Decorated pine trees, yule logs in the fire place, shimmering hills of snow, the smell of baked sweets in the air....these are just a few things that get us in the christmas spirit. But why do we decorate trees? Who even is Santa Claus? Why the big supper? This article explores the origins behind Christmas, discusses the birthdays this holiday revolves around, and reveals the reasons behind each tradition in this once a year ritual, celebrated by many and many alike.
Quick Summary for your scolling pleasure:
RSVP: Birthday Party, December 25th- details 4 dieties and their relevance to christmas
The Man, The Myth, The legend- origins of Santa, krampus and Mari Lwyd **TRIGGER WARNING-GORE**
Eat, Drink and Be Merry- a breakdown of traditional christmas food, drinks and traditions
RSVP: Birthday Party, December 25th
Lets begin with who's birthday is recognized on this day. In Christianity, Chistmas is a day to celebrate the birth of Christ. Some even say it is the day the virgin gave birth to Jesus, this was the established date set by Pope Jullias 1 in 350ce.
Travel back to 150ce, where Romans celebrated Mitras, the unconqured son. It was tradition to during this time to decorate evergreen trees with fruits to symbolize life.
Rewind to 70ce, Romans celebrated the God, Saturn during what was called "Saturnalia". This was actually a week long ritual where everyone would eat, drink and be merry and rather than December 25th, they started on December 17th.
Lastly, we arrive in 2300bce. Babylon citizens and royals alike ate en mass and gave out gifts all in honor of a feast held for ISIS, the sun God.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Now that we know a few famous birthdays, how about those famous men, spirits, and creatures which surface during the holidays?
We will start with the most popular man, Santa Claus. A jolly, fluffy older gentleman dressed in a warm matching red suit, lined with white fur, accessorized by a matching nightcap style hat. This man loves cookies and milk, has flying reindeer, travels and visits every house in the world in a single night, and runs a toy factory where tons of elves make the toys. Just who is this guy anyway? To really know Santa, you have to know the men behind him.
Enter Nicholas Myra, a biship in greece during 280ad. He had a book listing people who were considered "righteous", a sort of early "nice" list. The righteous were given gifts by Nicholas during the winter solstice ceremonies. Later, around 900ad, the catholic church declared him a Saint.
The 1600's gives us three more men; Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, and Sinterklaas.
Kris Kringle is actually a baby, an angel baby, or "baby jesus", originally named Kristkindt. He was created by religious protestants to replace Saint Nick, and bring more focus to the true meaning of christmas. His role was to travel house to house giving out pop quizes to children about the bible. However, mothers were not a fan of the idea of a small naked child wondering on its own, and Saint Nick made a comeback as Kris's guide.
Even with an adorable little baby going around testing children for knowledge of the bible, the protestants protested chrismas all together. They didn't much like the gaiety behind the celebration. During this time, stories and even songs were manifested about a large, happy fellow who often wore fur lined green clothing and would bring happiness, gifts and a warm fuzzy feeling to everyone. He was often portrayed as drunk and merry and participating in making fun of the puritans.
The dutch brought with them, a beared figure who rides a white horse across rooftops. His name is Sinterklaas. He would visit houses where he would find that children placed boots filled with sugar or carrots for his horse by the fireplace. In exchange, Sinterklaas would replace the horse treats with toys for the children. He can often be seen depicted in paintings as himself upon his horse with little devils in chains following him, indicating a triumph over evil.
These 4 men lead the path for our modern day Santa Clause, who we came to know in the 1800s. Clement Clarke Moore and Thomas Nast of Harpers Magazine, along side Haddon Sundblom of Coca-Cola helped to truly bring Santa to life via illustrations and a story; "The Night Before Christmas" (Moore).
With such a cheery, colorful christmas character, it only makes sense that some where in the world, there is a scary, dark christmas character. Those places are Austria and Germany. In order to get their children to be more willing to behave, a creature was born. The creature is known as Krampus. Krampus is actually a beautiful goddess known as Frau Perchta, of Germany. For well behaved children, Frau Perchta would leave coins in their shoes.
A child who misbehaved would perceive Frau in her much scarier form, Krampus, which was a deamon, covered in long stringy hair. She would not leave coins for these children, instead she would slash open their stomachs, remove their innards, stuff their bodies with dirt, rocks, hay and more, then stitch them back up.
