For many the decorations are an essential part of the
Christmas celebrations but do they belong or are they just a hangover from
much older pagan festivals?
It is impossible to say for sure where many of the
traditional Christmas decorations originated. We see them appearing in
celebrations long before the Christian celebrations of Christmas but then
who is to say that they don't predate some of the other festivals that we
know about. It appears since the earliest man appeared their have been
celebrations around the middle of winter and doubtless some of the
traditions we share in today pre-date even paganism. Who is to say that
any particular tradition belongs to any one festival? Yet things change and so does their
meaning and just as we don't insist on speaking in Anglo-Saxon or Latin because
English has its roots in those languages so it is foolish to
insist that we should take away the Christian meaning of the decorations
in favour of their earlier pagan history. Christmas is a Christian
festival and it seems only right that we concentrate on the Christian
meaning behind the Christmas decorations. Christians soon realised that
far from detracting from the message of Christmas so the festivities can
help enhance the spiritual dimension of the festivities.
Some mistakenly believe that it was the Victorians who
established the Christmas celebrations that we enjoy today. It is true
that the Victorians loved Christmas and all its fripperies but most of the
traditional celebrations pre-date this period. We can be thankful for the
Victorians introducing the Christmas card, however.
The Christmas tree pre-dates the Christian festivities of
Christmas and references can be found to it in the Roman celebrations of
Saturnalia where a pine tree was hung with little masks of Bacchus, it may
even pre-date these celebrations. We cannot be sure when the Christmas
tree became associated with Christian celebration but there are traditions
of Martin Luther (the founder of the Lutheran Church and the Protestant
Movement) making the Christmas tree part of the Churches celebrations. The
tree should be evergreen symbolising the everlasting life that Jesus
Christ brings, and should be decorated with lights symbolising Christ the
light of the world. The Christmas tree as we know it comes from Germany
and although tradition has it that Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's
husband) introduced it to Britain there are numerous accounts of it being
used by German families in Britain before this time.
It appears that anything evergreen has been employed to
decorate the home for Christmas but the thorns of the holly bush have
often been seen to represent the thorns of the crown of thorns worn by
Christ at his execution.
Mistletoe is most certainly pagan in origin and formed an
important role in the Druid mid-winter festivals. Mistletoe is by
tradition not used to decorate Churches because of its association with
paganism. It's white berries have been seen to symbolise the virginity of
the mother of Christ. There are traditions of its fertility enhancing
properties and it is traditional for those who meet under holly to kiss.