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The shocking truth about Christmas “traditions”

Jasmine Birtles 9th Dec 2016 13 Comments

Reading Time: 7 minutes

So you’ve seen the supermarket ads with pictures of the ‘perfect’ family Christmas with the tree, the mounds of food, the crackers, the mistletoe, the presents and the ubiquitous Father Christmas.

You’re telling yourself, cynically, that these perfect Christmases don’t happen (domestic violence spikes markedly during the festive season) but still there’s a little voice that says this is the perfect Christmas and you wish you could have it.

We’re bombarded by images of what Christmas should be and hounded by retailers’ advertising to buy more and more.

Think of the kids…think of your work colleagues….think of the family…

It’s relentless!

So why is Christmas such a stressful and expensive time?

Why do we end up with a bunch of presents we don’t want, wishing we hadn’t spent so much on things no one else wanted either?

Why do you feel like you’re a net giver rather than receiver at this time of year?

Why does it all feel so….un-Christmassy?

…probably because most of it isn’t Christmas…isn’t Christian…isn’t to do with comfort and joy or goodwill to all men.

It’s either to do with money or pagan sacrifice.

Of course, if you are Christian you may feel you already know how to have a Christian Christmas.

But do you know just how much of what we consider to be a traditional ‘Christian’ Christmas – particularly most of the expensive side of it – has nothing to do with Christianity at all…in fact it’s either pagan or just plain commercialism.

If Christmas makes you miserable, it might just be that you’re celebrating the wrong stuff!


Which of these Christmas “traditions” are actually Christian? (a chocolate coin for every one you get right!)

So you think you know Christmas? Check out these ‘traditions’!

Santa Claus/Father Christmas


Make money as SantaNot much is known about the origins of the cult of Santa Claus but he’s thought to be derived from the Bishop of Myra in the 4th Century. The man was said to be a generous guy, which is a help!

The whole popping down everyone’s chimney (whether they have one or not), driving a bunch of reindeer and having elves to help came much, much later through the northern European tradition (where he seems to have been connected to the Norse god Thor) and then, commercially, through New York, Coca Cola and Hollywood. You can find out more here.

I’ve been trying to work out when it was that the cult of believing in Santa Claus – and being berated and pretty much made an outcast at the school gates if you dared to say that he didn’t exist – came in in this country.  I don’t know, but belief in Santa Claus seems to have become pretty much a religion in the last ten years or so….overtaking Christianity itself in some households that have small children.

It certainly wasn’t nearly so hysterical when I was a kid and, ideally, I’d like it to stop now. Children get lied to quite enough – we don’t need to add to it at Christmas.

The Christmas Tree  


The tree is an ancient symbol of the winter solstice (December 21st/22nd) symbolising the sun god getting better (or so our Northern Hemisphere ancients believed) or the god Ra (in Egypt) picking himself up.

They were brought into the UK by Prince Albert,and have been a firm favourite ever since.

They can look great with all the lights but, apart from symbolising the triumph of life over death (which means we should really have them at Easter more than Christmas), they have nothing to do with Christianity.

If you want a Christmas tree, try to get one from sustainable forests, or save money and save the planet by bringing out a synthetic one every year. Some of them are excellent.

The Yule log

Yule log

We’re big fans of chocolate cake at MoneyMagpie so the edible Yule log has a special place in our stomachs, if not, perhaps, in our hearts.

But this is another winter solstice tradition, from pre-medieval times, when a whole tree was burned over a period of 12 days. Yes, it’s Nordic again, and celebrates the old Norse god reviving himself from his annual sickness… *sigh*

Holly and Ivy

Holly and ivy

In ancient times holly was believed to have magical properties e.g. warding off evil spirits. It was associated with Thor, the god of thunder, and people grew them at home to prevent lightning (isn’t it amazing how much we worship Thor at Christmas!)

Ivy was banished as a decoration by early Christians due to the fact that it could grow in shades. Later Ivy came to mean secrecy and debauchery…well there’s a lot of that around the winter solstice!

Present giving  

Woman holding gift box

This one’s a bit more complex. It’s a reminder of the birth of Christ and the offering of gifts to baby Jesus by the three wise men…but did he demand an Xbox and a Lynx gift selection? I kind of doubt it.

Giving presents at Christmas really only started in the 18th century but it was in the 19th century – thanks to American-style commercialism – that present-giving became probably the biggest part – and the biggest headache – of Christmas.

It’s pure pounds and pence and has very little to do with the three wise men or Jesus.


Lights and baubles

Christmas tree bauble

The custom of decorating homes with lights and baubles goes back to the use of candles to decorate the Christmas tree in upper-class homes in 18th century Germany. 

Electric lights on Christmas trees became popular in the early 20th Century. ‘In the US it became popular to outline private homes with such xmas lights in tract housing beginning in the 1960s.

The turkey

Roast Turkey

Roast turkey became the meat of choice for posh people in 19th century, but its perfect size for middle class families meant it was the most popular one for everyone by the 20th century.

