Christmas is probably the most festive time of the year, a season of gift-giving and celebration. We all know that Christmas is a religious holiday which marks the birth of Jesus Christ. But did you also know that some of the traditions are adapted from rituals dating back to a time before Christianity?
Many pagan peoples regarded the winter solstice as a time of celebration. Anticipating the return of spring, people decorated their homes with evergreen plants, a symbol of eternal life. Mistletoe was especially popular, as it was believed to have magic powers. People hung sprigs of mistletoe in their homes and kissed beneath them as a gesture of friendship. At pagan festivals there was also a lot of singing and dancing going on – “dancing in a circle” is the original meaning of the word “carol”.
Still now we keep these traditions up: we sing Christmas carols and dance around in circles, we kiss beneath the mistletoe and we decorate our homes with Christmas trees. By the way, did you know that it was a German who set the trend of decorating Christmas trees in England? It was Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. When he moved to England, Christmas trees had already been popular in continental Europe, but not in England. In 1841, Prince Albert put up a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. The event was reported in the press; and as the whole country was very keen on the royal family, people enthusiastically took up the custom of decorating a tree at Christmas.