Tackling the Christmas Traditions

Though Christmas is a holiday that is deeply rooted in religious as well as familial traditions, the origin of many of those traditions remains a mystery to many. Some such traditions, including the origin of the holiday?s annual date, December 25, continue to be a topic of debate among even the most accomplished historians.

To help shed some light on just why it is many people do what they do around the festive Christmas season, here?s a list of some of the more common Christmas traditions and their likely origins.

* December 25. Even though Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, it?s widely accepted that Jesus was not born on December 25, or even in that time of year. Rather, most scholars agree Jesus? actual birth was closer to the season known as spring, with the likely date occurring sometime in the month of May.

So why December 25? One prominent theory suggests the date?s origin rests with the ancient Romans, who had begun a pagan celebration around the same time. As a means of squashing that celebration, the Roman Catholic Church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 so one of their most sacred holidays would be in direct competition with the pagan celebration. If that theory is true, the strategy seems to have worked.

* Poinsettias. A common sight throughout the Christmas season, poinsettias are thought to be flowers, but aren?t really. Though there are flowers in the plants, the bright red colors that most people recognize instantly are actually leaves and not petals, with the flowers not very noticeable in the center of the leaf bunch.

Though native to Mexico, poinsettias are named after an American. Joel Poinsett was the United States? first ambassador to Mexico. Upon a trip home from America?s neighbor to the south in 1928, Poinsett brought some of the beautiful flowers along with him. Legends differ as to why poinsettias are associated with Christmas. One such legend states that Mexicans felt the poinsettia resembled the Star of Bethlehem, while another has to do with an impoverished child bringing them to a church service as a gift for Jesus on his birthday.

* Christmas tree. These have become so symbolic of the holiday season that many families who do not even celebrate Christmas have a Christmas tree in their home. Typically an evergreen tree, Christmas trees? origins might date back to pagan beliefs that stated the evergreen tree was symbolic of the renewal of life.

While that might have been the seed of what eventually became the widely practiced tradition of Christmas trees, the more concrete origin is in 16th century Germany when the Germanic people decorated a small fir tree with apples, paper flowers, roses and other knick-knacks. Once the tree was decorated, children would then collect the goodies on Christmas morning.