Commonplace Christmas traditions were slowly accepted

Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25?

Christ's birthday was really thought to be in the springtime, but the idea to celebrate on December 25 originated in the fourth century and the  Catholic Church wanted to downplay the festivities of a rival pagan religion that had threatened Christianity's existence.

Christmas was fraught with complicated traditions that were slow to be accepted in America where it was thought to be a pagan worship.  It was even banned by law in Massachusetts.

Santa Claus, Christmas trees, mistletoe and Christmas cards were later developments.

Christmas trees came from Germany in the 16th century.  It was common for them to decorate the trees both inside and out.  Santa Claus or St. Nick came from multiple sources in Europe and a form of Christmas cards originated in England where school boys practiced their writing skills in messages to their parents at Christmastime. 

Mistletoe became symbolic of the season because legend has it that among Romans, enemies who met under the mistletoe would lay down their weapons and embrace – which became the practice of kissing under the mistletoe.

There were many other traditions of the season. Holly became a symbol of Christ's footsteps as he walked the earth. The pointed leaves were said to represent the crown of thorns he wore on the cross and the red berries represented the blood he shed. But this was forgotten in the joys of the holiday.

Candy canes became a tradition in Europe when people decorated their trees with cookies and candies. Straight white candy sticks were one confection used.  Legend has it that during the 17th century craftsmen created the sticks in the shape of shepherd's crooks.

Poinsettias became a part of Christmas traditions, too. A native Mexican plant, poinsettias were named after Joel Poinsett, U. S. ambassador to Mexico, who brought the plant to America in 1828.

There will be more traditions to follow when somebody else creates them like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and "chestnuts roasting on an open fire." 

© 2009 Robert F. Karolevitz

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