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A History of Christmas Traditions

Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time to celebrate the important things in life in beautiful ways: families spending time together, gifts to show you appreciate your loved ones, and brilliant food to eat. Putting up the Christmas tree together is a firm tradition in most families, and children are often too excited to sleep because Santa’s coming to town. But Christmas wasn’t always the fun, festive, full-of-fairylights affair we know and love today. So, how did we come into our most treasured traditions?

The Nativity: The Birth of Christmas

It’s a well-known fact that Christmas is a religious holiday for Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Today, many people still attend midnight mass and remember Jesus on this day, while others use the opportunity to celebrate their family and see the good in the world.

The Nativity follows the story of Mary and Joseph, who, when turned away from an overpacked inn, were given a place in the barn, where Mary births the Baby Jesus. Even if you and your family are not religious, the sense of love and family in the tale still rings true for many people. However, it’s doubtful that Jesus was born on December 25th – the Nativity was primarily an oral tale before it was written, so actual dates and periods of the year have been lost. So, why has December 25th become the biggest day of the year?


A History of Holidays

Throughout history, many other religious and cultural holidays have fallen in December, which contributed to why Christmas is now celebrated on the 25th. There’s also Hanukkah, commemorating the destruction and re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt. Bodhi Day marks the day the Buddha reached enlightenment. The most influential for Christmas is the Winter Solstice, also known as the shortest day of the year, which lands on the 21st. For most of history, many different cultures have, and still do, celebrate this day, and its influence can still be found on Christmas Day. For example, the Yule log is named after the Germanic Yuletide holiday. The Solstice was celebrated by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Nordic people, and more. As these religions became less prominent in the world and people converted to Christianity, Christmas became mostly celebrated in December to keep people’s spirits high during the cold months and pay homage to the preceding holidays.

Xmas tree wrap

The Growth of Christmas Trees

Everyone loves putting up the Christmas Trees; decorating it with Tree Lights, baubles, candy canes, and stacking presents underneath. Nothing makes a home feel more festive than a beautiful tree covered in sparkles! Surely families have always taken part in this fun and fantastic tradition?

Christmas trees didn’t become a widespread part of Christmas décor until under 200 years ago when Queen Victoria decided there would be a Christmas tree in every palace room. Before this, trees were often only found in royal households, where the families tried to keep alive an old European tradition of decorating a tree in the market square for young people to dance around and find a husband or wife. Queen Victoria loved this tradition and found Christmas trees wonderfully cheery and festive. Once she had taken a shine to the Christmas tree, the fashion-conscious Victorian society quickly caught on. Soon enough, there was a tree in every home.


The Original Bad Santa

Ensure no children see this next part because it might scare them! Santa wasn’t always the jolly red-clothed man who brought gifts and joy to all. In most of Europe, there are old tales of a magical man or elf who travels the world on Christmas Eve night, but he doesn’t always bring gifts. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, children would be scared into being good with stories of Santa and his companions as devilish creatures who would kidnap bad children and put them to work! A scarier threat than getting coal in your stocking! But as the years went on, the world came to love Santa, what with myths of men like St Nicholas who would gift girls from poor families with money so they could find a good husband. The figure of Father Christmas (a traditionally British version of Santa) found his popularity during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, where posters of Father Christmas were handed out to protest Oliver Cromwell’s ban on Christmas. After this, people began associating Father Christmas with more positive, festive sides of Christmas, ensuring children became excited about his arrival, and many of the original tales were lost. Of course, parents still need a way to ensure their kids don’t get too excited and misbehave as the big day draws near, so the coal stuck around.

Some things have remained the same in the evolution of traditions and decorations: feasts, love, and reflection. Good food is a significant part of many historical holidays, and Christmas dinner is no different. So, while you’re sat in your wonderfully festive home, around a beautifully decorated Christmas dinner table, basking in the company of your loved ones, bring up a little trivia on why you’re tucking into a Yule log, and maybe the following conversation will reveal the origins of some of your own fun family traditions!

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