Origins of 5 Popular Christmas Traditions
December is that time of the year when everyone in the Christendom appears to be in a merry mood. There is indeed plenty of reason to be happy, as the Yuletide means reunion with family and friends, going on a well-deserved vacation, indulging on the most delicious treats, and for children, lights ablaze and the promise of a stocking filled with gifts from Santa Claus.
Below are some of the most popular traditions.
The Santa that we know of today is based on a 4th century bishop named Saint Nicholas of Lycia whose generosity inspired several other traditions associated with the Yuletide. In the 17th century, the British made Santa Claus the embodiment of mirth and holiday joy, hence Santa's rotund figure, chubby red cheeks and booming laughter.
The tradition of stocking-stuffing can be traced back to Saint Nicholas' charitable donations. At the time, even children under the age of 10 were expected to support their families, so the joys of childhood were often lost on them. Saint Nicholas believed that childhood should be savored, so he gave young boys and girls clothes, homemade food, furniture and even oranges, which in his part of the world was expensive to come by. Legend has it that he saw girls' stockings hanging above the fireplace, and that gave him the idea on where to leave the gifts so the children will find them.
The use of evergreens during winter – which include the Christmas tree – came to symbolize strength and fortitude, and the hope that one day spring will come, as evergreens live through even the harshest and darkest winters. Harvest wreaths, which are the inspiration of these modern ornaments, were used by the Greeks who borrowed the practice themselves from the Etruscans who came before them.
Holly berries were thought to represent the blood of Jesus Christ when he died on the cross. As the berries are red in color, they also represented the color of the apple, which in turn represented the fall of Adam when he ate the fruit from the paradise tree.
The reindeer is closely associated with the North Pole, where according to traditions, Santa Claus lives. In real life, the reindeer plays an important economic role in the lives of Arctic inhabitants, like the Saami of the Nordic countries. These animals, known as caribou in North America, provide a means of transport, as they can pull sleds safely across the frozen landscape. Traditional lore has it that reindeer can fly on Christmas Eve, hence their role in Santa's delivery of Christmas gifts.