Natural Christmas Traditions . . .

Of all the holidays we celebrate, Christmas is surrounded in more traditions than any other. There are the worldly, religious, and ethnic traditions as well as the unique family traditions that each of us grew up with or adopted over time. I have been contemplating many of my families traditions and wondering where they came from. My Christmases are much different now than they were growing up, but a few traditions are still apart of the celebration. The things that make Christmas feel like Christmas … the familiar traditions wake the warm, homey feelings of Christmas.
Therefore, as we gather for Christmas this year, I plan on finding out where some of our modern family traditions come from. Do you know where your traditions came from?

Nature plays an big part of many Christmas traditions, too … but, do we even know where, how and why they were begun? For this post, I thought I would focus on a few of the “natural” ones: Christmas trees, poinsettia plants, Yule logs, Mistletoe, Holly and holly berries. Little did I know when I came up with this great idea how many different stories exist about each of them … oh my!
Seems that these are some of the oldest traditions and many are based on folklore and ancient practices. As they are passed down from generation to generation the stories and reasons for them get muddled, changed, and adapted for each culture and family and over time the origins can be very obscure. Therefore, I present a little bit of information I found (facts would be too strong a word I think) and you can twist it to fit your holiday traditions anyway you would like.

Christmas trees ~
According to Wikipedia (knowledgeable site for anything) “The tradition of decorating an evergreen tree at Christmas started in Livonia and Germany in the 16th century.” There are also many legends and myths about evergreens because in the cold of winter they are the only living plants that are still green. Their greenness lead to the belief that evergreens represent power over death and everlasting life. One source stated that before Christianity, people brought evergreen branches into their homes to ward off evil spirits. Some odd facts …Christmas trees are edible … it is true. The needles are a good source of vitamin C and the pine nuts or pine cones are a good source of nutrition (and fiber).

Poinsettia plants ~
They were brought into the United States from Mexico by Joel Poinsett in the early 1800’s. The association with Christmas began in the 16th Century. According to Wikipedia the “… legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson “blossoms” sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.”
Poinsettias are not a toxic plant. The poinsettias we know today are much different than the originals, today’s plants are much fuller and more compact due to a growing method developed by the Ecke family in California.

Yule Logs ~
I found many “facts” about Yule Logs … and none of them match up except for the fact that they were believed to bring good luck and inspire good fortune. Therefore, I will let you choose which traditional history you prefer. The ancient Scandinavian tradition was based on the good fortune belief and people even threw the ashes in wells to make the water safer to drink. Most historians take the tradition back to many European cultures, paganism and the Druids celebration of the winter Solstice. Bonfires were used to scare off winter demons and brighten the new year. It was also a part of the 12-day Christmas celebrations, often a piece of the Yule Log is kept dry all year to be used the new Yule log. In modern times, it has become a Christmas cake.

Mistletoe ~
A tradition that is widely varied. The Celtic people and the Druids considered it to have magical powers and the ability to heal wounds and increase fertility. It was hung to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. The ancient Romans used it to decorate their haunted woods and to celebrate good fortune, peace and love. Scandinavian countries had a custom to lie down their weapons for a truce if they encountered an enemy in the forest under mistletoe. How Mistletoe evolved to become the Christmas kissing plant, I don’t know. However, I do know that it is poisonous. If you are using a mistletoe this year to snitch some kisses, I hope you are abiding by the rules. You must pluck a berry off for each kiss, when the berries are gone kisses are no longer an obligation.

Holly and Holly Berries ~
One of the newer natural traditions. The follage and berries are commonly used to make Christmas wreaths in the United States. The wood is hardy. One source said that Holly oak is associated with Christmas because it resembles the crown of thorns placed upon Christ’s head a the crucifixion. The berries are poisonous to humans.

Last year, I wrote about some natural Christmas decorations I have used in the past (link to post). There are so many things just a few feet from my front door that can make the season festive.
Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles. ~Author Unknown

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~ by bearyweather on December 24, 2010.

8 Responses to “Natural Christmas Traditions . . .”

  1. I love the natural bits of holiday tradition. I remember my sister and I used to collect running cedar from the woods to use as decoration in the house. The main tradition growing up was spending it at my grandfather’s house. I do certain things each year, and I wonder if my kids consider them traditions.

  2. Well, now I know why the cats want to eat the pine boughs in the centerpiece we have on our dining room table. lol!

  3. Since I moved to the forest I have been more in touch with nature’s contribution to this special season. Thanks to your blog I know more about how very meaningful those contributions are. 🙂 Thanks for that and all the best for the coming year.

  4. I find there is something special about wandering in the woods gathering a few boughs, pinecones and such to decorate for the holidays. Much more satisfying to me then searching the Christmas decoration isles at the big box store. My decorations are definitely unique and smell much better. (I think that these natural traditions are returning … I saw many more natural decorations being sold at little stands in town this year then I have in the past)
    Happy New Year!

  5. Thank you for this post! I loved learning about the holiday traditions that I rarely give a second thought. Hope you had a wonderful holiday!

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