12 Cool Holiday Traditions That Aren't About God or Shopping
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Given his ethnic roots, Santa Claus should be a symbol of multi-culturalism! His familiar form and story have been shaped most recently by 19 th Century American and European media and marketers including the Bon Marche Department Store in Liverpool, Disney Studios, and Coca-Cola. They in turn drew on Scandinavian images of elves with red tunics and pointed hats, with sleighs and reindeer. Before that, the Italian/Greek/Spanish/Turkish story of St. Nicholas and the Germanic god Odin appear to have merged to create the Dutch figure, Sinterklaas, who rides through the sky on a white horse.
As Christianity spread across Europe, the red berries and spiny leaves of the holly plant became spiritual symbols representing the red blood of Jesus and his crown of thorns. But as with many other holiday favorites, Holly already had special meaning for local people. The familiar Christmas carol, “ The Holly and the Ivy” contains vestiges of Celtic tradition in which a males and females were dressed in Holly and Ivy leaves and enacted a dance or ritual representing male and female energy. In the mythology of the British Isles, the Holly King was said to rule over the waning half of the year, from the summer solstice to the winter solstice, whereupon he fought with the Oak King, who ruled the season of planting and growth. In fact, the Holly King may be the Green Knight who Sir Gawain rose to fight at King Arthur’s Christmas feast.
The Roman feast of Saturnalia lasted from December 17 through the 23 , and was popular enough that it may well have shaped early Christmas celebrations. But the reality is that happy humans feast together in virtually every culture and religion on the planet , and feasting is a part of many mid-winter traditions . In some cultures food was offered to the gods to help ease the winter or bring back the sun. But few ancient people could afford to waste large quantities of meat once it had been consecrated, so it was roasted and eaten, with appropriate ritual, storytellsing, song and dance. The Saami people of Finland sacrificed white female reindeer for their solstice celebration. Eastern Slavs celebrated the Feast of the winter mother goddess Rozhnitsa, at which deer shaped cookies were given as gifts and offerings to the goddess included honey bread and cheese. In Iran, families and friends gather for a solstice celebration called Shabe Chelleh, where traditional foods include dried fruits and nuts. Meat and ale were staples of the Germanic Yule feast.