5 Common Christmas Traditions And Their Origins

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? Is there a reason for putting up a tree? Do you know why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th?

If you’re interested in the answers to these, and other, questions, then read on.


5. Mistletoe

Under the Mistletoe

Under the Mistletoe, by Karl Witkowski

Mistletoe has been part of many winter celebrations over the centuries, starting with the ancient Celtic Druids, who believed it offered protection and fertility when hung over doorways, to the Victorians who believed that if a girl was offered a kiss under the mistletoe and refused, she would not receive any marriage proposals over the following year.

Of course, these days kissing under the mistletoe is regarded as a bit of fun and nothing more. But it appears that there was once an accepted etiquette for how best to approach this kissing lark, with the gentleman plucking one berry and then being allowed one kiss from his lady friend.


4. Christmas Trees

The Christmas Tree.  Albert Chevallier Tayler

The Christmas Tree.
Albert Chevallier Tayler, 1911

The Pagans celebrated this time of year by bringing greenery into their homes. They would decorate doorways, fireplaces and other areas of the home with evergreens such as fir tree branches and holly. It helped to remind them of the new life to come in the Spring and that the darkness of winter would soon be over.

As the years progressed and cultures have evolved and developed, this tradition has extended to bringing a whole tree into the home and decorating it with various DIY trinkets, sweets and decorations, which in turn has become the iconic Christmas tree, although we are unsure of exactly when this tradition became commonplace. Read more on the history here.


3. Why December 25th?

December 25th calender note

Christmas is a Christian festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus. There is much argument and debate over the exact date of his birth, but December 25th is still accepted by many people as the day of the Nativity. However, Christmas was actually created by the early Christians in an attempt to convert Pagans to Christianity. They chose the 25th because it coincided with a Roman festival celebrating Mithras, but was also close to the Winter Solstice, which was a time of celebrating the return of the light and the rebirth of the sun.

As time has gone on many Pagans did indeed convert to Christianity and chose to celebrate Christmas, whilst many Pagans, new and old, choose to celebrate both Christmas and Yule/Winter Solstice.


2. Carol Singing

Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree

Carol singing under the Trafalgar Sq Christmas tree
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

I don’t know about you, but I love listening to traditional Christmas carols, Christmas just isn’t the same without them. Much like today, people would go carol singing in order to raise funds for charity and the poor would knock on doors and sing carols in the hopes of receiving some small gesture of good will from those living within. The tradition even helped unite warring soldiers in 1914.


1. The Yule Log

Yule log decoration

Yule log decoration. Image credit

These days most of us can’t be without the chocolate Yule log on our shopping lists, but it was originally an actual log that would have been burned on the family hearth. Traditionally Pagan, the Yule log has survived the various religious discriminations throughout history, albeit in an alternative form. The idea was that the Yule log would be burned and then a piece of it kept in the home throughout the year to provide protection to the family.


What do you think of this list? Is there a Christmas tradition that you’d like to share? If so, pop a comment below.


About Cassie Raine

Cassie is a home educating mum-of-two, living in the Kentish countryside. She has a keen interest in history, especially ancient history, literature, myths and legends, theology, environmental issues, self-sufficiency and current affairs. In her spare time she enjoys reading, country walks, knitting and learning new skills. She believes passionately that learning should be a pleasure, never a chore.
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