I wrote a few weeks ago that Christmas traditions derive from Pagan or Pre-Christian sources. I find it fascinating that so much today mirrors our Pagan beliefs and how some traditions are thousands of years old.
Four thousand years ago the ancient Egyptians would hold a twelve-day festival to celebrate the rebirth of Horus, the son of Isis and Osaris, and whose earthy guise took the form of the Sun. They saw greenery as a magickal growth tool as they wanted the Sun to stay in the sky longer, they used greenery to decorate everything in sight. Sound familiar?
The ancient Romans held a festival called Saturnalia that lasted from 17th to 24th December. All work was put aside and masters waited on slaves. The festival was named for the God Saturn, a gloomy figure who is often depicted with a sickle like the figures of death. Step forward Old Father Time on New Year’s Eve!
Did you know that it is lucky to find a spider’s web on your Christmas Tree? From an Eastern European folk story comes the inspiration behind tinsel on Christmas Trees. Tinsel was originally made in Germany from thin strips of beaten silver. The story goes that there was a poor family who couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree, when the family go to sleep on Christmas Eve a spider covers the tree in cobwebs. On Christmas morning the cobwebs are magically turned into silver strands to decorate the tree.
Then we have the legends of the battle of the Oak and Holly Kings. At Midwinter the Golden Oak King of Light defeats the Darksome Holly King and he rules from Midwinter to Midsummer bringing light. At Summer the Darksome Holly King, wins the battle. He then rules to Midwinter bringing the dark.
The defeated King retires to Caer Arianrhod, the castle of the ever-turning Silver Wheel, the Wheel of the Stars, where he waits to be reincarnated with the Goddess Arianrhod.
Kissing under the Mistletoe is a popular tradition, but did you know that you should remove a berry when a kiss is exchanged under it? Once all of the berries have been plucked, the kissing has to stop!
Bringing Mistletoe into the house brought good luck and banished evil spirits. Mistletoe was beloved and revered by the Druids, especially if it was found growing on Oak, where it rarely grows, at Midwinter the berries take on a golden tint, which earnt it its folk name, Golden Bough of the Druids.
The wreath that graces your front door, represents the Wheel of the Year, it is a circle that has no ending nor beginning. It also represents the symbol of the Goddess Frau Holla that is a spinning wheel, She rides a wagon on the Eve of Yule.
I have often wondered why the Mexican plant Poinsettia, plays an important part in our traditions now. It is a charming story of a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Service. On her way to the chapel, she picked a posy of weeds from the roadside, kneeling before the nativity scene, she gently laid her small posy, feeling embarrassed because it was so small, yet placing it with love. Suddenly the posy of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and all who saw it claimed it was a miracle. From that day on the bright red flowers were known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.
Before Father Christmas flew his reindeer across the skies, the Sun Goddess flew Her chariot pulled by female reindeers, for it is only the females who retain their antlers in the winter months. Since Neolithic times, when the earth was colder and reindeer were widespread, northern peoples venerated female reindeers, they were the life-giving mother, the leader of the herds, and the people followed the reindeer migrations. The Deer Mother was celebrated as a revered spiritual figure associated with motherhood, regeneration and the rebirth of the Sun. It was She, the Deer Mother who once flew through winter’s longest and darkest night with the life-giving light of the sun in Her horns. We can find the Deer Mother in our Christmas cards, Christmas decorations and pulling the Sleigh. Could it be that somewhere deep in genes memory we might be remembering the original Mother Christmas? She who brought light and life to the world.
We can’t leave out good old Father Christmas, also known as Saint Nicholas, who was a fourth century Bishop in Asia Minor, now Turkey. He was a very rich and kind man who gave secret gifts to people who needed them. It was because of him that we hang stockings.
Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down a poor man’s chimney, it fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry, this helped his eldest daughter to be married, later Nicholas dropped a second bag so that the second daughter could be married. The poor man sat by the fire every night until he caught Nicholas dropping a third bag of gold. Nicholas begged the man to keep his secret, but soon the story was told and whenever anyone received a secret gift it was thought that it was from Nicholas.
Nicholas was created a Saint because of his acts of kindness, it is believed that he died on 6th December in either the year 345 or 352, many countries celebrate his day on 6th December, on the evening of the 5th children leave out their shoes for St Nicholas to fill them with presents.
It was during the late 18th and early 19th Century that Father Christmas became included in the Mummers plays, St Nicholas became popular with Victorian writers, poets and artists, this then developed into a family festival, where Father Christmas became a bringer of gifts.
In the early USA he was known as Kris Kringle, later Dutch settlers celebrated St Nicholas and Kris Kringle and St Nicholas became ‘SInterflaas’ or as we now know him, Santa Claus.
Santa Claus arrived in England in the 1850s when he and Father Christmas came to be similar, he was often illustrated wearing a long red hooded gown trimmed with white fur, which debunks the Urban Myth that Coca Cola designed the red outfit that Father Christmas wears, he was wearing red long before Coca Cola was invented and before their advert in 1920.
To me he is a jolly old elf, usually dressed in green, as a symbol of the Green Man and God of the Wildwood, he might however wear a red cloak! And yes! I do believe.
Copyright © Christine Watts 2022