I have found it quite fascinating looking into what we think of as the ‘traditions’ of Christmas, so here’s a second helping for you.
The wreath has always been used as a symbol of power and strength. In Rome and Greece, kings and emperors often wore laurel wreathes as crowns. Harvest wreathes – the predecessors to our modern decorations – were used in rituals for good harvests, and predate written history. Ancient Europeans often used evergreen in their wreathes to symbolise strength and fortitude as an evergreen will live through even the harshest of winters. Wreaths have been used as a decorative sign of Christmas for hundreds of years. The wreath has significant meaning for the season with its circular shape representing eternity as it has no beginning and no end. From a Christian perspective, it represents an unending circle of life.
Christmas carols grew out of the first Christmas hymns, which developed in fourth century Rome. While these Latin hymns were sung in church for generations, the first true carols developed in France, Germany, and Italy in the 13th century. These carols, written in the language of the area where they were composed, were enthusiastically sung at community events and festivals. They were not composed specifically as Christmas carols, but rather as holiday songs that were sung at many separate festivals and celebrations. Later on, the songs would become associated primarily with Christmas. The modern practice of going door-to-door carolling probably has something to do with the root word for carol, “carole” or “carula” which mean a circular dance, so going ‘round the houses’!
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that perches on a tree branch and absorbs nutrients from the trunk – hardly one of the most romantic forms of life! Celtic legend says the plant can bring good luck, heal wounds, increase fertility and ward off evil spirits. While it’s hard to say what (if any) truth lies in these legends of yore, at the very least, it provides an excuse to sidle up and kiss someone! The tradition of smooching underneath the mistletoe began (of course!) in the Victorian era and was once believed to inevitably lead to marriage. But it seems to have lost a little of that power. Now, when someone kisses you it might just mean they’ve had a few too many sips of holiday punch!
What ever your thoughts on carols or mistletoe, I hope you have a fabulous Christmas!