Christmas Traditions & Origins
Christmas Day is an important holiday for many Christians and non-Christians around the world. Yes, non-Christians too. The date for which Christmas is celebrated has Pagan origins. December 25 was the date of choice to celebrate Christ's birth in order to correspond with the Roman solar day Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and the Winter Solstice, both traditional Pagan days of celebration.
Actually, some other traditions associated with Christmas also have non-Christian origins. The Christmas tree is a good example of this. During Winter Solstice, Pagans would bring evergreen trees into their homes and often-times decorating it with candles--a practice which continued until Christmas lights became inexpensive but still continues in many European countries. Having a large feast on December 25 was also a Pagan tradition, as is celebrating a god's birthday--Arnobius, an early Christian writer, claimed "only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) celebrated their birthdays."
Common Christmas Traditions
- Christmas tree - Putting a tree in the home and decorating it with lights or ornaments. Origin: Possibly from Roman Pagans.
- Christmas feast - A large meal prepared, often times consisting of traditional foods such as turkey, duck, goose, or ham.
- Family gathering - Used as a time spent with family members.
- Music - Christmas songs are played throughout the holiday season. Origin: Ballads used to help tell stories of early history.
- Gifts - Giving gifts to significant others and family members.
- Midnight mass - Catholics around the world often attend Christmas Eve mass which lasts until midnight or later.
- Donations - Giving a little extra to charities around Christmas time.
- Charity work - Doing good deeds such as charity work.
- Mistletoe, holly, poinsettia, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, and garlands - Greenery which is often associated with Christmas used to decorate homes.
- Nativity scenes - Small ones inside and large ones outside.
- Christmas lights - These are used not only to decorate trees, but also the outside of houses in many Western countries. Origins: Pagan. The lights were originally candles.
- Parol - A traditional Christmas lantern showing a star to signify the star of Bethlehem.
- Other decorations like candles, candy canes, stockings, wreaths, and angels - Both inside and outside the home.
- Christmas pudding - Often left out for weeks before Christmas. The creation process includes a time in which each family member takes a turn stirring and making a wish. Origins: Possibly England.
- Cards - Giving Christmas cards or having large Christmas cards in yards. Origins: England.
- Dancing and singing around the Christmas tree - A Danish tradition.
- Leaving boots out - A tradition started after St. Nicholas left gold in boots.
- Leaving cookies and milk out for Santa Claus. Origins: North America.
Many countries, cities, and families have their own unique Christmas tradition. The traditions listed above are simply the most common ways of celebrating. There's nothing wrong with starting your own family traditions or even trying something new along the way.