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Sun Dec 13, 2020, 04:02 PM

Christmas history and traditions

There are many stories about the origins of the Christmas holiday and celebrations. I know some of them, but I am sure that others can add more.

Christians celebrate it as the birthday of Jesus, but nobody knows the actual date of his birth. December 25th was chosen to replace Roman celebrations of the god, Mithra, whom Romans had adopted from Persian Zoroastrians. Worth noting when fundies complain about Christmas being coopted by others.

Martin Luther started the custom of decorating trees for Christmas. In Pagan times, Germanic tribes considered evergreens as symbols of life because they remained green throught the year. They brought boughs indoors on the short days of winter. Luther decided to decorate trees and boughs with Christian symbols and candles to represent Christianity instead of Paganism. Queen Victoria's family was of German origin. When she decorated a royal tree for Christmas, the custom caught on and spread.

In Mexico, there was a goddess that the Native people celebrated for 9 days around the time of Christmas. When Spanish priests realized that converted Native people continued to enjoy their traditional long celebration period, they introduced the idea of a 9 day Christmas, with people reenacting the search of Mary and Joseph for a place to stay. This was the origin of the Mexican Posada, in which people spend 8 evenings going around seeking a place, only to be turned down and sent away. On the 9th evening, they are welcomed inside with the Posada song to enjoy a festive Christmas party.

The American Santa Claus goes back to Dutch settlers in colonial times who celebrated St. Nicholas Day on December 6. In Dutch his name was Sinter Klaas. The British settlers merged the name with their tradition of Father Christmas to become an Anglicized Santa Claus.

The early Puritans (Congregationalists) in New England banned celebrations of Christmas because they were mixed with old pagan customs in Britain and were often rowdy drinking occasions. Even saying a quiet, "Happy Christmas" to someone in the Puritan colonies was punished. But, today, the few conservative congregationalists that remain in the US are among the people who complain about a war on Christmas.

Mistletoe and Yule logs are old, Pagan customs carried over to Christmas. Mistletoe is English, considered sacred by druids. Not sure where the kissing custom came from. The Yule log custom was brought to England by Danish invaders, I think. Maybe someone knows more about that

Many people today celebrate Christmas as a time for gifts, parties, and lighting up homes and neighborhoods against the short days of winter, without any religious association.

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Arrow 23 replies Author Time Post
Reply Christmas history and traditions (Original post)
wnylib Dec 2020 OP
Guilded Lilly Dec 2020 #1
wnylib Dec 2020 #3
abqtommy Dec 2020 #2
wnylib Dec 2020 #4
abqtommy Dec 2020 #8
wnylib Dec 2020 #12
abqtommy Dec 2020 #16
wnylib Dec 2020 #18
wnylib Dec 2020 #19
abqtommy Dec 2020 #20
wnylib Dec 2020 #21
Guilded Lilly Dec 2020 #5
abqtommy Dec 2020 #9
Clash City Rocker Dec 2020 #6
wnylib Dec 2020 #7
Wicked Blue Dec 2020 #11
wnylib Dec 2020 #13
Wicked Blue Dec 2020 #10
wnylib Dec 2020 #14
Wicked Blue Dec 2020 #15
wnylib Dec 2020 #17
abqtommy Dec 2020 #22
wnylib Dec 2020 #23

Response to wnylib (Original post)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 04:12 PM

1. Basically all about blended love and caring. Enjoyable post!

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Response to Guilded Lilly (Reply #1)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 04:21 PM

3. I love tracing holiday origins

and customs and how they mix, blend, and change over time. Some of them go back many centuries and more than a couple millennia. It amazes me sometimes how traditions can persist for so long.

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Response to wnylib (Original post)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 04:20 PM

2. The Wholly Text of the Christian New Testament shows that the early Christians popularized

kissing since the Apostle Paul wrote that they should "greet each other with a wHoly Kiss".
More than one historian I've read supports this view. So pucker up, Baby and get ready for
a frolic in the manger!

