For most of us, our 17th and 18th century ancestors did not celebrate Christmas, as we know it today. This type of celebration was not widely practiced until the middle and late 19th century. Large groups of colonists thought that Christmas was an abomination, thinking that if it was not found in the scripture, it should not be practiced. The closest thing to a celebration was practiced on December 25 as the feast of the birth of Jesus Christ, which began around the 4th century.
For those of us with bits of German ancestry, it is interesting to note that Germans celebrated Christmas as both a religious and folk holiday. They are responsible for bringing the tradition of Christmas to the Americas. Today's Christmas tree has roots in German tradition. Santa Clause making his appearance by coming down the chimney has its origins among the Dutch, whose Santa wore a bishop's miter and cape.
The Yule log carries its tradition back to ancient times where a piece of log was kept in the house all year and used to light the new log. It was believed to provide protection from fire. The English adopted the tradition and decorated the log, letting it burn for twelve hours on Christmas, believing that it would bring good luck all year.
The ancient Celts and Scandinavians believed that mistletoe had special powers, as it was able to stay green all year. It was seen as a symbol of fertility and good luck. The Romans also believed it held special powers of peace; their custom was that opposing warriors who met under mistletoe would lay down their arms and embrace. Holly and ivy were believed to have similar powers among various cultures.
The word "Xmas" is of Greek origin. The Greek word for Christ is "Xristos." During the 16th century, Europeans took the first letter of the Greek word for Christ and combined it with "mas," to form the abbreviation Xmas. And while early Christians knew the name stood for Christ, many others had mistaken beliefs about the word, and its use was shown disfavor.
Like our country, heritage, and ancestors, our Christmas traditions and celebrations are varied and diverse with roots in many nationalities. As we gather to celebrate the holiday season may our traditions remind us of our heritage and our ancestors.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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