Christmas decorations - santa suits

Why We Have Christmas Trees

The Euro-Pagan Influence on Christmas

Why do so many aspects of the modern Christmas tradition seem to have little or nothing to do with celebrating a great religious leader's birthday?

The biggest reason goes back over a thousand years, to the initial spread of early Christianity across Europe. Wherever early Christians spread their faith, they tried to maintain connections to existing local customs and rituals; while adopting them to the worship of Jesus Christ. Thus, many pre-Christian (or "pagan") spiritual traditions became part of Christian practice, especially at Christmas time.

Indeed, the very date of Dec. 25 was set by the early church to coincide with the dates of Rome's Winter Solstice celebrations. (The Bible doesn't say what time of year Jesus was born.)

Among the most conspicuous and enduring of these borrowings are the Christmas tree (and other greenery icons, such as holly, mistletoe, and wreaths). David De Groot writes, "Ancients would bring evergreen leaves on the night of December 21, the shortest day of the year. They did this because they wanted the sun god to get well and they thought the green leaves of evergreens would better the god.... In many countries thousands of years ago, people would decorate their houses with evergreen leaves and branches to keep away ghosts, witches, sickness, and evil spirits."

As the women's website Oxygen notes, "Trees have always been considered a symbol of life. The pagans, ancient Egyptians, Romans and Druid priests brought branches and greens into their homes and decorated trees as part of traditional celebrations.

"The first Christmas tree," Oxygen reports, "is said to have originated in 8th century Germany when a British missionary, St. Boniface, cut down a giant oak that crushed every tree in its path except a small fir sapling. Considering this a miracle, St. Boniface called it 'the tree of the Christ child.'"