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Christmas

The Wise Men visit the Baby Jesus and offer gifts.

Uncovering the Language of the First Christmas

Around the Christmas period, the now typical jokes pile up on social media. Jesus is commended for having a “stable upbringing”. The three wise men fret: “We’re running low on Frankincense. Don’t...
The Romans of the Decadence (1847) by Thomas Couture.

Why is Christmas Celebrated December 25th?

Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th? The popular answer is that it is Jesus’ birthday. However, it is necessary to reconsider that belief, No records exist in the Bible, or elsewhere,...
Detail of decorations on a Christmas tree.

Why Do We Put Up Christmas Trees? The Ancient Roots of this Decorative Tradition

The Christmas tree is an iconic feature of the holiday season. You can find this symbol on greeting cards, in advertisements, shaped into cookies, plastered across wrapping paper, and in the homes of...
 A door decorated with a Christmas wreath

Mistletoe, Holly, and Yuletide Cheer: Weaving Natural Elements into Ancient Christmas Customs

It is estimated 2 billion people celebrate Christmas each year. Although the popular holiday is linked to Christianity and the birth of Jesus Christ, people all over the world, Christians or not,...
A Byzantine depiction of the Three Wise Men (526 AD), Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy.

What the Magi Had in Common with Scientists

Picturesque and exotic, with their crowns and camels, the three kings regularly appear on Christmas cards and in nativity scenes. But how much is original, and how much is later addition for the sake...
An upside-down Christmas tree.

A Tradition Revived? Inverted Christmas Trees May Have Pagan Roots

Hanging a Christmas tree from the ceiling makes some sense – it can keep your floor space clear and may protect your pets or young children from harm – but it is not common. The costly trend of...
Santa with pipe and the knowing smile of ancient wisdom.

Santa the Shaman Comes to the New World: The Shapeshifting Magic-Man from the Ancient Past

In 1626, a ship filled with folks from the Netherlands put into what would later be called New York Harbor and went about building a Dutch colony called New Amsterdam. The figurehead on the prow of...
Portrait of Saint Nicholas

True Remains of the Saint Behind the Santa Myth Believed Found in Turkey

Researchers suggest that they have found the almost fully intact temple and burial grounds of Saint Nicholas in Antalya, Turkey. In case the name Saint Nicholas doesn’t ring any bells, keep in mind...
Detail of a vintage Christmas postcard showing Christkind.

Christkind: How Does this Christmas Gift-Bringer Differ from Santa Claus?

Christkind is a Christmas gift-bringer in certain European countries. Like its more famous counterpart, Santa Claus, Christkind is said to leave presents for children under the Christmas tree on the...
 Krampus, the Christmas Devil

Krampus, Son of Hel: The Ancient Origins of the Christmas Devil

It is well known in America that Santa Claus maintains a Naughty and Nice list for when he comes to town. Good kids get presents; bad kids get coal. This makes for a great Christmas carol but it is...
Skeletons in the Attic and Babes in the Wood: Surprising and Spooky Yuletide Traditions

Skeletons in the Attic and Babes in the Wood: Surprising and Spooky Yuletide Traditions

Although we nowadays associate ‘Happy Holidays’ with celebrations during Advent and the run-up to Christmas Day and then on to New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay in Scotland) not that many years ago the ‘...
Harking Back: The Ancient Pagan Festivities in our Christmas Rituals

Harking Back: The Ancient Pagan Festivities in our Christmas Rituals

When we think of the Romans, gift-giving, carol-singing and celebrating the birth of Christ don’t immediately present themselves. Waging wars, general oppression and a never-ending desire to rule the...
‘Festa di Pales, o L'estate’ by Joseph-Benoît Suvée

The Busy Romans Needed a Mid-Winter Break Too … and it Lasted for 24 days

In the Doctor Who Christmas Special from 2010, Michael Gambon’s Scrooge-like character remarks that across different cultures and worlds people come together to mark the midpoint of winter. It is, he...
The Medieval Origins of The Carol: How Christmas Songs Have Survived Through the Centuries

The Medieval Origins of The Carol: How Christmas Songs Have Survived Through the Centuries

Singing and Christmas seem to go naturally together, like plum pudding and custard. Even those who would not normally attend a choir concert or church service throughout the year might happily...
The Holly and the Ivy: How Pagan Practices Found Their Way into Christmas

The Holly and the Ivy: How Pagan Practices Found Their Way into Christmas

Every year, almost without thinking about it, we incorporate certain plant species into out Christmas celebrations. The most obvious is the Christmas tree, linked historically in England to Prince...
Why Ghosts Haunt England at Christmas but Steer Clear of America

Why Ghosts Haunt England at Christmas but Steer Clear of America

A few years ago, the Downton Abbey Christmas special featured a ouija board which communicated a message from a dead character. American reviewers were extremely puzzled by this incursion of the...

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