The Origins of Christmas Traditions

‘Tis the season for decking the halls, trimming the tree, and making merry without giving any of it a second thought, but have you ever wondered what the origins of our most commonplace holiday traditions are? Perhaps a little insight into some of these rituals will give them further meaning and poignancy to you and your family!

Oh, Christmas Tree...

christmas tree 83121_640 Oh Christmas Tree...

Who would have ever thought that bringing a giant, living tree into your house and festooning it with myriad ornaments and decorations was a good idea? Apparently, the Germans did. The central, and most prominent Christmas decoration, the modern day Christmas tree, originated around the 15th or 16th century in Germany. These first trees were decorated with fruits, nuts, and other pretty edibles. The Christmas tree tradition would catch on in many countries around the world, with each culture contributing to the various ornaments we now place on the tree. The artificial tree was also a German invention. In the 19th century, the Germans made dyed goose feather “trees” in response to deforestation. Fake trees would eventually be made of brush bristles, aluminum, or now, more commonly out of PVC.

Here We Come A-wassailing…

carol singers 77903_640 Here We Come A-wassailing…

Who doesn’t picture Dickens-era carolers meandering through the snowy streets spreading Christmas cheer with their ancient yuletide hymns whenever they hear the term “a-wassailing”? Early versions of Christmas carols can actually be traced back all the way to 4th century Rome. Like other Christmas traditions, the idea of carols “went viral” across Europe, and evidence of the first carols written in the English language were recorded in the early 15th century. It’s not uncommon to still see merrymakers going from door to door serenading folks with tidings of comfort and joy. These days, we have both religious and secular Christmas songs that serve as the backdrop to our holiday revelry.

Hung by the Chimney with Care…

stockings Hung by the Chimney with Care…

All we now know about stockings comes purely from legend and traces back to everyone’s friend, Saint Nicholas. Saint Nick, as he’s often referred to, was a 4th century Christian bishop in the area now known as Turkey. He was known for his philanthropic acts, such as leaving coins in the shoes of the poor who left them outside for him to fill. Based on this, he became the model for who we now refer to as Santa Claus. Eventually kids began to leave out one of their socks to be filled, and later this evolved into stockings fashioned specifically for this purpose being hung by the chimney with care. While it was once common to get fruit and nuts in one’s stocking, modern practice is to place candy, gift cards, and small toys within. Traditionally, a stocking’s contents are opened before the gifts under the tree are tackled, but every family has their own special way of celebrating Christmas morning!

With Every Christmas Card I Write…

card With Every Christmas Card I Write…

Either you love, or vehemently dislike, writing out and mailing Christmas cards each year, but it’s still quite commonplace to exchange them. Compared to the aforementioned traditions, this one is fairly young in comparison. In the mid-19th century, an English inventor named Sir Henry Cole commissioned the first commercially produced Christmas cards from a local illustrator by the name of John Callcott Horsley. The card was controversial because it depicted a child drinking wine. However, this scandal only served to make the card more popular, and Cole sold over 2000 copies. Christmas cards found their way across the pond in the late 19th century and have become a holiday staple ever since. These days, folks commonly customize cards online or send e-cards instead of a printed version.

Now Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding

Quail Now Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding

Or don’t. Thankfully certain Christmas traditions of yore have gone by the wayside, despite the fact that we continue to sing their lyrical praises with each passing year. Figgy pudding originated hundreds of years ago in England and never quite caught on in the States. Other foregone Christmas fare includes oysters, quail, boar’s head, goose, and fish pie. Somehow the much maligned fruitcake, a version of which can be traced back to ancient Rome, has stood the test of time, though you might be hard pressed to find anyone who actually likes it.

This is just a small sample of the countless Christmas traditions we enjoy each year! Rituals we take for granted have a long and interesting history, and perhaps we can start a new tradition of teaching our children about their origins!

EAT

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STAY

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