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12 Cool Holiday Traditions That Aren't About God or Shopping

Finding it a little tough to feel warm and chirpy about the birth of the baby Jesus?

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5. Santa
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.

6. Mistletoe

The magical status of Mistletoe goes so far back that it is lost in the mist of history. It played a role in Greek mythology and was likely the Golden Bough in the story of Aeneas. Across pagan Europe it was seen as a sacred symbol of male vitality and fertility. In  one Norse story the goddess Frigga extracts a promise from each element and plant that it will not harm her son Balder, the god of the summer sun. But she overlooks the mistletoe, which lives not on the earth nor in the sky, but in between, in the arms of oak trees. The evil god Loki makes an arrow tip out of Mistletoe and gives it to Hoder, the blind god of winter, who kills Balder. For three days the other gods try in vain to restore him to life. Finally Frigga succeeds. Some versions of the story say that her tears turn into the mistletoe’s white berries and that afterwards Frigga kisses anyone who passes beneath a branch on which mistletoe grows.

7. Holly 
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.

8. Feasting! 
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.   

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