Betsy DeVille

Sign in

What is Christmas? blog series exploring the history and origins of winter traditions post title: That Sounds Delicious!

The winter holiday season is often a time of food and drink that is not on our regular menu rotation and even not available at other times of the year. Many have strong, distinct flavors.

Gingerbread and Candy Canes both have legends that pluck the chords of ritual, nostalgia, and tradition. But, does their history really originate with religion? Let’s get into it!


Gingerbread was not created to remind us of Jesus dying for sins and being prepared for burial with spices. But it does have an interesting history. Gingerbread as we enjoy it now, either as a crisp…

End-of-year celebrations throughout history have included light, decorations, gifts, feasting, frivolity, tradition, ritual, hope and celebration of prosperity, supernatural, sacrifice, scary characters and benevolent characters. Most of what is commonly celebrated during the winter is based on ancient traditions associated with the end of the year and not necessarily the Bible.

In my family, we always had the same meal on Christmas Eve at the same house (my maternal grandparents’), after the same mass, followed by the same Christmas curtain, in the same room, the same gift wrap (thanks to my economical grandmother who purchased a roll that I couldn’t…

Light is a common strand (pardon the pun!) in holiday celebrations. In fact, the earliest gifts for New Years were candles! Both artificial light, whether it be a flaming yule log, or a string of LEDs on a tree, pay homage to ancient traditions celebrating the return of sunlight and longer days. There are many celebrations of light to explore.

Saint Lucia Day (December 13) is a Scandinavian celebration, of, among other things, light. While seemingly named for an early christian martyr, this holiday’s traditions are secular in origin. Norse rituals celebrated light on the darkest night of the year…

There are ethereal visitors in many end of the year customs. Some are unpleasant and even violent. Others are benevolent gift-bearers. Most early gift-bearers brought New Years gifts. All seem to have a theme of rewarding good and punishing bad. Here are a handful of some lesser-known characters:

Woden/Wotan/Odin and his flying, white eight-legged horse led an army across the sky during Saturnalia. He had black birds that would act as lookouts during his journey. Children would leave hay, carrots and sugar for the horse. Public banquets that spanned days included masters serving their slaves and gifts exchanged including dolls…

Greenery was often used to decorate for winter solstice and new year celebrations, pre-Christianity. For some, the greenery symbolized the coming spring and hope for prosperity and good fortune. Wreaths symbolized victory, hospitality, the circle of the year, as well as the circle of life. Druids were known to decorate with garland, holly and mistletoe.

A quick note about mistletoe: Mistletoe was revered as a cure-all by the ancient greeks. The celtic druids thought it was special because it was green in the middle of winter. Both groups thought it had special properties of healing and re-invigorating. (please note, don’t…

If you live in North America as I do, you already know about Christmas on December 25 and winter solstice on December 21. Let’s start with winter and how Christmas wound up on December 25.

To understand how this all came together, we need to revisit our understanding of time. Our earliest measurements of time were based on the phases of the moon. As a reminder, the moon orbits the earth every 29 days and its light is provided by the sun reflecting off of its surface. For early people, this was a visible and predictable way to measure the…

I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic school through college. Our Christmas traditions included attending church on Christmas Eve and a party afterwards. Gifts were received from aunts, uncles, parents and Santa Claus. That was that.

When I stopped believing and it came time to celebrate winter holidays, I had to rethink everything I thought I knew. What would these celebrations be for me, what would they be for my family?

I wanted to understand what the origins of winter holidays were, how did Santa, gifts, Jesus’ birth and Christmas trees all come to be? I had heard that many…

Betsy DeVille

a generous, kind, and positive worldview of the atheist and secular life. I like to share things that can start a dialog.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store