Over the centuries, the holiday traditions evolved and morphed into the festival Christmas is today. Of course the commercialization is the most recent development and has no origin in the ancient Pagan festivities.
Roman And Celts
Saturnalia was a Roman festival dedicated to the god, Saturn, who ruled over the harvest and agriculture. In pre-Christian times, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia on December 17. Later the date was changed to December 25 to coincide with the winter solstice on the Roman calendar. One part of the Saturnalia tradition was the practice of cutting down an evergreen tree.
The Celts celebrated the winter solstice on December 21, the shortest day of the year. Theirs was a nature-based Pagan religion under the Goddess with Druid priests officiating at all the rituals. It was their custom to celebrate with feasting, singing and dancing after they decorated a tree. The decorations were brightly colored to represent the astronomical objects such as the sun, moon and stars as well as the souls of those who died during the year. They also hung small gifts on the Yule tree as offerings to the Pagan Gods and Goddesses.
These Pagans honored and worshiped in the Sacred Oak Groves because they depended on the trees for warmth and shelter throughout the cold winter weather.
The Druids thought that the sun ceased its movement for 12 days from December 25th to January 6th. During those days they burned a huge Yule Log to honor the Great Mother Goddess and scattered its ashes around the houses for protection during the coming year.
When translated Alban Arthuan means “The Light of Arthur,” in reference to King Arthur who was born on the winter solstice. It is also known as Yule, the “Wheel of the Year” and marks the festival of both the shortest day of the year and the re-birth of the sun. It is also one of the ancient Druidic fire festivals which include Sam Hain and Beltane.
The ancient Druids preferred holly with lots of berries to bring good luck for the coming year. Its evergreen nature made it sacred and the red berries represented the Goddess’ menstrual blood. The custom was to take holly leaves and branches and scatter them around their homes during the winter. This gave the forest fairies a place to hide so that they could come inside their homes bringing good luck with them; and some pagans used holly for protection. They decorated the doors and windows with it, thinking that its leaves would capture evil spirits before they could sneak into the house.
Mistletoe is an aerial parasitic plant that grows high in the branches of deciduous trees, usually oaks. During the winter the trees are still green from its growth even though the oaks have dropped their leaves. This parasite has no roots and derives its sustenance directly from its tree. The Druids believed that sacred mistletoe had healing powers and it held the strength of its host tree. In the Gaelic language Mistletoe means ̶#8220;All Heal.”
Seeing The Future
The year’s end was a good time for divination for young people who wanted to look into the future to see who they might marry. Every unmarried person would break an egg and drop the yolk and the white into a glass. The shape of the egg white in the cup could be interpreted to indicate the occupation of their future spouse. Then they mixed the eggs with milk and oatmeal and baked a cake. But if the cake broke during the baking, it was bad luck.
The Celts also liked to keep a raging fire going in the fireplace to keep the pesty elves from sneaking down the chimney. The Santa Claus elves may also be traced back to fairy roots. The elves are the fairy folk or nature folk and the reindeer are associated with the Horned God, a Pagan diety.