"Will you please stop talking about religion? It's CHRISTMAS!" ~ Danille Chase, MY SO-CALLED LIFE
Christmas is another example of how much all peoples have in common. I'll be celebrating Yule on Friday, and the time time of year is celebrated in surprisingly similar ways in cultures as far apart as China and Iran.
Pat Guthmann Haresch of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks sees a deep connection between ancient winter solstice celebrations and Christmas. "Much of the symbolism used in Christmas has its origin in older religious traditions. The use of greenery, holly berries, candle light, even the symbols of a mother and her child are related to older spiritual practices before the arrival of Christianity," adding "We live in such a divided world and it would be wonderful if people of different faiths could understand the underlying connections of the holiday and that all of these celebrations are based on many of the same things, one of the most important ones being that of hope."
The Christmas tree tradition springs from honoring the evergreen; its survival throughout the year symbolizes the eternal World Tree. And here's a link with more info on the origins of the Yule Elf, now known as Santa Claus, and other Christmas traditions:
It's interesting that all these festivals, steeped in myth, are rooted in the real world. The solstice is an actual event, the night when the Earth is farthest from the sun. Cold and dark are at their peak on the longest night of the year, but it also marks the return of Spring. The days grow shorter from then. It's an example of Yin/Yang, the Asian concept of the balance of opposites.
Christmas, whether we realize it or not, has long since transcended its origins as a Christian holy day to become a secular holiday that is more about the spirit of giving and the need for peace. We have our own new myths: Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty and the Grinch to name a few.