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Response to abqtommy (Reply #2)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 04:24 PM

4. But I still want to know how the

British custom of kissing under mistletoe began. I presume it has something to do with ancient Celtic customs, since mistletoe was sacred to the Druids.

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Response to wnylib (Reply #4)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 05:44 PM

8. Let's not think that Christians are ignorant or unapproving of the various fertility rites that

have been practiced by many peoples including the Druids. Don't forget that the British
population consists of Druidic, Celt, Roman, Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) and Norman/Norse
DNA That provides plenty of room for shared customs to become entrenched. It does no
good to wonder why, just pucker up and close your eyes!

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Response to abqtommy (Reply #8)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 09:23 PM

12. So are you saying that kissing under

the mistletoe was a Celtic fertility rite? Seems that fertility would take more than a kiss, no? Pretty tame compared to ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean region and Near East.

BTW in your list of ethnic contributions to the British Isles, you gave Druids and Celts as separate people. The Druids were the priests of the Celts. And left out the Danes, Dutch, and Belgaic tribes. Probably a few scattered Spaniards who survived the defeat of their Armada, plus whoever was in the Roman Army from around their empire. And in later centuries, people from around the British empire.

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Response to wnylib (Reply #12)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 11:44 PM

16. Why are you asking me when you seem to already know the answers? On the road to

fertility people have got to start somewhere. Why not with a kiss under the mistletoe?

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Response to abqtommy (Reply #16)

Mon Dec 14, 2020, 04:43 AM

18. I'm asking because you offered

a suggestion but didn't give a source. I wondered if you had a source for more information on the subject or were just taking a guess.

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Response to wnylib (Reply #18)

Mon Dec 14, 2020, 06:07 AM

19. OK, I just looked up some info

on mistletoe and Christmas. Seems that mistletoe had medicinal and religious significance in many parts of Europe. It grows on both apple and oak trees as a parasite, but it is the oak mistletoe that Druids considered sacred.

Ancient Greeks believed it was a symbol of vitality and health. Pliny the Elder recommended it for treating ulcers, epilepsy, and an antidote for certain poisons.

Celtic Druids considered it a source of life and capable of ensuring prosperity and restoring or improving fertility.

Kissing under mistletoe comes from Nordic mythology. Frigga, goddess of love, believed a prophecy that her son, Baldur, god of the sun, would die. She begged wind, fire, earth, water, plants, and animals to protect him, but neglected to ask mistletoe. Loki the trickster god made an arrow of mistletoe to slay Baldur and gave it to the god of winter, Hoder. The earth mourned the loss of Baldur the sun and the tears of Frigga, goddess of love, fell on the mistletoe and became its white berries. These tears of love restored Baldur to life and Frigga joyfully kissed everyone who passed by her under the mistletoe. So kissing under the mistletoe was an affirmation of life renewal and love.

Scandinavians believed mistletoe was a symbol of peace for enemies who made a truce under it.

Mistletoe became associated with Christmas in 18th century England. It was brought indoors as a Christmas decoration along with evergreen boughs and trees. They hung mistletoe in bunched up balls, decorated with ribbons. If a young woman stood under it, she could be kissed. The kiss then led to long friendship or marriage. The belief was that those who remained unkissed during the Christmas season would not marry in the coming year. In some parts of England, the mistletoe was burned on the 12th night of Christmas so that young men and women who remained unkissed would not be doomed to never marry.



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Response to wnylib (Reply #19)

Mon Dec 14, 2020, 07:22 AM

20. There ya go! I did start answereing what I knew about this kissing business with a

reference to scripture that I was aware of. Beyond that I haven't
had the urge to research it. One thing I'll say that I came across
concerning the Nordic Odin faith is that it surprised a lot of historians how
quickly the Nords embraced Christianity...

It does appear that kissing is related to different cultures and faiths
and that's not a bad thing...

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Response to abqtommy (Reply #20)

Mon Dec 14, 2020, 08:28 AM

21. Before looking it up for this

thread, the only thing I knew about mistletoe was that it was sacred to Celts, and that it was traditional to kiss under mistletoe at Christmas. Also, from anthropology courses, that it is common for religious traditions to blend and mix as different cultures come in contact with each other, and to evolve in practice and meaning over time.

