Christmas, as we know it today, is a mixture of old and new traditions.
Centuries before the birth of Christ, societies celebrated the life and birth of the darkest days of winter. Norsemen had a winter celebration known as “Yule”. Around December 21st (the winter solstice); fathers and sons would go out into the forest and bring home evergreen trees, as a reminder of life. The logs would then be set on fire as a symbol of good fortune.
Ancient Roman’s celebrated “Saturnalia” one week before the winter solstice in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture.
‘Mithra”, a sun god worshipped by soldiers and government officials of the day, was born on December 25th and this was considered to be the “most holy day of the year”.
1st Century AD pagan traditions were being challenged as Christianity took hold throughout the Empire. It is theorized that the Church would adopt December 25th as Christ’s birthday to align with the pagan worship of Mithra (Christ’s birthday was not actually known since the bible never gives a date of birth). The church made the 25th as the official date in 4th Century AD. They knew they would not be able to outlaw the pagan traditions that already existed and saw this as a way to incorporate them into the Christian Church as “Christ Mass”. The evergreens, traditionally brought indoors, were decorated with apples; which symbolized the Garden of Eden, and eventually became Christmas ornaments.
Saint Nicholas day was named after a much beloved 4th Century Turkish bishop. The anniversary of his death became known as Saint Nicholas Day; and as legend has it, every December 6th good children woke to gifts from the kindly saint.
In America, 1500 years later, a professor named Clement Clarke Moore re-imagined the legend of Saint Nicholas and wrote a poem called,” The night before Christmas” about a good natured saint named Santa Claus…however; it was never known at this time, what Santa should look like…then, in 1863, Thomas Nast, a cartoonist who worked for Harper’s Weekly, came up with a vision for Santa Claus as a jolly old soul with bright red cheeks and a twinkle in his eye.
It’s so interesting to see how Christmas have evolved through the years and how it has such a different meaning to everyone that has made their own traditions.
Regardless of whatever your heart holds as true for Christmas; I hope that we all have it in our hearts to remember the love, kindness, forgiveness and goodwill we should bestow upon others (always really) but especially at this time of the year.
Happy Holiday to all.