Christmas Death Myths, Omens & Superstitions

Maybe the season of joy isn't so jolly after all?

Fallen Christmas tree needles
Does each stray Christmas tree needle signal a death in the family in the coming year?. Photo © Johner Images/Getty Images

While people generally view superstitions with mild amusement these days, it is amazing how many of us still knock on wood to avoid tempting fate, cross our fingers for luck, or avoid walking beneath a ladder "just in case." Here are numerous Christmas-related myths, omens and superstitions involving death connected to the December 25th holiday. You may take them as seriously (or not) as you wish during the season of joy!

While every woman can probably think of countless other things she'd rather do on Christmas Day, giving birth on December 25th allegedly protects a child from dying by hanging or drowning during his or her lifetime.

Despite the lyrics of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," you should stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve so you can open your front door and release any ghosts, ghouls and evil spirits living in your home.

Avoid your cat at midnight on Christmas Eve. Legend has it that our feline friends acquire the power of speech at this time, but anyone hearing this temporary "cat speak" will soon die.

An Irish superstition holds that heaven's pearly gates open wide at midnight on Christmas Eve, which eliminates the need for the souls of the dead to first visit purgatory.

If you plan on hosting a Yuletide dinner at your home this season, make sure you invite an even number of guests because a table set for an odd number merely invites bad luck or even death in the new year.

Leave a lamp or a candle burning all night on Christmas Eve to prevent a death from occurring in your home.

A Czech superstition states that every guest must cut an apple in half, from the stem to the bottom, after the Christmas meal and show the shape of the apple's core to everyone else at the table.

A core resembling a five-pointed star ensures good health for everyone; if the core shows only four points, someone around the table will experience an illness or death in the coming year.

During a Christmas feast, whether at your home or as a guest in someone else's house, you should refrain from leaving the table once the meal starts unless you want bad luck and/or death.

The English believed that failing to gift a pair of shoes to someone in need at least once during his or her lifetime would result in that person entering the afterlife barefoot after he or she dies. If you haven't donated yet, consider adding shoes to your Christmas gift-giving list, just in case.

If you're not too handy in the kitchen, consider purchasing a ready-made cake from the store this year. Otherwise, a woman who burns the holiday cake she bakes will die in the coming year.

Superstition states that the first person to excuse him or herself from the table after a Christmas meal will die in the next year, which offers the perfect excuse to have that second helping or another piece of pie. The solution to this problem is simple: everyone should get up and leave the table at the same time.

Scandinavian folklore considered it foolhardy to venture outside on Christmas Eve, especially between dusk and dawn, because the spirits of the dead roamed freely at this time and would carry off the living.

If you use a real Christmas tree or other natural greenery in your home during the holiday, make sure you pick up every needle and/or leaf after you take down your tree or decorations. If you don't, each stray needle or leaf will result in a death in your household during the new year.

Table salt has long been associated with many death-related superstitions because of its shelf life, value and importance historically. One salt-related myth states that if you form a small pile of salt on Christmas Eve that disappears by morning, your loved ones will soon mourn your death.

If you enjoy a Christmas dinner and later plan to attend midnight mass at a Catholic church, make sure you don't cross an open field on the way there unless you want to die during the new year.

In England, if the shadow of a Christmas reveler appeared headless in the light of the Yuletide fire, he or she would die within the coming year.

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