the most likely version comes from the Greek Bishop Nicholas, born 280 years after Christ.
Nicholas was a staunch protector of Christianity during a time when bibles were burned and priests were forced to renounce their faith or face execution. He was widely popular in the middle ages for stories of resurrecting children and giving gold to an impoverished father for his daughters’ dowries, according to the article.
For several hundred years, Christians celebrated their gift-giving saint on Dec. 6. However, the Germans interpreted St. Nicholas as more threatening; if a child did not behave the would be whipped or kidnapped.
The Netherlands came up with “Sinterklaas,” which they would bring to New England.
The article stated that Santa Claus did not become his jolly ole’ self until the nineteenth century, from influences such as Washington Irving’s book Knickerbockers History of New York, the anonymous poem “The Children’s Friend” and most recognizable,”A Visit from St. Nicholas,” also known as “The Night before Christmas,” written by Clement Clarke Moore.
According to history.com:
Greeks and Romans used mistletoe for its healing properties, but it wasn’t until the Celtic Druids in first century A.D. that the parasitic plant became romantic. Because the plant grows even in the dead of winter, it became a symbol of vitality, given to people and animals to restore their fertility.
The mistletoe continued to symbolize fertility well into the Middle Ages, but the kissing tradition did not appear until the 18th century among English servants.
If a woman is caught standing under the mistletoe, a man must kiss her and pluck a berry of the plant. Once all the berries are removed, the woman can not receive any more kisses.
Another popular legend of the mistletoe comes from Norse mythology. Baldur, son of the god Odin, was prophesied to die, so his mother Frigga went to all the plants and animals asking them to spare her son. She forgot the mistletoe, which was used by another god to kill Baldur. The gods brought Baldur to life, making Frigga so happy she made the mistletoe a symbol of love and promised to kiss anyone who passed beneath it.
How do you celebrate this ancient holiday? Tweet @byuiscroll to share some of your favorite Christmas traditions.