As we enter the holiday season this year, traditions are popping up out of the woodwork. Mistletoe, stockings, wreaths, and Christmas trees decorate our homes and warm our hearts. But where do these traditions come from, and what do they mean?
Mistletoe: This plant is considered sacred by the Druids. It's magical properties were thought to protect against witchcraft, ensure fertility, cure illnesses, and serve an an antidote to poison. If enemies happened to meet under this plant they were required to lay down their weapons and swear a truce until morning. Kisses under the mistletoe are still considered a sign of friendship and goodwill to this day!
Christmas Tree: The Saturnalia Festival was a week long holiday in celebration of the sun God, Saturn. It was generally believed that the sun came close to dying during the long, frigid winters. Pine and Fur were used to celebrate the return of life, and spring.
Wreaths: An important tradition in ancient Greece, singing boys would carry these harvest wreaths from Pyanopsia or Thargelia and hang them on doors. Afterwards, offerings would be made to Helios, Titan God of the sun. This ritual protected against crop failure and plague.
Christmas Stockings: This is a legend shrouded in mystery. The most common reference to this myth is about a man with three unmarried and no dowries. St Nick happened to be passing through town and heard of the Father's plight. Thinking to do good, St. Nick snuck into the man's house. He left three bags of gold in stockings which were hung over the chimney to dry. Tradition now dictates that shoes and socks be left out for gifts.
Yule Log: In Yugoslavia this log was cut just before dawn on Christmas Eve, though it wasn't carried home until twilight. The wood was decorated with flowers, silks, and gold. It was then doused in wine, lit, and burned with an offering of grain. This was meant to protect the house from fire and bad will. If a log burned out before dawn, tragedy was suspected of befalling that house within the coming year.
Santa Clause: Shockingly, Santa Clause's origins began with Thor, a Norse God. Thor was often depicted as a heavy, jovial man with a long, white beard. He was God of the peasants and common people. The fireplace was considered sacred as Thor, also God of fire, would come down the chimney. He lived in the North Pole and his favorite color was red.
Holiday traditions grew from a variety of backgrounds, religions, and nations. Every culture has something unique to offer, resulting in a mish-mash of celebrations that millions around the world are able to benefit from. Festivals are a way of keeping our rich history alive