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Christmas is a magical time for children of all ages, with each corner of the world celebrating in its own particular way. Most of these traditions date back over 4000 years, before the first Christmas, and incorporate the rituals of the various Winter Solstice and New Year's festivals.
Some legends claim that Christians considered the ancient festivals pagan and created the holiday to make one celebration which was fit for the Christian Son of God. The exact day of Christ's birth has never been pinpointed; however, his birthday has been celebrated since at least 98 AD with December 25 becoming the official date in 350 AD.
Many of the holiday traditions as we know them today have European origins. For instance, the practice of kissing under the mistletoe stems from the Romans' belief that the plant was a symbol of peace. Legend has it that when enemies met under the mistletoe, they discarded their arms and declared a truce. To the English Druids, mistletoe possessed mystical powers which would bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. The English were actually the first to associate mistletoe with Christmas.
Other modern-day traditions originated in England, such as the Christmas greeting card. This simple act of sending good cheer quickly spread throughout Europe and eventually to the States -- ultimately to the benefit of the folks at Hallmark!
If you'd like to take a closer look at other customs practiced in England, or learn how to prepare the traditional Christmas goose or Christmas pudding, stop by the London Forum on CompuServe.
In Italy, the holiday truly has become a blend of Christian and pagan beliefs, with the stronger focus being on Christianity. This is evidenced by the many artistic and elaborate manger scenes displayed in homes as well as churches throughout the country.