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Examining origins of Christmas traditions

Devon Valance

The holiday season has finally begun. Lights are strung across roofs, wreaths are hung on doors and trees are standing proud in the corners of homes. Many of these well–known and commonly practiced Christmas traditions, however, sparked from another holiday before Christianity and Catholicism were even founded.

Today, Christmas is recognized by many Christian denominations as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

“I’ve always gotten the simplified version because the story of Christmas can be determined in a lot of different ways,” said non–denominational Christian Maddison Gamble ‘26. “Mary, Joseph’s wife, was called upon by an angel and told that she would be the earthly mother to the Son of God and that she would be impregnated as a virgin.”

With decorations and gift giving, the holiday is also celebrated by many in a more secular way with all the common festivities.

“From the story I heard, someone was trying to spread joy throughout his town, so he created gifts for the children and delivered them, and people took that up as a tradition,” said Elise Louie ‘27, who celebrates Christmas and is also interested in astrology. “I’m really into astrology. I  look into it in my spare time sometimes.”

The colors red and green, evergreen trees, mistletoe and “the 12 days of Christmas” actually originated from approximately 2,500 years ago when the Celtic isles were filled with  the Pagan beliefs that the earth’s natural cycles held profound spiritual importance and sacredness, according to

During that time, a widely celebrated holiday was Yule, a 12 day festival to honor the winter solstice and the return of the sun, according to

“They hold significance to different people’s beliefs [because] people believe they bring the new harvest season or the coming of [and] the changing of seasons,” said Louie. “[The solstices] explain why things happen in the changing of seasons.”

For example, Yule logs were a specially selected tree burned to welcome the sun back after the dark half of the year, according to

Pagans would also place evergreen trees in their homes as symbols of life and fertility, and they decorated them with runes, cloth, candles and pieces of food according to

“People like evergreens because they stay green during the winter time [unlike] everything else,” said Louie.

Usually falling on Dec. 21, the winter solstice was also believed to be a time in which magical forces were stronger, especially because it followed Samhain, another Celtic festival on Oct. 31 that is to Halloween what Yule is to Christmas. Celtic festivals were a huge inspiration for these current, widely celebrated holidays which would not have existed without the former, according to

“There’s a lot of different ideas about Pagan holidays because, amongst [Christian] denominations, Halloween has been a big thing where they’re like, ‘Do we celebrate it [or] do we not,’” said Gamble. “Christmas has never really been underneath that because we’ve kind of all agreed that Christmas has been taken by non–believers, turned into a consumership, taken from different cultures and turned into this whole new thing.”

After Christianity was founded, missionaries used a number of tactics to convert Pagans such as linking their holidays together. This is why Christmas is celebrated when it is. Many historians believe Jesus was born in springtime, but the date Dec. 25 was chosen along with many Yule traditions to make the transition to Christianity easier. Choosing this date, however, appropriated Yule and a similar Roman holiday called, “Dies solis invicti nati” or “Day of the birth of the unconquered sun.” Historians have also connected the “rebirth of the sun” to the “birth of the Son.” Even the practice of celebrating birthdays came from Pagans, according to and

“I’ve been told a few times that the 25th is not actually the real day [of Jesus’s birth], but I think it is more just a signifier because we obviously don’t go by the Jewish or Lunar calendar anymore,” said Gamble. “Just having that one signature day signifies a time for the whole world to celebrate. It’s more about the significance than the actual accuracy.”

People celebrate this time of year in many different ways. With this period holding much history and many stories mixing together, things change over time, and people can always learn to coexist with their traditions and share these important moments.

“Holidays, regardless of whether I believe they are significant, are significant to other people,” added Gamble. “When me and my mom put up our Christmas tree, it’s just a thing where we get to spend time together because life is stressful. We find time to just decorate our house, and I don’t think that is necessarily a negative thing … I think that things can change regardless of their roots.”

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About the Contributor
Devon Valance
Devon Valance, Staff Writer
she/her Hey besties! My name is Devon, and I guess you could say that I’m pretty cool. I joined journalism because I enjoy writing, page designing, and overall just participating in the wonderful community. I’m part of the Westlake color guard and if you ever want to make fun of me you should know I play Minecraft on peaceful mode because the monsters make me nervous. If you’re truly Greg, a little stinker or a citizen of Kurtis Town, hit me up. I love Halloween/Samhain, and I know how to perform a séance, just in case. Most importantly, I am former co-editor-in-chief Vivian Stein’s biggest fan.
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