Reviving the Christmas Spirit: Forgotten Christmas Traditions to Reclaim the Christmas Season

Baylor professor offers three practices to reignite Christmas spirit

December 14, 2023
Foley shares three practices to recapture the essence of Christmas and bring more joy to the season for your family.

(Image Credit: Ekaterina Fedulyeva/Getty Images)

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WACO, Texas (Dec. 14, 2023) -- Christmas is just around the corner and many families have already decorated their homes and started celebrating their Christmas traditions – but many stores have had their Christmas products out for months. This early bombardment of holiday advertisements and adornments often takes away from the excitement. So how do you recapture the true spirit of Christmas?

Baylor University Honors College professor Michael Foley, Ph.D., who teaches in the Great Texts Program, has

Michael Foley, Ph.D.
Michael Foley, Ph.D.

researched the history of common Christmas traditions and uncovered forgotten customs.

“Christmas is indeed the most wonderful time of year, and that wonder is increased when we understand why we do the things we do,” Foley said. “Our delight in the season becomes greater when we appreciate the history and symbolism of the Christmas tree or why we kiss under the mistletoe.”

Foley shares three practices to recapture the essence of Christmas and bring more joy to the season for your family.

Enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas

Historically, the season of Advent during the weeks leading up to Christmas was a period of joyful restraint and preparation. During the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas Day on Dec. 25 to the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6, people would celebrate a release with a continuous period of leisure and merriment.

“Today, the Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier each year. In the 20th century, the commercial season began the day after Thanksgiving, but now stores inundate the market with Christmas decorations much earlier,” Foley said. “The problem with this arrangement is that by the time Christmas finally comes, you’re tired of it. The older model has an organic build-up to the big day and then a great, 12-day release.”

Returning to a slower-paced season full of cheerful spirits in the 12 days following Christmas is a way to recenter, refocus and reignite your Christmas spirit, Foley said.

Capture the Joy of Incarnation

It’s easy to get caught up in the festivities and pressure of the holiday, but it is also important to return to the reason behind Christmas, Foley said, and take time to understand the meaning behind what seem like meaningless customs.

“The best traditions capture the fact that God became man in order to redeem us from our sins out of sheer love for us,” he said.

Practices like caroling and gathering with family for food and drink are all acts of gratitude and joy that can remind us of God’s love. What may seem like typical holiday decorations, the holly wreath and the Christmas tree, are actually symbols of Christ bringing new life, Foley said.

Embrace the Bizarre

Today, Christmas is surrounded by a light, cheery feeling. But history tells us that there has always been a certain “dark side” of Christmas.

“There is a reason why Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve,” Foley said. “All of winter was the season of fiends, and they were not happy that the winter solstice around Christmas Day marked the beginning of the end of the long dark nights and that Jesus Christ was born and triumphed over evil.”

Other traditions involve swapping places with someone such as a parent and child, abbots and novices, or men and women.

“At one time, this custom of inverted social roles played an important role in gaining clarity and releasing tension in a hierarchical society,” Foley said.

While this might seem useless, impractical, or even pointless today, it can still offer value to the Christmas joy.

“These inversion customs are a giddy imitation of the ultimate inversion in all of history,” Foley said. “That Almighty God chose to become a little baby in a measly manger.”

Although some forgotten customs might seem odd to us today, there can be a certain kind of wisdom behind them – a wisdom that leads us back to the true spirit of Christmas, Foley said. After all, even Ebenezer Scrooge was able to find joy in Christmas again.

Michael Foley is a Professor of Patristics in the Honors College at Baylor University and the author of 17 books, including Why We Kiss under the Mistletoe: Christmas Traditions Explained. 


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. 


The Honors College at Baylor University unites four innovative interdisciplinary programs – the Honors Program, University Scholars, Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and Great Texts – with a shared commitment to providing undergraduate students the opportunity to pursue questions that often fall between the cracks of the specialized disciplines by investigating the writings of scientists along with the writings of poets, historians and philosophers. For more information, visit the Honors College website