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The Stories Behind Major Christmas Traditions
by: Marilyn Pokorney

Everyone enjoys the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping and decorating. Children love to write letters to Santa and get a reply with an envelope stamped "North Pole." But even more fascinating is the origins of many of our beloved Christmas traditions.

Exchanging Gifts: In ancient times holiday meals were shared with family, friends, and the poor. It was believed that in order to have a prosperous year, one must not be selfish for to hoard what they already had would guarantee that they would never be blessed with more. This is why we exchange gifts today.

Tree decorating: In olden times trees represented life triumphant over death. The Romans trimmed trees with trinkets, candles, and toys. The Druids tied polished apples and other offerings on tree branches. In Munich, even trees in cemeteries were decked with holly and mistletoe. Therefore, the evergreen tree, which decorates our homes today, has come to signify the ever living Christ.

Yule Logs: The ancient Druids and other cultures believed that the sparks from a burning log carried their wishes for a prosperous New Year to the gods. Today, fireplaces with burning logs recapture this ancient custom with the belief that the firelight is symbolic of the light that came from Heaven when Christ was born.

Candles: In England, large candles were burned in conjunction with the yule log. In America today, the candles represent the Star of Bethlehem.

Holly: The Druids believed that holly was favored by the sun because it was always green. Today holly represents the ever living Christ. The white flowers, purity; the red berries, his blood; the leaves, his crown of thorns, and the bitter bark, his sorrow.

Mistletoe: Comes from a Norse legend. Freyja, a goddess, had arranged for her son to be protected from all earthly dangers. When he was shot with an arrow made from mistletoe, Freyja made mistletoe promise never to harm anyone ever again. So today, mistletoe is a symbol of peace and love. It's winter blossoms bring promise of bounty for the coming spring.

Caroling: In Scandinavian custom, every Christmas, a party was given to the god Thor, represented by a goat. After much singing and dancing the goat would pretend to die and return to life. Today, carolers go from door to door singing and this represents the life of Christ.

Santa Claus: Santa actually started out as a version of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. Sailors feared him because he could bring terrible storms or grant them safe journeys. Because he could save them from angry waters, he became known as "giver of all good things." Due to the rise of Christianity, the old custom was changed to honor Nicholas of Myra, an Asian bishop. Nicholas wore red clothing, rode a white horse who could fly, and delivered gifts anonymously. Today, he is Santa with his flying reindeer!


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