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The Story behind yuletide rituals and who put X in Xmas?

Theerdha Reddy
Written by Theerdha Reddy


Whether it’s giving gifts or munching on candy canes, everyone loves Christmas traditions, but few people know how or where these customs came from.


Find out the surprising, funny and even nothing-to-do with-Jesus roots of these common Christmas traditions.


Why’s it called Xmas?
It’s a short form we’ve all used on greeting cards when we didn’t have enough space, but few people know why ‘x’ is a good substitute for ‘Christ’ in ‘Christmas’. Turns out, the Greek letter ‘chi’ is written as ‘x’ and is the first letter of the word ‘Christ’ in Greek. While the use of the word dates back to the 1550s, today it’s often used erroneously as a non-religious name for the holiday by supposedly removing the ‘Christ’ from ‘Christmas’.

What’s with the Candy cane’s stripes?
It is widely held that the red and white colours of this treat are meant to represent the blood that Christ shed, and his purity, respectively. Moreover, their ‘J’ shape is symbolic of the shepherd’s staff. Whether or not the sweets were made with this intent, the belief is so widely accepted that today, several US sweet manufacturers even make candy canes with three white stripes to represent the holy trinity.

Why is mistletoe a smooching symbol?
Mistletoe makes an appearance in various old cultures, including marriage ceremonies in ancient Greece and as a symbol of reconciliation between warriors of the Roman Empire. However, it is the Norse tradition of the goddess Frigga kissing everyone who walked under the mistletoe after her dead son was brought back to life that is most commonly associated with the tradition today. Ironically, mistletoe, thought to ward off evil spirits and help with fertility and love, is actually poisonous to humans.


What did Snowmen start out as?
As the name suggests, snowmen are generally… well… men. However, scholars widely hold that due to their curvy shape, snowmen actually started out as ‘snowwomen’. They were supposed to depict the ideal female form before eventually becoming the lumpy effigies we’ve come to associate with Christmas.

Why deck the halls with Holly?
While holly features in many Christmas carols and is an integral part of the season’s decorations, its origins aren’t are festive as one might think. Not only are prickly holly leaves meant to symbolise the crown Christ wore when he got crucified, its red cherries also represent his blood. Long before Christmas traditions, holly was also used as decoration in homes because it stayed green through the year – a quality that led some cultures to believe the plant had magical properties.

What does Santa have to do with it?
While the tradition of giving gifts dates back to the Magi, the figure of Santa Claus was nowhere around when Jesus was born. He stems from Saint Nicholas (called ‘Sinterklaas’ in Dutch, which was later watered down to ‘Santa Claus’), who apparently gave up his wealth to provide three women with dowries in the fourth century. While the jolly version of Father Christmas, who gives presents to good kids, is almost universally accepted, many cultures to this day have folklore about his evil twin who punishes the bad children.


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Theerdha Reddy

Theerdha Reddy

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