I’m pet-sitting over the holidays, which means I am in a house with a lot more tv channels than I’m accustomed to. While flipping through the endless options this weekend I came across a program talking about the origins of varied holiday traditions that abound. While I’ve pondered the meaning behind some of my own automatic traditions before, this show offered history and reasoning I’d never heard before.
One of my favorite traditions is decorating an evergreen tree and making a holiday wreath for the front door. The historical interpretation I find most connection to is that of hope for spring and a new year, shown by the tree’s green life surviving through winter. We also burn our tree and from decorating to the burning, I find it to be a great symbol for honoring what life has given me, acknowledging that I am always provided for, and recognizing that even in darkness there’s light to be found.
In the end, the show offered interesting insight into the fact that from the traditions we hold fast to (throughout the world’s wide range of religions) a lot of them originate from the same sources. So no matter what our disagreements may be now, through our celebration we’re often anchored in similar archetypal beliefs and holding common threads into the past.
As we enter Hanukkah and approach Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, Yule and Winter Solstice (northern hemisphere), and all other winter holidays, my challenge to you is to define the origin of a tradition you act out every year without really know why. Whether it is a religious symbol, secular action, or something that simply fills you with peace and nostalgic comfort, knowing the history behind it can bring deeper understanding. Personally, unwrapping the history allows me to accept the traditional meaning or create an alternate one. It also makes my action not only one of personal significance, but knowingly connects me to others who have followed the practice before me.
What traditions have you been following without really knowing why? What has your research revealed? Is it surprising to you? Share your experience with us here and help us all learn a little more about why we do the things we do!
If you’re interested in learning more, you may find Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth to be an interesting title.