You're right that kissing is related to many cultures, as a greeting between friends and relatives (on each cheek), as affection (parent to child and vice versa), and as an expression of romantic love. Also as betrayal, apparently, in the story of Judas.



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Response to abqtommy (Reply #2)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 04:26 PM

5. I thought this was going in a different direction...but...

SMOOCH

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Response to Guilded Lilly (Reply #5)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 05:51 PM

9. I think you've got it! Many a young mister and miss go under the mistletoe to find their

first kiss!

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Response to wnylib (Original post)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 04:30 PM

6. There are several things that are typically believed about Christmas that aren't true

One is that it happened in December. Shepherds weren’t watching their flocks by night in December. More likely it happened in the summer.

Also, there were probably more than three wise men from the East. They typically travelled in larger groups. People assume there were only three because only three gifts are mentioned.

My college astronomy teacher hypothesized that the Star of Bethlehem was two planets in retrograde motion while a third planet passed between them. It happened round 2 AD; if we’ve only lost a couple years over the span of two millennia, that’s pretty good. The Chinese were the best astronomers in the world at the time, they would have noticed an unusual phenomenon like that.

Despite the songs, there wouldn’t have been animals in the manger. They took their animals inside at night those days.

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Response to Clash City Rocker (Reply #6)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 05:23 PM

7. The traditional story, as depicted in

creche scenes, is that Mary and Joseph were in a stable - an indoor enclosure for animals. A manger is a feeding trough for animals.

I doubt there was a little drummer boy, either, but it makes a nice song. And I'm quite sure there wasn't any night wind asking little lambs, "Do you see what I see?" Still makes a nice traditional song. It's in the nature of long standing holidays and favorite figures for folk stories abd songs to develop around them.

George Washington, for example, probably did not chop down a cherry tree.

I hadn't heard that theory about the planets in retrograde. Interesting.

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Response to Clash City Rocker (Reply #6)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 07:02 PM

11. Besides, a manger is a feeding trough for cows or other animals

I believe the legend is that Mary laid the infant in a manger while they were holed up in a stable.

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Response to Wicked Blue (Reply #11)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 09:26 PM

13. Yup, that's the story as I heard and read it.

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Response to wnylib (Original post)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 06:58 PM

10. Ahem. Luther did NOT start the custom of decorating trees for Xmas

Both Latvia and Estonia claim to have started the Xmas tree tradition.

Latvians claim the first decorated tree was set up by the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, a medieval merchant guild, in 1510.

In Estonia, the claim is that the same Blackheads guild erected a decorated tree in the capital in 1441.



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Response to Wicked Blue (Reply #10)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 10:41 PM

14. I had not heard of a Xmas tree in Latvia

or Estonia at those early dates. I was only aware of legend of Luther wanting to use the ancient custom of decorating homes with trees and boughs to illustrate Christian symbols. I was surprised by your claim of a Xmas tree so early in Latvia because the Baltic region was the last part of Europe to become Christianized, in the late 14th century. Even then, parts of Latvia and Estonia refused to accept it and in the areas that did, it was mainly the nobility that converted while the common people preferred their pre Christian customs and beliefs.

So I looked up Xmas trees in Latvia and Estonia. I found nothing for Estonia, but did find one history site mention of a Xmas tree in Latvia in 1510. But there was some question of whether it was a Xmas tree as we know them or a "paradise tree" which preceded Xmas trees and evolved into them.

The Britannica site said the use of evergreens as part of Christian celebrations began in the Middle Ages in Germany and other Nordic countries. Supposedly in 723 in Germany St. Boniface cut down a sacred oak tree dedicated to Thor and pointed to a nearby fir tree as a better symbol of eternal life. Long before Christianity, Europeans took evergreens indoors as part of the winter solstice celebration of life continuing beyond the darkest days of the year. Christians introduced the custom of decorating those trees with apples for the feast day of Adam and Eve on December 24.

