The Holidays are here with it many ethnic and religious traditions of winter. While Christmas is rooted in Christian beliefs, the holiday celebrations that Americans have come to hold dear have their roots in legends from much earlier times and places. The timing of the holiday, decorating with evergreen trees, wreaths, and Poinsettia plants, and the legend of Santa Claus are derived from ancient mid-winter festivals that were incorporated into Christian beliefs and traditions over many centuries.
It is no accident that Christmas is celebrated on December 25, just four days after the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. In ancient societies, the solstice was a time when people would look to the upswing of the calendar back to longer, warmer days. Those cold and dark winter days of December and January were in need of some brightening with lights, feasts and decorations. Since the Bible provides no reference to when Jesus was born, Christians incorporated their hope of the Savior with this time of hope and anticipation for spring. Christmas was celebrated for a short time before it became official holiday during the fourth century CE, when the Roman emperor Constantine embraced Christianity and ended the legal persecution of Christians. As Christianity spread, missionaries and priests used the traditions of other Pagan peoples as tools to convert them to Christianity and, by the 1600’s, Christmas became celebrated in such a “raucous” way in Europe that the Puritans actually banned any celebrations of the holiday in New England other than church services.