Many present day Christmas traditions were derived from ancient cultures. Originally created by our ancestors, the same rituals manifest across the Western World every December.
In the past these traditions were mysterious and sacred rites. They were backed by superstition, belief in magic and the desire to protect communities from fear of the unknown.
Celtic and Roman myths feature heavily in the way we decorate our homes at Christmas. While noshing shamelessly, sucking down vast quantities of Christmas cheer and indulging in decidedly bizarre behaviour.
However, it’s not all carol singing and tinsel. The police are inevitably busier during what is quaintly termed the Festive Season. The constabulary are currently making noises to the press about an increase in car thefts, aggravated burglaries, home invasions, robberies, serious assaults and knife crimes.
The Festive Season ignites the tensions that simmer under the surface of many dysfunctional families. According to recent research, existing problems are currently being intensified by COVID-19 shutdowns, relationship breakdowns, job losses and financial distress.
On a lighter note, Christmas as we know it started out as the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia. It was a pagan festival, celebrated 17–25 December. Eventually it morphed into Christmas (literally meaning Christ’s Mass) as Christians sought to usurp pagan holidays and traditions.
Ancient Irish and Celtic traditions are still around. In pre-Christian times holly and ivy wreaths were fixed to front doors to keep away vindictive evil spirits. And leaving a burning candle in a window was an ancient ritual to allow the spirits to pass on by peacefully.
In many Irish homes the burning of a yule log on Christmas morning happens even during the mildest winter weather. Back in pre-Christian times, Yul was a Pagan rite to honour the Mother Goddess and celebrate Winter Solstice.
The Celtic year was divided into a dark half and a light half. The first of November marked the dark half. Around this time a gap in time opened and Druids believed they could travel to other times and places.
It was also believed that the sun stood still for twelve days in mid-winter and the lighting of logs banished the darkness along with any evil spirits.
The hanging mistletoe that you avoid when you don’t fancy kissing disreputable acquaintances and relatives, had its origins in Celtic Druid traditions. Mistletoe was an earthly manifestation of Taranus – the Thunder or Sun God.
Apparently Druids believed that oak trees were sacred and the mistletoe that grew on the oaks had medicinal properties and was exceptionally powerful when used in spells.
Mistletoe was also venerated for its medicinal properties and as a symbol of renewal and male fertility. It was considered to be a powerful plant as it could blossom during freezing cold winters.
In the eighteenth century when mistletoe was hung overhead, gentlemen acquired the right to kiss any girl who was foolish enough to loiter under it. Since then mistletoe has gone on to become the bane of office Christmas parties and knees-ups everywhere.
Joyeux Noël! – Merry Christmas to you all!
Image: The Mistletoe or Christmas Gambols 1796 (Lewis Walpole Library)