Throughout the Middle Ages these were known as paradise trees. But around the 15th and 16th centuries, they became associated with Christmas and Jesus as the symbol of eternal life. The paradise trees were very popular throughout Germany and in some other parts of Europe.

Luther did not apparently "invent" Christmas trees, but he did introduce the custom of putting candles on the trees that evolved from paradise trees to Christmas trees.

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Response to wnylib (Reply #14)

Sun Dec 13, 2020, 11:33 PM

15. Here's a link about the Baltic Xmas trees

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/latvia-estonia-joust-over-first-christmas-tree-title.339251

Also:

"Tallinn is the oldest capital city in Northern Europe and has one of the best preserved medieval town centres in the world. The first Christmas tree at Tallinn’s Town Hall Square was erected in 1441 by the Brotherhood of Blackheads, making it one of the earliest evidence of decorated trees for the Yuletide season.[7] It was the first Christmas Tree ever put on display in Europe.[8]

The Brotherhood of the Blackheads, as a guild for unmarried merchants, first erected the tree for the holiday period in their brotherhood house. On the last night of celebrations the tree was taken to the Town Hall square where the members of the brotherhood danced around it before setting it on fire."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallinn_Christmas_Market

Incidentally, Estonia has been described as one of the least religious countries in the world. Christianity was forced on them rather violently. While they were being unwillingly Christianized, their lands were taken over by mostly German "nobles," and the Estonian and Latvian people were reduced to serfdom, even slavery, for some 700 years. They could be bought, sold or traded, whipped for any reason, had no rights, could not own property, did not have surnames and so on. Estonians were freed from slavery in the early 1800s, but they didn't get rid of their German former overlords until Hitler demanded that all Germans return to the Fatherland prior to WW2.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have active pagan religions. In Estonia, there is Maa-Usk (Earth Faith) which reveres the Earth Mother. Latvian and Lithuanian pagans honor Saule, the sun goddess.

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Response to Wicked Blue (Reply #15)

Mon Dec 14, 2020, 04:25 AM

17. I'm aware of the forced Christianization

of the Baltic region. Part of my mother's family came from the region of Pomerania that is now northern Poland, but was Germanic West Prussia when my great-grandparents lived there. My great grandfather had a Slavic surname and a German first name. He fled West Prussia with his pregnant wife and 3 preschool aged children in 1888 as a political refugee. Long story, but he supported liberal reforms. (Liberalism seems to be in my blood.) My grandfather was born two weeks after his parents reached America.

That's why I knew about the late Christianization of the Baltic region, from family research. The region of Pomerania where my great-grandparents lived later became the Polish Corridor between WWI and WWII, and Hitler's excuse to invade Poland. Lucky for me that my great grandparents left when they did.

The invasion and conquest of the region lasted for several centuries, starting with the Teutonic Knights at the request of a Polish duke and appointment of the Knights by the pope in the 13th century. Poland's northern border was not yet secured to the Baltic at the time and the region was occupied by various Slavic tribes. This was the "Northern Crusade." John of Gaunt, son of England's Edward III, went on crusade there.

I read once that our word "slave" comes from the enslavement of Slavic people. Not sure how accurate that is.

I don't doubt that there was a decorated tree erected in Tallinn in 1441. But I am doubtful that it was actually a Christmas tree, given the history of decorated trees in Europe, from pre-Christian religions centered on the winter solstice, to the Christian paradise tree, and finally, the gradual evolution of the paradise tree to a Christmas tree to celebrate the birthday of Jesus.

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Response to wnylib (Reply #17)

Mon Dec 14, 2020, 09:42 AM

22. You've reminded me that I once read the James Michener book "Poland". I found it very

informative and recommend it. Thanks for your family story.

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Response to abqtommy (Reply #22)

Mon Dec 14, 2020, 11:56 AM

23. I have read Poland. It was definitely informative,

as Michener's books usually are. I learned a lot about the history of Hawaii and Israel from his books, too.

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