The tradition of Christmas is a tradition of traditions. Every family carries their own. Even though they morph over the years, those traditions are part of what makes this time of year so awesome. That, and all the treats.
In the Western world, no holiday compares to Christmas. We spend more money, more time, and give more attention to the Christmas holiday than any other, even if we’re not religious.
Many traditions we’ve borrowed from other religions. Case in point, that lighted triangular tree in our homes has nothing to do with the story of Jesus. That’s okay. It’s still fun as heck to decorate.
As we celebrate, we ought to pay respects to the traditions old and new, but especially those we’ve forgotten. These are the lost traditions of Christmas.
Telling Ghoulish Tales
Christmas tradition borrows a lot from polytheistic religions, but that is a hot topic to bring up around the Christmas ham. Unless you’re brave, it’s best not to delve into that debate.
What you can do, however, is mention that people used to tell ghostly tales on Christmas Eve. Do this only if you’ve made time to learn one yourself. Believe it or not, there are whole books dedicated to scary Christmas tales.
Gather your friends and family around the yule log, turn off the lights, then scare the jingle bells off them. If there are kids present, end with The Night Before Christmas instead of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Burning The Ashen F**got
This is not a clever attempt to use pernicious language. That is what they called it, so perhaps this one is best left in history.
It’s not much different than what we do at Christmas anyway, burning logs in the fire, but nobody would call it by that name.
As any schoolboy knows, because we all looked it up after getting called that name, the word in question means a bundle of sticks. Think fire-starter.
The bundles were most often Ash, chosen for the associated mystical powers of the Ash Tree. Before burning it, they would wrap the bundle in nine green lengths of ash from the same tree as the sticks.
They would burn the bundle, drink and sing Christmas songs until the bundle unfolded.
Wassailing For The Harvest
The key parts of wassailing were the exchange of hot ciders and rousing songs. Sometimes the wassail would take place in an orchard, sometimes at the door of someone’s home.
As Christmas traditions go, this one took place on the 12th day of Christmas. In case you don’t know, that’s not December 12th. The 12th day lands around January 5th, twelves days after the 25th of December.
This is another tradition rooted in another religion, in this case quite literally. The spirit of the ceremony was to scare away bad spirits and wake up the apple trees for the new year’s harvest.
These days, we still go caroling, but most people don’t know where that tradition came from either. It came from wassailing.
Performing Mummer’s Plays
This tradition hails from the middle ages, as early as 1216 AD. Mummers, are performers who put on shows wearing elaborate masks and costumes. The costumes were sometime ratty with scraps of fabric.
The shows involve two characters engaged in a battle: King George and the Turkish Knight. One falls but is always revived by a third character, the doctor.
Father Christmas sometimes makes an appearance, as may the fool or Beelzebub. Some productions threw out this format altogether. The key was the scrappy costumes and masks.
They performed shows in the streets, but also in pubs or at someone’s house. By the 1400’s, officials outlawed Mummer’s plays, presumably because of the masks, which create a security concern.
Eating 12 Mincemeat Pies
This one we should bring back. Starting December 25th, folks during the middle ages in Europe ate one mincemeat pie every day for each of the 12 days.
Mincemeat pies, sometimes known as mutton or Christmas pies, were a mixture of meats, spices, and fruit. Think something between a chicken pot pie and apple pie on the flavor spectrum.
They were sweet and meaty pies, loaded with all the wrong calories. Folks in Europe still eat mincemeat pies, but the tradition of one per day is not observed.
I’m leaning towards the ghost stories as something worth bringing back. Perhaps we could all agree to do that, and maybe eat just one mincemeat pie as we tell stories?
Okay, it’s set then. Get ready to put on your scariest Jack mask, from The Nightmare Before Christmas. This is gonna be your new favorite forgotten tradition of Christmas.