Christmas traditions: Yule never guess where they came from

Last Christmas, we gave you some history. But the very next day, you forgot it away. This year, to save us from tears. We'll send it out extra special.

Here is a look at some 'hard-hitting' Christmas facts from CBC's archives

Ever wonder how our Christmas traditions came about. We took a look at some last year, and here is a roundup if you missed it.

Last Christmas, we gave you some history. But the very next day, you forgot it away.

This year, to save us from tears. We'll send it out extra special.

Why do we give gifts at Christmas?

Along with sipping eggnog and lighting up the tree, giving gifts to friends and family is often a cherished part of the Christmas season — but why do we do it?

The common explanation is that gifts are given at Christmas to remind those celebrating the holiday of the gifts brought to the baby Jesus to celebrate his birth.

But it wasn't until the late 1800s that people began to see Christmas Day as a time to give gifts to children and each other.

Giving gifts on Christmas Day has only been common practice in Canada for about a century. (Corinna vanGerwen/Canadian Press)

Why do we celebrate on Dec. 25th?

The 25th of December is a day eagerly awaited by many who celebrate Christmas — but how did it the holiday end up on that date?

Early Christians had no Christmas as we would recognize it now and, in fact, the Bible suggests Jesus was actually born when shepherds were outtending to their flocks in the field — which was likely not winter.

Discrepancies with the date persisted for years until the Church began a concentrated effort to bring pagans into the faith and it was in AD 350 that Pope Julius I decreed Dec. 25 as the day Jesus's birth would be celebrated.

Dec. 25th was likely chosen as the date on which to celebrate Christmas because it corresponded with a pagan holiday honouring the sun god Mithras. (Auntie P/Creative Commons)

Why do we eat candy canes?

As soon as the holidays roll around, grocery store shelves are stacked high with candy canes — but how did they become part of the Christmas season?

According to Ace Collins' Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas, candy canes first came into being around 1670 in Cologne, Germany.

Legend holds that the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral was searching for a way to keep the children in the choir quiet during the long Christmas service.

The origins of the humble candy cane may have been in 17th century Germany, when a choirmaster began searching for a way to keep children quite during a long mass. (Christy Nelson/Creative Commons)

Why do we kiss under mistletoe?

Kissing under the mistletoe can be a cherished holiday tradition — but why do we do it?

According to the Natural History Museum in the U.K., the custom took root with the ancient Druids. The Druids were the educated and religious class of the Celtic peoples who existed in some form until about 600 A.D., and they believed mistletoe to be sacred.

They also believed the plant would make people more fertile and bring good luck, and warring clans would lay down their weapons if they met underneath a sprig of mistletoe.

(Anders Krusberg/The Martha Stewart Show/Associated Press)

Why do we put up trees?

Decorating a Christmas tree is one of the most festive parts of the holiday season, but why do we do it?

According to the Virtual Museum of Canada, a website run by the Canadian Museum of History, decorative symbols including trees have been used since the 11th century by Christians to symbolize motifs such as peace and renewal during the Advent season.

Even before that, the Celtic Druids used to decorate their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life

However, it wasn't until the 15th century that people began bringing trees into their home during Christmas. 

Putting up a Christmas tree is one of the most festive moments of the holiday season, but why do we do it? (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)


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