Rick BissonThe holiday season is upon us. Christmas carols are being sung and festive decorations are being hung. The holiday season is rich with tradition and full of nostalgia. Many of these traditions have roots in ancient cultures that predate Christmas.

Greenery and lights: The use of greenery has links back to Druid, Celt, Norse, and Roman civilizations. Celebrating the winter solstice on or around Dec. 21, they chose plants that remained green throughout the year. To these ancient peoples the color green represented eternal life.

Additionally, ancient cultures believed that bringing in green branches would ensure the return of vegetation at winter’s end. They used holly in pagan religious rituals as well as to decorate their homes.

The Romans celebrated the solstice with a mid-winter holiday called the Saturnalia, honoring the Roman god Saturn. They lit candles in their homes, spent time with friends and family, decorated their homes with wreaths and garlands, exchanged gifts, and feasted.

For several centuries after the birth of Christ, the Romans continued to celebrate Saturnalia. Christians began celebrating the birth of Christ in December while the Romans were holding their pagan celebrations. By decorating their homes with holly as the Romans did, Christians avoided detection and persecution.

As early as 1444, evergreen boughs were used as Christmas decorations in London. In 16th-century Germany, evergreen branches were intertwined in a circular shape to symbolize God’s love, which has no beginning and no end.

Mistletoe: The Romans considered mistletoe to be a symbol of hope and peace. In the Roman era, enemies reconciled under the mistletoe.

Mistletoe was an important element in the Norse legend of Balder. According to mythology, Balder was slain, through treachery, by a weapon made of the one thing that could kill him – mistletoe.

During the Victorian period in England, holiday decorations included an ornate “kissing ring,” which had sprigs of mistletoe fastened to it. The ring was suspended from the ceiling and girls were kissed beneath it.

Christmas tree: The “modern” Christmas tree is a German tradition believed by some to have originated in the 8th century with the English missionary St. Boniface. German immigrants brought this Christmas tree tradition to the United States. They decorated the trees with berries, popcorn, and Christmas gifts for the family.

However, it is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Luther is said to have cut an evergreen tree and adorned the tree with lighted candles. The lights represented the starry sky above the stable the night Christ was born.

Poinsettia: Poinsettias are called the “flower of the Holy Night” because their red bracts are said to represent the flaming Star of Bethlehem. Native to Mexico, the plant was cultivated by the Aztecs.

Seventeenth-century Franciscan priests in Mexico used the plant as part of their Nativity celebration because it bloomed during the Advent season.

The plant is named after Dr. Joel Poinsett, an American ambassador to Mexico from 1825 to 1829, who was so taken with the plant that he sent cuttings home to South Carolina. The plants flourished in Poinsett’s greenhouse.

Many of the ancient traditions mentioned above are celebrated and remembered to this day – especially those with themes of peace, hope and family.

Whether your Christmas celebrations are rooted in ancient history or favor a modern theme, consider these words from legendary actor Bob Hope, “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: Loving others.”

From our family to yours, thank you for your readership and for a successful 2017. We wish you a loving holiday season, a very Merry Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous 2018.