Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christmas Traditions - Why Do We Do That?

Christmas - Making Traditions and Memories

Families have traditions that they facilitate on occasions throughout the year-- fireworks on the 4th of July, cake on your birthday.  Christmas traditions are accepted and followed, but I was curious to know where these annual behaviors originated.

Mistletoe and Holly 

Mistletoe - Phoradendren flavescens

American Holly- Ilex opaca

Mistletoe is a hemi-parasitic plant that grows on host plants, usually trees.  The roots attach to tree tops where , thanks to bird dropping, they germinate and grow. Mistletoe draws nutrients from such trees as oak, apple, ash, hawthorn, pear, or sycamore.

The Druids 200 years before the birth of Christ, held the mistletoe in high regard.  Since it had no roots the Druids marveled that this plant would stay green when the mighty oak had turned brown.  Celtic groups believed the mistletoe to have magical healing components and used it as an antidote for poisons, and treatment for infertility.

In English speaking countries this tradition has spread, but this custom is little known in other parts of the world.  The gathering of the mistletoe has a customs of its own - in that the plant must not touch the ground from the harvesting until it is removed from the home.  The mistletoe is the last decoration to be removed from the home and it offers to save the house from fire and lightening. 

The Kissing Ball is another hanging arrangement of various herbs - sage, rosemary, anise and others - with the mistletoe.  Its purpose - kissing - is obvious.  The gentleman picks off a berry with each kiss, and when the berries are gone, so it the enchantment of love and fertility.

Holly as a Christmas Tradition has it's own story.

The Druids, again, believed the holly being evergreen, keeps the world beautiful. And they would wear a sprig of holly to watch the priests cut down the mistletoe which was sacred. 

Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn and during the Roman Saturnalia Festival, Romans gave each other holly wreaths and used the wreaths to decorate images of Saturn.  Since this Saturn festival was in December, Christians soon started using holly when they celebrated Christ's birth.  They used the holly to avoid persecution since the authoities would overlook this display.  This pagan meaning of holly has faded, and is now a symbol of Christmas.

 Christmas comes in the dark winter months in the Northern Hemisphere.   Europeans believed that ghosts and demons were howling in the winter winds.  Holly, with all of its magical powers, was hung over doors and windows to keep the evil ones away.  The fresh greens also freshened the air of a closed up home, and the bright green leaves help lighten the mood. 

The prickly leaves and red berries have come to stand for peace and joy.

Christians have expanded the symbolism of holly to respresent the crown of thorns that Christ wore due to its prickly leaves. The red berries symbolize the shedding of blood.

Holly can be found in all 50 states of the U.S.  It likes acid soil and is either male or female.  This dioecious plant needs both male and female varieties to cross-pollinate.  Only the female plant produces berries.

Enjoy your Christmas Traditions too.  Does your family do something special each year?  Let us hear your story. 


Send Thank You Flowers By Post said...

I love reading about where all these traditions have come from so thank you for posting that. I have a young growing family and we are only just starting our own traditions. I didn't have many traditions when growing up but I love the thought of my children having fond memories of our traditions when they are all grown up.

Stella said...

How interesting that many of our Christmas customs began as pagan customs. My family all gets together and has Christmas breakfast leaving time for everyone to go to dinner at home or the in-laws home. But I have to make homemade Cinnamon Rolls each year or it's Christmas.

The Idiot Gardener said...

I'll add something else; Jesus and Santa Claus are the same bloke, and both of them run a shoe shop up the road from me. I know, because I saw him carrying a cross last Easter, and he's always wearing the red suit come December.