The History of Christmas Traditions

Every year, many of us get excited for the celebrations and all of the traditions and festivities that surround the holiday. We look forward to the lights, the Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and decorating with green and red decorations. But have you ever stopped to consider where these traditions originated? Find out how some of your favorite holiday traditions started!

christmas_tree_candles_flame_fire_red_green_bright_picLet’s begin with one of the biggest symbols of the Christmas season: the Christmas tree. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we know it today. During the sixteenth century in Germany, there were many fervently religious Christians who brought decorated trees into their homes. Some believe it was Martin Luther who was the first to add lit candles to the decorated trees. Story has it that one night while walking home after a sermon, he was taken away by the beauty of the stars twinkling between the evergreen trees. The lights he added to the decorated trees was an effort to recapture nature’s beauty.

It wasn’t until the 1800s that the Christmas tree was brought to America. The first record of a Christmas tree was in 1830 when German settlers in Pennsylvania celebrated with a tree. However, the tradition was not accepted by most Americans right off the bat. At the time, Puritans in America viewed Christmas as very sacred and many considered the Christmas tree tradition to be a mockery or a “heathen” tradition. But by around the late 1800s, Christmas ornaments were coming over from Germany and the popularity of the Christmas tree started to grow. Interestingly, Europeans used small trees that were only about four feet tall, while the Americans tended to prefer really tall trees that reached the ceiling. Americans also tended to decorate their trees with homemade ornaments, while Germans typically used apples, nuts, or cookies. As electricity was invented and Christmas lights were put on the trees, the popularity grew and expanded to towns and business and soon became a tradition in nearly every American home!

What about Santa Claus? This tradition began many years ago. The name Santa Claus has actually changed over the years, with the original name being Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a bishop known for his generosity. He wanted to be able to help stockings_christmas_presents_bear_toys_picpeople without any praise or outside acknowledgement of his good deeds (though someone obviously figured it out!). He simply gave for the joy of giving to others. The stories of Saint Nicholas were brought to America by Dutch settlers who told of his quiet acts of goodness.

It was also thanks to Saint Nicholas that we enjoy the tradition of hanging our stockings! The exact origins aren’t known for sure, but it is believed that it started with Saint Nicholas. In his day, there was a poor widower who had three daughters. Because they were poor, they had no chance to pay a dowry, and therefore, no chance of marriage. Saint Nicholas left gold coins in the girl’s stockings as they hung over the chimney at night to dry. Hence, the tradition to hang up stockings over the fireplace for Santa Claus to leave gifts as you sleep began.

Then, there are the Christmas lights—where did they come from and how did they start? Back in the 1800s, Thomas Edison was known for his “stunts” and trials with electricity. But in the year 1880, he decided to put the first electric lights on a Christmas tree. This is when Christmas lights were born. He figured it a good way to begin advertising for the light bulb. He put lights on Christmas trees around the town for people to see his invention and spread the word. Something we now take for granted, back in the day, having lights on a tree was a very impressive feat! So due to the fun festivity, as well as the beauty of the lights, the tradition has grown and stuck around centuries later!

And last, but not least, how about one of the most popular Christmas candies, the candy cane? The first candy cane was made in Germany about 250 years ago. But they started out as white sugar sticks. Story has it that back around 1670, a choirmaster was worried about children being able to sit quietly during the rather long Christmas nativity service. So, to help remedy this, he gave them the white sugar sticks to help keep them quiet. candy_cane_peppermint_red_white_evergreen_branches_leaves_picHe wanted to help the children remember Christmas, so he shaped them into a shepherd’s crook, to remind them of the shepherds that went to visit the baby Jesus at that first Christmas. Sometime later in the 1900s, red stripes and peppermint or wintergreen flavoring were added to candy canes. Some believe the white of the candy cane signifies the purity of Jesus, and the red color His blood on the cross.

Now, next time you go to put up your Christmas tree or hang your stockings, you’ll know where these traditions started—hopefully helping you remember the good individuals like Saint Nicholas who started the traditions!


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