Have you ever wondered where some of your favorite Christmas traditions originated? For instance, where did jolly ol' Santa Claus come from? And what about kissing under the mistletoe? We've done a little research, and we're letting you in on the fun.
Christmas. The name for the holiday was derived from the Old English words "Cristes Mæsse"—literally meaning, "mass of Christ." Jesus was born on the 25th (the actual month is unknown). December was likely chosen as the month by the Catholic Church to coincide with pagan rituals and the winter solstice. And you have to admit, Christmas wouldn't have its charm without some cold weather.
Santa Claus. Our present-day version of Santa Claus started with the fourth-century Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. Saint Nicholas devoted his life to children, and his generosity and kindness were legendary (lesson to learn: he was remembered for being a giver). He died around 340 A.D., and eventually he became the patron saint of Russia, known for his red cape and white beard.
The Dutch changed the spelling of his name to Sinterklaas. When Dutch colonists emigrated to the New World in the 17th century, they brought the tradition of Sinterklaas with them. With it came Santa Claus.
Christmas trees. First popularized by Germans in the 16th century, Christmas trees were originally fir trees decorated with apples, roses, gilded candies and colored paper. The decorating of fir trees came from a traditional medieval play in which fir trees were hung with apples to depict the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden. The play ended with the prediction of a coming savior.
We can thank Martin Luther for placing lights on the trees. It is said that while he was coming home one evening in December, he was struck by the beauty of stars shining through fir tree branches. He recreated the look by putting candles on the branches of a fir tree in his home.
Mistletoe. Interestingly enough, mistletoe was used by Druid priests 200 years before the birth of Christ. It was used to celebrate winter because it remained green throughout the season. Ancient Celtics thought mistletoe possessed healing powers and was a symbol of peace. Scandinavians believed the plant was associated with Frigga, their goddess of love. (Hence, the whole kissing thing ... get it?).