What are the origins of Christmas? Although the roots are still debated to this day, it seems clear that the earliest history came from a combination of Egyptian, Celtic, Roman, Nordic and Pagan celebrations around the time of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
In various cultures and religions long predating Christianity, evergreen trees like those used as Christmas trees to decorate homes today were used to celebrate the various incarnations of a deity often connected with encouraging the sun to return, or agriculture to flourish again after the bitter winter.
The winter solstice festivals, variously known as Saturnalia and Yule, amongst other names, probably brought warmth and cheer to the darkest and coldest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, incorporating feasts and merrymaking to brighten the mood. Many of the festivities that we celebrate today, such as carolling and gift-giving, can also be traced back to Pagan and other cultures’ traditions.
It was only much later that Christians adopted many of the customs and traditions as their own, modifying various myths and origin stories to centre around Jesus Christ, and hence the terms of ‘Christ’ and ‘mass’ were combined to create the name Christmas.
Likewise, the various commercial promotions run by department stores and drinks brands have introduced the colours, such as red and white, and characters like Father Christmas/Santa Claus, reindeers and elves, into the celebration that we know as Christmas today. New traditions keep getting added, updated or reintroduced all the time, usually for commercial purposes, such as the erection of the Gävle Goat, which people have managed to burn down or destroy most years since the restoration of the tradition in 1966.
Although it is a heavily commercialised and mostly secular festival today, Yuletide still occurs around the winter solstice of the northern hemisphere, so enjoy the warmth and cheer that it brings during this dark and chilly time of the year!
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