It’s still one of the cheapest meats, pound for pound, but not everybody enjoys it. Nowadays there’s much more choice in UK households with people choosing veggie alternatives, fish pie or going back to pre-Victorian favourites such as beef or goose.


Can you have a Christian Christmas? What would you do?

Christian Christmas Nativity scene

If you were thinking of celebrating Christmas in an actually Christian way – hey, go crazy – what would you do?

We don’t get much guidance on that front from the movies, Christmas specials, Christmas songs or even carols.

However, it occurred to me that whatever we’re doing at the Christmas season – whether on our own, with family, helping at a party or even at work, we can be Christmas in our thoughts, our words and our behaviour.

We can express:

  • Giving
  • Hospitality
  • Caring for others
  • Generosity of spirit
  • Peace and goodwill
  • Meekness and humility
  • Gratitude
  • …and more (you can add a load more I’m sure!)


How much would this cost?

Christian christmas nativity scene

An actually Christian Christmas wouldn’t cost a lot in terms of money, although it would ‘cost’ us in terms of effort, time given to others and some sacrifice of self (those old tendencies to react to others’ nastiness, bitterness or irritation for example).

I’m going to give it a go (I say this every year but I’m really going to give it a proper go this time!!).

It’s crazy that the time of year that should be about peace, humility, anti-materialism and love tends to be about everything else. The pagan and commercial elements seem to have taken over almost completely now.


 What sort of celebration do you want?

Christmas concept

It’s worth consciously thinking through the sort of celebration you want to have this Christmas and, ideally, talking it through with your family – close and extended.

We have Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to thank for making many of the supposed Christmas traditions the accepted norm now.

Its themes of family, charity, goodwill, peace and happiness are great, together with the message of redemption…it’s just a bit of a shame (I think) that it’s really the food, decorations and games that are now considered to be the ‘spirit’ of Christmas, rather than the actual humanity and love that make us feel happy.


What do you think?

Have we been sold a pup?

Are we being hypnotised into spending stupid money on stupid things and eating and drinking ourselves into a stupor in the name of something that should be holy?

Or is it totally right that we should be having a laugh at the winter solstice and cheering ourselves up for a few short days?

Maybe you love all the Yuletide trappings and hang the expense!

Personally I love the lights, the carols, the crackers and mince pies (can eat those through the year).

I love giving presents but resent having to do it at this particular season.

I like getting together with friends and I love the Christmas displays in some big high streets.

I loathe the drunkenness and the violence that often goes with it.

…but what do you think? I’d like to know so tell me in the comments below.

Thank you 🙂


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5 years ago

I love the smell of a real tree but artificial ones are much easier to deal with.

7 years ago

I really enjoyed the article – thank you Jasmine. I am very conscious of the skewed version of Christmas we have now and feel sad to see the shops groaning with old tat and stressed looking shoppers. I notice programmes on tv, supposedly about Christmas, where not one reference is made to a spirit of kindness, caring or giving, let alone Jesus! I have a longing for a Christmas gathering where everyone brings a contribution to the meal and that’s it. No pressure for one person to do all the cooking; no pressure on anyone to select and buy gifts.… Read more »

7 years ago

Yes Jasmine you are perfectly correct in the analysis of the “Christmas Spirit”, unfortunately that often means alcoholic spirits which leads to all sorts of mayhem. Again unfortunately the majority of people who are fortunate to live in the western culture have completely forgotten the “Christian” meaning of Christmas and prefer to go along with the modern commercial idea that it means everything to excess, food, drink and spending money they often haven’t got egged on by the interminable “Christmas” adverts on the TV. Trying to go back to those simpler times will never happen regretfully. The whole thing has… Read more »

7 years ago

Hi Jasmine. That article was good. Thankyou. Traditions have killed many a good thing. Losing the joy by following the rules to the latter. Christmas is about love, joy and peace. It is about forgiveness and redemption. And it’s not once a year. Historically Christs birthdate is not the 25th. Many of the trimmings we use are not Christian. But that is not what Christmas is about! That’s only the tradition of it. Christmas is a life choice everyday. A choice to act in innocence and thankfulness. Small children love a Christmas because of the excitement and love. They have… Read more »

7 years ago

Christmas as a cultural celebration rather than a religious one is every bit as valid, though. Maybe it still shouldn’t be as consumerist, but then we could say that about anything. I’d be in favour of it being renamed “Winter Solstice”, or something like that – I don’t think neo-pagans would mind too much, they seem pretty inclusive – to differentiate it from a Christian celebration out of respect for Christian people, but realistically I doubt it would happen. The word “Christmas” has, for better or worse, come to refer to the cultural phenomenon, so I think people would just… Read more »

7 years ago

Nice article. I honestly think that Christmas-time is the most thoughtless time to give a gift to someone. It would be far better if people were thoughtful and considerate throughout the year. I opted out of the whole thing several years back and it’s great, while everyone else is stressed, I can cruise through it stress-free now.

7 years ago

I think everyone deserves a party at the darkest time of the year with food and family and friends but excessive present buying isn’t necessary and I don’t do Christianity at all so i don’t care if we celebrate on the actual day or just midwinter ish.

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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