Celtic Christmas Traditions
December 24, 2008
Many modern day Christmas traditions were originally of Celtic origin. One of the most ancient festivals is Alban Arthuan, or “The Light of Arthur.” This is in reference to King Arthur, who was presumed to be born during the Winter Solstice. It’s also called Yule. This is where the custom of burning a Yule Log originated. According to the beliefs of the time, what was left of the log from the prior year would be burned to ensure good luck. Some of the customs about Santa Claus, or Father Christmas as he’s called, also derived from Celtic lore.
The custom of using holly came from the Druids, who believed it stayed green when all other trees lost their leaves, so the earth would still be beautiful. One of their customs was to wear it in their hair when they watched the priests gather mistletoe in the woods. They also thought that if they hung holly around their homes, it would keep evil spirits from harming them.
Contrary to the celebrations in other Celtic areas, the Scots most well known celebration of the season is Hogmanay. This is because the church that is most influental in Scotland is the Presbyterian church who saw Christmas as more of a Catholic holiday, and therefore discouraged celebrating in favor of a more subdued holiday. My grandfather was from Scotland and my great grandfather was from Northern Ireland, and when I was a child, Christmas Eve service at our church was the most important part of the holiday, followed by a quiet family dinner the next day. Sometimes we would exchange gifts after the service, however it was much more low key than the way many people celebrate today. Hogmanay was a special time to celebrate with family and friends, and was the day my grandfather always looked forward to, since more focus was placed on that day when he was growing up in Scotland.
The custom of hanging mistletoe came from the ancient Celts, and had a different meaning from the way it’s used today. The Celtic belief was that mistletoe had extraordinary healing capabilities and was sacred. They believed it had healing power, could protect them from witchcraft and all evil, and bring blessings and good luck to them. If they met an enemy in a forest where mistletoe was hanging, they’d put their arms down, greet each other, and agree to stop fighting until the next day. Hanging mistletoe in a doorway is a sign of peace to everyone who enters your home.