Ancient Celebrations of the Christmas Holiday

Background

People celebrated Christmas or indulged in Christmas-like celebrations years ago before the birth of Jesus Christ, and each culture had its own celebration and myth.

Christmas by far is one of the oldest holidays, if not the absolute oldest one in the world. The culture of celebrating Christmas either in the winter seasons or the warm summer (In Australia) is a common cultural event shared across the world. No matter what the religion or the beliefs, Christmas is celebrated in one way or another.

Source

Winter Solstice

Before the birth of Jesus Christ, people across Europe found time to celebrate on December 21st. It was called the winter solstice. This time of the year in the northern hemisphere was a time to celebrate and rejoice as the worst or most difficult time of the year would now be behind them. It was also when days begun to be longer than nights, which allowed people to spend more time on their farms and with their crops and animals.

Every culture had its own way to celebrate the Winter solstice. For example, in Scandinavia the males in the family would go into the forest and pick a tree and cut it down together. Then they would take a big part of its log, cut it out and carry it back to their residence. This part would be then called a Yule Log, and this log would then be burned in the fireplace. The family would have a huge feast every time that Yule Log burned in the fireplace. That Yule Log would stay in the fireplace and burning for twelve days. As it burns, sparks would come out of the fireplace, and it was believed in Scandinavia that every spark stood for a farm animal that is going to be born this year.

A big log was brought into a home, songs were sung and stories told. Offerings of food and wine were placed upon it. Personal faults, mistakes and bad choices were burned in the flame so everyone's new year would start with a clean slate.
A big log was brought into a home, songs were sung and stories told. Offerings of food and wine were placed upon it. Personal faults, mistakes and bad choices were burned in the flame so everyone's new year would start with a clean slate. | Source
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Saturnalia

Before the existence of Christmas, another culture that celebrated somewhat similarly was ancient pagan Rome. The celebration was called Saturnalia, and it was a celebration in the honor of Saturn, their god of agriculture. During the time of that celebration all of Rome would be in a state of social rejoice and happiness. They all celebrate with each other; peasant and servants would celebrate with higher class people, which is something that never happened in the days of pagan Rome. That celebration would last for seven days. People of Rome really lived up to the quote ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ to its limits. And of course, it was a national holiday, all shops and stores would close so people can go and celebrate and enjoy their amazing time during Saturnalia.

Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property.
Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property. | Source

Mithra's Birthday

Another celebration that took place in pagan Rome was Mithra’s birthday. Mithra was an infant god who was carved out of a rock. It was also a time where people celebrate and enjoy their time, same as the previously mentioned celebration of Saturnalia. The day of Mithra’s birthday was the most holy day of the year for pagan Rome.

Mithras was the central god of Mithraism, a syncretic Hellenistic mystery religion of male initiates that developed in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and was practiced in the Roman Empire from the 1st century BC to the 5th
Mithras was the central god of Mithraism, a syncretic Hellenistic mystery religion of male initiates that developed in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC and was practiced in the Roman Empire from the 1st century BC to the 5th | Source
Mistletoe
Mistletoe | Source

Christmas and Mistletoe Tradition

Do you find yourself contemplating the origins of our traditions? With the imminent arrival of Christmas yet again, I have decided to conduct some research related to the origins of some of the traditions we carry out during the holiday season. For instance, why do we use Christmas lights, candles, ornaments, and have mistletoe as decorations in our doorways? Even the most devout scrooge may find some of what I have found hard to believe.

Mistletoe has been recognized as a special plant since time immemorial. The ancient Celts used mistletoe in their healing rituals, as they believed it contained the soul of the mighty tree from which it was sourced. Mistletoe translates to “All Heal” in their ancient tongue.

Druids also used mistletoe central to one of their most intriguing ceremonies. Pagan priests would harvest the mistletoe from the boughs of trees, being careful not to let them touch the ground, which would likely contaminate it. The boughs were cut into sprigs and divided amongst the people, who would use it to protect themselves from the effects of evil and storms.

The Druid priests cut Mistletoe from a holy Oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground. The priest then divided the branches and dispersed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection.
The Druid priests cut Mistletoe from a holy Oak tree with a golden sickle. The branches had to be caught before they touched the ground. The priest then divided the branches and dispersed them to the people, who hung them over doorways as protection. | Source

Mistletoe is also documented from even earlier times. One of them includes the resurrection of Balder, who was the god of the summer sun. Balder dreamed of his death, which rather dismayed his mother Frigga, who was the goddess of beauty and love. Frigga requested of all the elements, fire, air, water, and earth, that they spare her son’s life. Once she was assured that they would comply, she then advised Balder of his immortality.

Balder’s one and only enemy, Loki , god of evil, noticed that one plant had gone unnoticed by Frigga. This plant being mistletoe. Using a branch of mistletoe to create an arrow, Loki dipped its tip in poison. Balder’s blind brother, Hoder, was tricked by Loki into shooting the arrow into Balder, thus killing him. The four elements tried in vain to bring Balder back from the dead, but only Frigga was successful. The story goes that her tears were the berries from the mistletoe, and when they came into contact with Balder, he arose from the dead.

To celebrate her son’s new found life, Frigga kissed everyone who walked beneath the mistletoe tree, changing its reputation from one of poison to one of healing. A law was passed that anyone who passed under the tree is required to kiss in order to avoid harm.

It is a beautiful legend, one of which I think about every year while I am hanging the mistletoe decorations. Kissing under the mistletoe has faded somewhat in recent years so I am going to make sure I hang it in every doorway that I can this Christmas season.

Kiss Me Under the Mistletoe
Kiss Me Under the Mistletoe | Source

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Comments 4 comments

travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 4 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

It's refreshing to know the origins of our Christian celebrations these days.

People change and now, it's all about praising the Lord and His Son Jesus Christ for the most beautiful gift He had shared to mankind, our salvation.

Have a blessed Christmas, Moira. :D


Derdriu 4 years ago

Moira, What a concise, informative, useful summary of the ancient bases of and alternatives to the Christmas season! In particular, I like the information on the origins and input of mistletoe. It makes for such a charming story.

Thank you for sharing, etc.,

Derdriu


moiragallaga profile image

moiragallaga 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Merry Christmas and happy holidays travel_man1971. Thank you for your comment.


moiragallaga profile image

moiragallaga 4 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

You're welcome Derdriu and thank you for your comment. I think what this goes to show is how we (human race) have incorporated these various practices and early traditions over the centuries. It is evident that as the years go by, different cultures come into contact with each other and some sort of fusion occurs, especially for countries that have diverse cultural influences.

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