Christmas rites and rituals
Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, revolves around many customs and traditions handed down through the generations. Many of these myths, legends and customs are of pagan origin
Santa Claus is a 19th-century American invention.The image of this cheerful character was popularised by Swedish commercial artist Haddon Sundblom as part of an advertising campaign for Coca-Cola in 1931. From the 1860s to 1880s, this figure was caricatured by cartoonist Thomas Nast. This image originated from Saint Nicholas, who lived during the fourth century. Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, Lycia (in present-day Turkey), and was noted for giving gifts to the poor. In Holland he became known as Sinter Klaas, and in Germany, Sankt Nikolaus. Saint Nicholas was often depicted as a thin man in bishop’s robes.
Gift-giving is an integral part of Christmas. This is another ritual derived from ancient paganism, namely the Roman Saturnalia and Kalends festivals. The practice was adopted by the Christian faith as it paralleled the gift-giving by the Magi to the Christ child, which symbolises Christ’s gift of salvation to the world.
The use of Christmas trees during Yuletide festivities was first noted in the early 17th century. Its origins can be traced to pagan tree worship. Rituals involved sacrificing or decorating homes with greenery to ensure a good harvest the following year. A Christian association is the legend of Saint Boniface, who cut down a sacred oak on Christmas Eve, beneath which human lives had been sacrificed. Placing candles on the branches of the tree is another practice, and this is attributed to Martin Luther King, who struck upon the idea one Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree is also a symbol of Christ as the Tree of Life amongst Christians.
The mistletoe is described as the “crown” of all the evergreen traditions associated with Christmas. A doorway adorned with mistletoe is a pledge of peace and friendship. Besides the mistletoe, homes are also decked with holly, a practice descended from the Roman Saturnalia festival.
Christmas carols originated in Italy. They date back to the 12th century, when people danced to secular songs during festive occasions. Carols did not become Christmas songs until the 16th century; by the 19th century, they had become synonymous with Christmas hymns.28 Christmas is the only festival for which carols have been written.
Candles are lit everywhere during Christmas; in the modern world, they are often replaced with fairy lights. Candles are a common element in pagan festivities of the winter solstice, while the Christian community uses the lit candle as a symbol of Jesus as the light of the world