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The Roots of “Christmas” in Ancient Greece


Christmas is the most important, and perhaps the most treasured, celebration of Christianity filled with joy and love. Every country celebrates with different customs that have deep roots within history and tradition. We can find a variety of similarities in the commemoration of the birth of Christ and Dionysus between ancient and contemporary Greece. If we look at the ancient Greek history and the traditions within, we will see that some of our customs have their roots in ancient Greece.

In December, the Ancient Greeks celebrated the birth of Dionysus, calling him “Savior” and divine “infant.” According to Greek mythology, his mother was a mortal woman, Semele, and his father was Zeus, the king of the Gods. The priest of Dionysus held a pastoral staff as did the Good Shepherd. On December 30, ancient Greeks commemorated his rebirth.

The most well-known custom throughout the Christian world are the Christmas carols that have roots deriving from ancient Greece. Specifically, Homer — during his stay on the island of Samos, along with a group of children — composed the carols. In ancient Greece, carols symbolized joy, wealth and peace, and the children sang the carols only in the homes of the rich. Children would go from house to house, holding an olive or a laurel branch adorned with wool (a symbol of health and beauty) and different kinds of fruits. The children brought the olive branch to their homes and hung it on the doors where it remained for the rest of the year.

The Christmas tree appeared for the first time in Germany at the end of the 16th century. It became globally known in the 19th century. In our religion, the Christmas tree symbolizes the rejoicing of the birth of Jesus Christ. The tree was adorned first with fruits and later with clothes and other household objects. Ancient Greeks also used to decorate the ancient temples with trees, symbolizing the divine gift offering. The Christmas tree tradition made its way to Greece in 1833, when the Bavarians decorated the palace of King Otto.

Santa Claus, who travels around the world on Christmas Eve delivering gifts in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, is another impressive similarity. A similar tradition also existed during the celebration of Dionysus in ancient Greece who resembled light. Then, the chariot transformed into a sleigh and horses transformed into reindeer.

The New Year’s cake is also the evolution of an ancient Greek custom. Our ancestors used to offer Gods the “festive bread” during the rural festivals, like the Thalysia or the Thesmophoria.

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  • MSMlies

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  • Priestess

    Very good.

  • MSMlies

    Given this article discusses the roots of some Christmas traditions with between Ancient Greece, here are some other interesting links between Hellenism and Christianity.

    The Sanskrit term Swastika 卐 has been in use in English since 1871, replacing gammadion 卐 (from Greek γαμμάδιον).

    The Gammadion Cross 卐 is formed by a group of four Greek lettergamma (Γ), the capitalised third letter of the Greek alphabet. Each gamma represents one of the four Evangelists, (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) who radiate from the central Greek Cross, which represents Christ.

    Swastika mosaic in Byzantine church in present day Judeo-Khazar Israel.

  • Priestess

    I don’t think Gammadion has anything to do with Christianity. The name gammadion comes from the fact that it can be seen as being made up of four Greek gamma (Γ) letters

    Ancient Greek priestesses would tattoo the symbol, along with the tetraskelion, on their bodies. Ancient Greek architectural designs are replete with the interlinking symbol.

    In alchemy, the gammadion was used to symbolise the four cardinal corners of the world and the guardianship of this world.


  • MSMlies

    Actually Golden Dawn MP’s have pointed out many times that the gammadion 卐 was used in Ancient Greece, as part of Ancient Hellenic “pagan” religion, and that there is obviously no doubt that this predates it’s use as a Christian symbol. This does not however negate the fact that the Gammadion cross 卐 was used by early Christians as a secret Christian symbol, just as other symbols e.g. the “Fish – ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys)” were used as secret Christian symbols.

    ΙΧΘΥΣ (Ichthys) is an acronym/acrostic for “Ίησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ”, which translates into English as “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”.

    The Gammadion Cross 卐 is formed by a group of four Greek lettergamma (Γ), the capitalised third letter of the Greek alphabet. Each gamma represents one of the four Evangelists, (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) who radiate from the central Greek Cross, which represents Christ.

    The Gammadion cross was used as secret Christian symbol by which early Christians would identify eachother as Christians without arousing the suspicions of the authorities.

    I’ve never seen that first picture (of a priestess?) before. Very nice, thanks for posting!

  • http://www.TravelShepherd.com/ Michael

    Yes, we all enjoyed the father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who claimed all English words came from the Greek.