The Stories Behind Your Christmas Traditions

If you are like most people who celebrate Christmas, you will probably take part in a lot of the common traditions such as decorating a Christmas tree, giving gifts and much more. However, have you ever stopped to wonder where these traditions actually came from? What are their origins and the stories behind them?

When you learn the stories behind your common holiday traditions, you will find that the little things that we do to celebrate Christmas every year are a lot more complex than you might realise! Here are a few of the interesting stories behind your common Christmas traditions that you might not have known.

Christmas Stockings

Every year you hang your stockings by the chimney with care, in the hopes that St. Nicholas will soon be there… by why on earth do we have the tradition of giving presents within giant socks? The idea of stuffing a stocking at Christmas can be dated back all the way to the 4th century.

St. Nicholas was a 4th century saint and bishop in Greece, who has a number of miracles attributed to him. He was known for secretly giving gifts, which is why he became the model for Santa Claus. St. Nicholas believes that childhood should be enjoyed, but at the time many of the young children below the age of 10 needed to work to support their families – so their childhoods were often far from pleasurable.

Therefore, St. Nick started to give out food, clothing and oranges (which were rare and expensive at the time). He was looking for a place to hide the gifts so that the children would find them and according to the legend he spotted some young girl’s socks hanging to dry over the fireplace. After that, children started to hang up their stockings by the mantle so that St. Nick could fill them with gifts.

In some Scandinavian cultures, children would leave their shoes full of straw and carrots for the mythical horse of Odin, Sleipnir. In the night, Sleipnir would eat the food and Odin would leave candy and small gifts in its place.

The Christmas Tree

These days, there are easy to set up plastic Christmas trees that you can assemble in five minutes and you can order personalised ornaments at the click of a button from websites such as www.OrnamentShop.com. However, the Christmas tree tradition dates back a lot longer than this.

It is thought that the practice of having a Christmas tree started in Germany in the 15th century. At the time, a religious theatre play called “The Paradise Play” was very popular. In the play Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, which was symbolised by a beautiful fir tree hung with apples.

Many Christians who were fans of the play began to decorate similar tree in their homes, treating it as a symbol of the coming Saviour. Sometimes instead of apples, they used white wafers to represent the Holy Eucharist. Over the years, the traditions of the ornaments changed and became small shapes of pastry cut out in angels, stars, flowers, bells and hearts.

Mistletoe

We all know that standing under the mistletoe will get you a smooch, but where did that strange tradition come from? Mistletoe is actually a parasite plant and it sucks all of the nutrients out of the tree that is grows on. It has had a lot of myth and legend associated with it for many years.

The ancient Greeks told legends that Aeneas, the well-known Trojan hero and son of the goddess Aphrodite, carried a sprig of mistletoe in the form of a golden bough. Among several pre-Christian cultures, it was believed that mistletoe carried the masculine essence and it was associated with vitality and fertility.

Another reason why mistletoe was used as decoration was because people believed that it would protect a home from lightning or fire. It was displayed all year round, but it was often replaced with a fresh sprig around Christmas time. However, no one knows how mistletoe became associated with kissing?

Now you know some of the history behind the common Christmas traditions that you take for granted when you celebrate them every year. Why not share your new-found knowledge with your family during this year’s celebrations?

George Torres is a freelance writer and blogger. He is interested in history, culture and traditions and Christmas is his favourite time of the year.

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