Christmas customs – where did these traditions come from?

While we prepare for the upcoming Christmas season with advent calendars, decorating our trees, putting lights up and hanging our stockings; have you ever wondered how these traditions became part of our celebrations? Well, we did & here’s what we found!

Christmas trees were first decorated in 16th century Germany. They chose fir trees for both indoors & out. Decorations included apples, roses, gilded candies and colored paper. It was believed in the Middle Ages to symbolize the Garden of Eden. It is also believed that Protestant reformer, Martin Luther was the first to put lights (really they were candles) on his tree after being inspired by a star filled December sky. The Christmas Tree was brought to “life” in England by Prince Albert around 1848 and by the 19th century the Pennsylvania Germans brought the Christmas tree tradition to America.

Christmas stockings came out of the legend of a nobleman that was overcome by grief at his wife’s passing that he squandered all his fortune, leaving his 3 daughters with no dowries. The generous St. Nicholas hearing their plight, anonymously threw three small pouches of gold down the chimney where they landed int he girls’ stockings that were hanging by the fireplace to dry.

Mistletoe is believed to be first used by Druid priests and the ancient Celtics believed that mistletoe had healing powers to ward off evil spirits. The plant is also seen as a symbol of piece. Roman enemies who met under mistletoe would lay down their weapons and embrace. Scandanavians believe the plant is associated with Frigga, their goddess of love – those who kissed under the mistletoe had the promise of happiness and good luck in the following year.

Poinsettias are a native Mexican plant, named after Joel R. Poinsett the U.S. ambassador to Mexico who brought the plant to America in 1828.  The bright red petals are often mistaken for flowers however they are actually the upper leaves of the plant.

Candy canes became part of 17th century Christmas after a craftsman created the white candy stick in the shape of a shepherd’s crook at the suggestion of the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.  The candy treats were originally given to children to keep them quiet during Christmas church ceremonies, soon after, this tradition spread throughout Europe.  According to the National confectioner’s Association, in 1847 German immigrant Augus Imgard used the candy cane to decorate a Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio. In the 1950’s Gregory Keller invented a machine that automated the production of candy canes.

Christmas Cards were created by Sir Henry Cole, the first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1843 he found himself too busy during the Christmas season to compose individual greetings for his friends. He commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley for the illustration. The card featured three panels, with the center panel depicting a family enjoying Christmas festivities. The card was inscribed with the message, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.”

Gift giving has a strong association with Paganism although the Roman festival  of Saturnalia featured periods of gift giving, the idea was incorporated into the traditional Christmas celebrations.

Santa Claus became part of Christmas around the Middle Ages however, Santa really only became popular in the 19th century after being depicted as a jolly stout old man wearing a red & white suit. Santa Claus is said to be inspired by St. Nicholas of Myra, a bishop, who went around giving the poor children of his village gifts.

Christmas Carols have been around long before Christmas was actualized. The carols we sing today were written in the 19th century. In the 1820’s churches adopted the tradition of carols to give a greater sense of reverence.

Whether you string up lights, garland or popcorn on your tree, we hope you enjoy a little history behind the fun traditions of Christmas!  Watch for our next blog about Christmas traditions & fun facts from around the world and don’t forget to check out some of our other great blogs on parties and ideas on our website