For thousands of years the holiday season was a time to celebrate women. I am sharing the rich history of our Christmas traditions so that we can appreciate that a women’s power is pervasive that it can still be found within the wreaths and boughs of today’s Christmas.

When Santa Was a Woman: 5 Christmas Histories You Want to Know:


1.     Kissing Under the Mistletoe

"A Christmas Kiss" by George Bernard O'Neill. Public Domain image.

“A Christmas Kiss” by George Bernard O’Neill. Public Domain image.

Kissing under the mistletoe can be traced back to the Norse goddess Frigg(a) whose son Baldr was killed by a mistletoe spear. When the gods brought Baldr back to life, Frigga declared that, from then on, people passing under mistletoe should kiss in celebration.

While few people today would credit Frigga with this tradition, “[t]he church seems to have known of the links to a pagan religion, because traditionally mistletoe is not included among the greenery that decorates churches at Christmas.” [2]

2.     Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

"The Christmas Tree" by Albert Chevallier Tayler. Public Domain image.

“The Christmas Tree” by Albert Chevallier Tayler. Public Domain image.

Once upon a time, Christmas Eve was known as “Mothers’ Night,” a festival held on the eve of Yule that celebrated The Mothers.

“In the 7th century, Bede, a monk living in a Saxon England that was still largely heathen, chronicled how the night before Christmas was known as Modraniht, Mother’s Night. Stretching back at least 6,000 years, there are references all across ancient Europe to three all-powerful female gods called the Mothers. [3]”

3.     The Christmas Tree and Christmas Carols

"Glade jul" by Viggo Johansen. Public Domain image.

“Glade jul” by Viggo Johansen. Public Domain image.

The Christmas tree is by far the most iconic symbol of the season. The beloved evergreen is a holiday staple for Christian homes, and has been adopted by countless non-Christian holiday-lovers.

Of all the holiday’s traditions, the Christmas tree might have the most ancient and varied roots in a pre-Christian world.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity.” The “Christmas tree” was as common in pagan Rome and Egypt as it is today. In Rome the tree was a fir, but in Egypt it was a palm tree.

When you decorate your homes with wreaths and Christmas greenery, think about this:

“Ancient Egyptians brought green palm branches into their homes on the winter solstice as a symbol of life’s triumph over death.]”

Palm trees were sacred to goddesses from Ishtar to Inanna  to Nike/Victoria.

"The Palm Leaf" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Public Domain Image.

“The Palm Leaf” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Public Domain Image.

So, too, does the Christmas tree have roots in early Judaism. The ancient Israelite goddess Asherah was worshipped by erecting “Asherah poles,” which were either carved wooden poles or trees.  “Just as early Christians recruited Roman pagans by associating Christmas with the Saturnalia, so too worshippers of the Asheira cult and its offshoots were recruited by the Church sanctioning ‘Christmas Trees.’”

And the Christmas tree has other herstoric pagan roots as well. Roots buried in the rich soil of Mothers’ Night.

In the Viking saga Erik the Red, on Mothers’ Night a traveling winter seer would pay the locals a visit. She carried a tall, decorated staff and was greeted with a feast and incantations sung to summon the spirits of midwinter.

The seer’s staff symbolized—you guessed it—a tree. That decorated “tree” was an early ancestor of the beautiful evergreen you have sparkling in your living room, and the sacred songs sung to the seer were precursors of today’s Christmas carols. [16]

4.     Down the Chimney and Through the Hearth

"Christmas Fireplace" by Issa Gm. Licensed for public use under the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution.

“Christmas Fireplace” by Issa Gm. Licensed for public use under the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution.

What’s more Christmas-y than chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the Yule log burning, and stockings hung by the chimney with care? What childhood Christmas is complete without the time-old tale of Santa coming down the chimney? No matter how intrinsic these traditions are to this Christian holiday, the fireplace—the hearth—and the Christmas traditions that surround it, are rooted in herstory.

The tradition of celebrating the hearth comes from the goddess Hestia, whose name means “hearth,” while families used to wait for the goddess Hertha to descend through the chimney bearing her gifts long before there was a Santa Claus.

5.     Santa’s Sleigh and Holiday Wishes for Peace on Earth

"Santa's Sleigh Lands on a Roof." Public Domain image.

“Santa’s Sleigh Lands on a Roof.” Public Domain image.

The Roman writer Tacitus tells us that at midwinter the goddess Nerthus—whose name was synonymous with Mother Earth—rode a “sleigh-like wagon” pulled by oxen. Wherever she went, she spread holiday cheer and peace. “It [was] a time of festive holiday-making in whatever place she deign[ed] to honour.” Along with bringing holiday cheer, wherever Nerthus went, “nobody [went] to war, nobody [took] up arms.”

“Eventually Nerthus was superseded by two goddesses, Freya and Frigg. At midwinter Freya was incarnated as Mother Christmas in rituals all over western Europe, touring the countryside in a wagon, though hers was pulled not by oxen but by cats. Later, her presence was represented by wise women who were possessed by her spirit.”

There are loud echoes of Nerthus’ sleigh-like wagon in Santa’s sleigh. Of course the oxen (or cats!) became reindeer, and the sleigh now flies, but one thing remains unchanged in the millennia since Mother Earth was the central figure of Christmas. Wherever Santa goes, he brings holiday celebrations and (at least wishes for) peace on earth.



 Please feel free to add a link to your post about a special Veteran in your life in the comments section.

About Bernadette

I live in the small town of Haddonfield, NJ. I am at an age in my life when I seem to spend time thinking and musing about life. These musings are usually stimulated by my walks through Haddonfield, my reading of books and fellow bloggers, and my interaction with my group of fabulous family and friends.

19 Responses

  1. This could not be a more timely post. I have my youngest daughter staying with me. She is the most vocally feminist of my daughters …. She will love this as much as I do and will have more stories to file in her armory of historic facts that point to the fact that where we are now is almost a reverse of what nature intends because surely earlier humankind was far more in touch with the correct order and surely ‘the old ways’ make more sense. After all …. nature is a she 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Beautifully written and complied, Bernadette. So many interesting facts and I love how many revolve around the family and particularly Christmas Eve being known as ‘Mother’s Night’. Wishing you a lovely weekend. Xx

    Liked by 1 person


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