Celebrations at mid-winter predate Christian times by millennium and whilst Christmas became a Christian festival many of the original superstitions of pagan times are still observed. Four thousand years ago, Egyptians (3110- 30BC) celebrated the rebirth of the sun with a festival that lasted 12 days to reflect the 12 divisions in the sun's calendar. Evergreens were cherished because they symbolised the season to come. Using palms with 12 shoots to represent a complete year they decorated their houses with greenery in a similar way to what we do now.
In Ancient Rome. people decorated their homes with greenery and the usual order of the year was suspended and grudges and quarrels forgotten. Wars were interrupted or temporarily set aside. and merriment of all kinds prevailed. These sentiments are very similar to the cheer promoted in the greeting of today's Christmas cards.
Yule logs were traditionally burnt during the winter festival and the ashes and embers were kept for good luck for the following year. It was a very bad omen if the Yuletide embers were touched by either a flat-footed woman or a cross eyed man. The Evil Eye is well documented in occult culture. Keeping Christmas cake or the remains of the Yule Log under the bed was also thought to help get rid of chilblains.
An old English saying was "If you do not give a new pair of shoes to a poor person at least once in your lifetime, you will go barefoot in the next world." This belief may be the reason why Christmas gifts were exchanged by the middle classes so as to avoid poverty. In any event many people gave presents to the poor and miniature shoes became popular gifts for good luck from the 18th century onwards. One reason why miniature shoe was given instead of the real thing might be because superstitious people believe if you give a friend a new pair of shoes then they were sure to walk away from you. Wearing new shoes on Christmas Day was also thought, by many, to bring bad luck.
The traditional Greece custom of burning old shoes during the Christmas season to prevent misfortunes in the coming year shares a rationale with the belief the shoe contains the spirit of the wearer and foul smells repel evil. It was not uncommon to inhale the flames of burning shoes in the belief it would cure respiratory conditions. However, this is not recommended today as shoes contain so many synthetic polymers potentially hazardous to health, when ignited.