December Challenge: True meaning of the holiday season

This December take the 30-day challenge to recognize and understand the cultural traditions and symbols behind the upcoming holiday season. When we grasp the significance of ancient holiday celebrations, we begin to understand how that custom came to be today.

A prominent tradition of the holiday season is the evergreen tree, an ancient symbol of the value of life as it remains green and alive even during the harsh winter months.

The evergreen tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals for thousands of years. Pagans used its branches to decorate their homes during the winter solstice.

O’ Christmas tree, O’ Christmas tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging
Not only green when summer’s here,
But also when it’s cold and drear.
O’ Christmas Tree! O’ Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging!

O’ Christmas tree, O’ Christmas tree!
Such pleasure do you bring to me
For every year this Christmas tree,
Brings us such joy and glee.
O’ Christmas Tree! O’ Christmas Tree!
Such pleasure do you bring to me.

O’ Christmas Tree! O’ Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!
From base to summit, gay and bright,
There’s only splendor for the sight.
O’ Christmas Tree! O’ Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!

O’ Christmas Tree! O’ Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O’ Christmas Tree! O’ Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!

O’ Tannenbaum, originally written in German by Ernst Anschutz in 1820s, does not actually refer to the Christmas tree. It speaks of the fir tree’s evergreen quality as a symbol of constancy and faithfulness. Tannenbaum means ‘fir tree’ in German.

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So what are some other traditions and symbols that have us all in a frenzy throughout the month of December?

Read on and maybe, just maybe, you will find less stress and more understanding in the connections we have with each other and the holiday spirit.

>>  The winter solstice, has been celebrated around the world for thousands of years. It is the shortest day of the year, symbolizing the renewal of light and rebirth of the sun as daylight hours begin to increase. This year it is celebrated on Friday, December 21.

Image result for Kwanzaa

>>  Kwanzaa was created in 1966 during the civil rights struggle. Kwanzaa, meaning first fruit in Swahili, is a 7-day festival celebrating unity, self-determination, work, responsibility, economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

 

>>  The original gift giving tradition was usually food as this was a time of harvest and great banquets. It is a relic of a pagan custom of sharing abundance. Giving is a demonstration of heart-felt feelings we have for others — an invest in a relationship. And, the old adage: Giving makes us happier than receiving

>>  Saint Nicholas was a real person. He was a kind bishop who brought presents to children and needy people.

>>  In 1843, Sir Henry Cole had 1000 special designed cards printed to send holiday tidings of peace and prosperity, and thus the beginning of the holiday card tradition.

>>  A brilliant red flower-like plant was brought to the U.S. by Dr. J.R. Poinsett in 1825. He was the first United States ambassador to Mexico. Because of its flame leaf, the poinsettia is sometimes called the Christmas Star.

>>  Mistletoe is an evergreen and bears small red or white berries in early winter. Since so few plants remain green in the winter, mistletoe naturally came to be associated with the Christmas season. The botanical name of mistletoe is Phoradendron (phor meaning “thief” and dendron meaning “tree” in Greek).

For the Druids (members of the learned class among the ancient Celts), mistletoe is a symbol of peace. When enemies met under it they took off their swords and embraced each other.

>>  William Turner, a 16th century botanist and known as the “father of English botany,” referred to holly as the “Holy Tree.” Maintaining bright shiny green distinctive leaves with red berries, holly offers a striking contrast to the general barrenness of winter and is an ancient winter decoration.

Holly, with other seasonal greenery, like wreaths, has been a part of many cultures throughout history and linked to pagan winter solstice festivities.

>>  The word “yule” means “wheel,” a symbol representing the sun. Pagans thought the sun stood still for 12 days at the end of the year. A log was cut large enough to burn for this time period to incinerate the year’s evil.

>>  And, here’s one I bet you have always wondered about:  Mincemeat pie. This sweet pie is filled with rich and exotic spices representing the treasures the three wise men brought. It truly is worth trying if you have never had a bite. Originally, mincemeat always contained meat and can be traced back to the 13th century. It developed as a way of preserving meat without salting or smoking. The filling comes from the medieval tradition of spiced meat dishes. Modern recipes are a mixture of chopped dried fruit, distilled spirits and spices, and sometimes beef or venison.

Image result for menorah>>  The lighting of the menorah for Hanukkah symbolizes the miracle that a one day supply of oil lasted eight days. A Hanukkah custom is playing with four-sided spinning tops called dreidels and, of course, the exchanging gifts. The old European custom of giving Hanukkah gelt (coins or money) to the children is still around, but the current trend of giving actual gifts really took shape in the 1950s.

Celebrating

Celebrating your particular holiday becomes less stressful when you understand the meaning behind the symbols. Take ideas from those that touch your heart and incorporate them into your own festivities.

Merry Christmas – Happy Holidays, no matter how you joyously choose to celebrate.