Decorating the Christmas tree and hiding gifts date back to thousands of years ago, long before the Christmas season was included in Christianity. Although Christmas traditions have a strong pagan background, they have undergone many changes over the years. “It is wrong to say that the modern Christmas came directly from pre-Christian traditions,” says historian Dr. Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol. “But it is equally wrong to believe that Christmas is a modern phenomenon”.
Traditions and winter celebrations
According to researcher Philip Shaw of the University of Leicester, specializing in
ancient Germanic languages and the Anglo-Saxon language, the word “paganism” is related to the Latin word “field”.
In the past, those who lived in rural areas were often called “pagans”. The first Christians, says the expert, had tried to attract these people to Christianity, but they appeared to be very faithful to their own traditions.
Christmas tree and Santa Claus
According to Dr Hutton, Christmas tree is a German invention of the 17th century and comes from rural areas where the transfer of plants into the house during the winter was customary.
At the same time, the modern Santa Claus seems to be a “descendant” of Father Christmas coming from Britain.
“Both Father Christmas and his modern European version have their roots in old pagan traditions according to which spirits flight in the sky in the middle of winter,” says Dr. Hutton.
Glow in the middle of harsh winter
But why was there such mobility in the middle of winter? According to historians, this period was a holiday in rural areas as the harvest season reached the end.
“This was a season when people devoted time to religion and collective activities,” says Shaw. “In this period everyone was in need of spiritual exaltation and joy.”
Dr. Hatton believes that limited sunlight during the winter played a role in the need for festive mood and festive interior decoration.
“For some people who live in areas where the dark, cold and hunger are sharply felt during the winter, a highly festive mood can effectively combat depression” he emphasizes.
The gift exchange seems to be a modern addition to historical celebrations of Christmas. In old times, people tended to exchange gifts with their loved ones at the end of the year.
“The gifts exchange at the end of the year represented a blessing for the start of the new year,” Dr. Hutton.
In Britain this habit has been postponed from the end of the eve of Christmas in Victorian times, around the middle of the 19th century, when the royal family started to exchange gifts on that day.