It should come as no surprise that there is, indeed, a middle ground. Mari Lwyd. I struggled to find much on the origin of this particualr character, but it is interesting and scary, none the less. Mari is a female creature with a horse skull for a head, glass bottle eyes, antlers adorned with ribbons or stings of flowers, fully draped in a white cloth. Mari goes door to door asking to come in and those she visit have to give, no, sing reasons why she cannot come in. A battle of witty back and forth singing continues until Mari or the visited gives up. Should the visited give up, Mari enters the home to reak havoc and drink all your spirits. Should Mari give up, she simply moves on to the next house. its like christmas carols meet trick or treating!
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
The common theme across the history table is feasting. What to eat during such a celebration though? Well, lets peruse the buffets shall we?
A traditional christmas meal in modern time america consists of a ham (or turkey), mashed potatoes and gravy, greenbean casserole, candied yams, baked sweet treats, apple cider and egg nog (i'm personally a HUGE fan of eggnog).
Going back to Saturnalia, the feast generally consisted of roasted pig and sausages, winter root vegetables, fruits and nuts, as these were readily available during the winter months. A popular drink was hot mulled wine with spices in it or wine with honey mixed in it. During the feast, games were played, music was made and dancing was engaged.
The middle ages showed us that pork and beef are the more traditional meats at christmas time. along with pies, christmas pudding, and seasonings in general. Over time, t'was the season to show off while indulging. Boars heads, full pig roasts, cooked peacocks and pies over stuffed with expensive ingredients filled tables of those rich enough to serve them, leaving scraps for those who were poor.
Ham has become the main go to for the shining star at christmas dinners. We can thank the norse pagans for this. In the winter time, around Yule, Freyr, a norse pagan god of fertility and abundant harvests was offered a sacrifice as a way to say "thank you, please continue to bless us". A ritual sacrifice of a wild boar would commence, followed by a feast consisting of that boar as well as seasonally harvested produce and grains, which were made into breads and other treats. It wasnt until about 350ad when a ham became part of the christain christmas.
When i was a child, my favorite part of the holidays was driving around to look at all the houses lit up with colorful lights, fancy decorations, and large inflatables. Even better was decorating the whole house followed by the main attraction...the tree.
How did we come to decide that we need a huge tree in our house? why decorate it? whats with wreaths? Well, my research brings some what conflicting sources for the reason behind such a giant temporary houseplant. Some say it was to represent the holy trinity, it was tradition to use in plays to represent the tree of knowledge, some sources say that it wasnt a tree, it was a pole decorated in ivy and holly, like a winter maypole. I've always been told that the reason we bring a tree in is because, evergreens represent undying nature and the promise of the return of spring. They live through the winter, while other trees die. So we bring them in as a reminder that life will continue. The decorating originatated outside, where fruits, nuts and waffers would be strung in trees to feed wild life.
Continuing on with my research, i found one common source of the tradition. It appears the real origin of the christmas tree is rooted in present day Germany, in the middle ages. Back in 1419, a guild in Freiburg put up a tree decorated with apples, flour paste waffers, tinsel and gingerbread.
As far as hanging a wreath? In christain communities, it is said to represent the thorned crown that Jesus wore, the berries on a wreath represent the blood and hanging it on a door is like an invitation to Jesus to enter the home. However, predating christianity, the ancient Etruscans, and even ancient european cultures hung wreaths that were woven with red and white wool, and grains from the recent harvest. This served as a protection from plaugue and ensured the return of a bountiful harvest in the following year. For pagans, this is a time to remember that although the night is long, day will come once again. It is a time to look forward to the upcoming year, sort of like a new year's tradition. Everything is dead. old habbits, bad energies, negative experiences and unwanted things. Its a time to refelect on what we want to bring into our lives moving forward.
My household is very eclectic faith wise, so i often tru to incorporate christain and pagan traditions, which isnt hard to do. We have a traditional feast with ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, greenbean casserole, maybe even some roasted carrots and baby potatoes, rolls with butter and honey, and of course pies. Usually apple, pumpkin and pecan. We open presents first thing in the morning, enjoy hot cider or hot cocoa (which i like to make in a crockpot), play christmas music (we keep it modern with some christmas trap music) and i like to sit down with my kids and make a list or talk about things we are thankful about that happened in the year, followed by making a list of things we didn't like that happened, or a list of habits we wish to break, things we want to change, and things we wish to come true. After making the list, we burn it in a fireproof container (or go outside) then blow the ashes into the wind to be carried to the universe wo our wishes can be granted. My youngest is very christain, so he instead makes a list that he keeps and prays about.
How do you celebrate christmas? what are some of your traditons? let me know on Facebook, or make a video to show me by tagging me on TikTok (@daniowensoc) using #Odinscrows, #oc or tagging me directly! id love to see how each of you celebrate!
Have a happy and safe holiday!