History of Christmas Traditions
Many of our current Christmas symbols and traditions are rooted in ancient practices and have evolved over time to incorporate various cultures and religions across the globe. In ancient Egypt, decorating the house with greenery during the winter solstice symbolized the god Ra’s triumph over death. With the coming of spring, this also meant that plants and crops in their farms will begin to grow again. The Romans did the same during the Saturnalia, a feast in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. Evergreens also served as a symbol of everlasting life for the mysterious Druids of the ancient Celts and the seafaring Nordic Vikings.
It is believed that the Germans were the first to use a Christmas tree for medieval plays to symbolize Paradise. In the 16th century, Protestant reformer Martin Luther was inspired by stars shining through tree branches, so he brought a tree inside his home and decorated it with lit candles. However, Christmas trees only became a custom in the United States in the early 19th century, and Christmas itself was declared as a federal holiday in 1870.
The world’s most beloved gift-giver, Santa Claus, has appeared in many representations other than the well-known bearded man in a red suit. In England, Father Christmas was depicted wearing a green robe lined with fur, spreading good cheer and holiday spirit. The Dutch also have Sinterklaas, an elderly man in bishop’s attire carrying a big, red book with children’s names, and riding a white horse.
Other holiday symbols and practices can be found all over the world. In the Philippines, lighted star-shaped lanterns meant to represent the Star of Bethlehem can be found almost everywhere. In Sweden, the Yule Goat is believed to be a spirit that appears before Christmas to watch over holiday preparations. Creating a Nativity crib, first built in Italy by St Francis of Assisi in the 13th century, is also an important symbol for people practicing the Christian faith.
Discover more interesting facts and figures about the most beloved Christmas traditions around the world with this infographic from Tree Classics.