many of us, no other word evokes more memories of childhood.
that's why Christmas traditions are so important to so many families.
Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, Santa Claus, and the inevitable
mad scramble of last minute gift shopping: they're all part of one of
the most enjoyable—and stressful!—holidays of the year.
There's a sense of continuity in celebrating in the same special ways
year after year.
Christmas Gifts Most
of our important Christmas traditions aren't as old as we often think.
Take gift giving for instance. It's hard to imagine Christmas without
presents under the tree, but the practice of buying large fancy gifts
for Christmas Day didn't really get rolling until the 1860s!
In 1867, Macy's,
the major department store in New York City, stayed open until midnight
Christmas Eve. Seven years later, in 1874, they were the first to
design their window displays around a Christmas theme. That was the
start of the gift-giving craze (so if you, like many people, feel that
Christmas has become too commercial, now you know who to blame!).
Macy's, and their brilliant marketing move, gifts were given, but they
weren't as important a part of Christmas as they are now. The tradition
goes back all the way to the Three Wise Men, who brought gifts of gold,
Frankincense and Myrrh to the infant Jesus.
Boxing Day Christmas
traditions also include giving to the poor; the British tradition of
Boxing Day—the day after Christmas—dates back to the Middle
Ages, when the Churches would open the alms box the day after Christmas
and distribute the money to the poor. Boxing Day hasn't escaped the
commercial blitz either—now it's best known for department store
Boxing Day Sales!
December 25 While some
Christmas traditions are relatively
recent, some go back thousands of years. Even the date is a tradition,
rather than an established fact. When all is said and done, no one
knows the precise date of Christ's birth.
December 25 was
chosen by the Church around 400 AD, in an attempt to replace the
various pagan winter solstice celebrations with a decidedly Christian
Mistletoe The use of mistletoe is another
hanger-on from pagan times, when it played an important role in both
Celtic druidism and the Asgardian myths of Scandinavia. The Church was
concerned with the plant's pagan past and substituted holly, making it
a symbol of Christ.
The sharp leaves of the holly plant
represent Christ's crown of thorns, and the red berries are a symbol of
his blood. In spite of this attempt to stamp out mistletoe as a
Yuletide symbol, the practice of kissing under the mistletoe has
persisted to this day.
Caroling Caroling is an old Christmas tradition. It dates all the way back
to ancient Greece, and originates in the word choraulien,
meaning "to dance to a flute." By the Middle Ages, it meant "to sing
and dance together," and over time caroling became associated with
Christmas Cards Sending
Christmas cards is a recent development. The tradition began in
England, and was helped along by the development of the public "Penny
Post" and the speed with which the new railroads could deliver mail. At
first the cards were almost exclusively religious, but they slowly
branched out to include humor and non-religious sentiments.
When two people
marry, they must negotiate and compromise which traditions will be
kept, and in which order.
She: In my family, we open our gifts Christmas Eve,
then empty our stocking on Christmas morning!
He: There's no way we're opening gifts Christmas
Eve. It's what Christmas morning is for. That's what my family has
who celebrate Christmas have developed numerous family-specific
traditions over the years. For some families, Christmas means a trip to
Grandma and Grandpa's house. Other families battle over the issue of
whether Christmas should be spent with "her" side or "his" side of the
family this year. Many young families with working parents now opt to
Another firm tradition is the timing for
opening gifts. In some families, late-night Christmas Eve is the
preferred time. Families who attend midnight services at church open
their gifts when they come home in the wee hours of Christmas morning.
In the commercial version of Christmas, small children wake at the
crack of dawn to run and check whether Santa has come. Many families
open gifts in their robes and slippers on Christmas morning.
"I will honor
Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." -
Christmas Trees Most
of the modern day trappings of Christmas originated in the European
countries and America. The Christmas tree began to appear in Germany as
early as 700 AD. It may have grown out of half-remembered druidic
traditions, or possibly out of the annual bringing in of the Yule log.
The practice spread across Europe, and by the Victorian Erapeople
were decorating the trees with candles, candy and cakes. In 1880 Woolworth's
sold the first manufactured Christmas decorations.
Xmas Using Xmas instead of Christmas also dates back a long time—Christ
in Greek is Xristos. By the 1500s the term Xmas had passed into
Santa Claus And
then, of course, there is Santa Claus. Santa's life is based on the
life of St. Nicholas, who lived in Myra, in what is now Turkey, in the
4th century AD. Nicholas was a young bishop who wanted to give money to
the poor, but was incredibly shy.
Rather than give the
money directly, legend has it that he climbed onto the roof of a
peasant's house, and dropped a bag of money down the chimney. The
moneybag landed in a sock that a young girl has hung by the fire to
dry, and it is from this story that we get the modern Christmas
stocking. Santa Claus's red costume is a reminder of the bishop's robes
worn by Nicholas.
Who are the
Reindeer? Pulling the
Sleigh (Clement Moore, 1882):
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen Guiding the Sleigh (1949): Rudolph
not altogether sure when Saint Nick's white horse was transformed into
eight sleigh-pulling reindeer. The earliest evidence was from 'Twas
the Night Before Christmas—the famous poem/story by Clement Moore.
even gave the eight reindeer their names. Although legend has it that
Saint Nicholas climbed on rooftops to drop money down the chimney,
Moore decided the reindeer could fly to the rooftop. Maybe this was
because the Right Jolly Old Elf had short legs and was unlikely to
And along with the reindeer and the sleigh
came the jingle bells. A silver jingle bell is the treasured gift from
Santa in the popular holiday story, The Polar Express.
Who Brings the Gifts?
Canada and the United States: Santa Claus Belgium: Saint Nicholas Brazil: Papai Noel The Czech Republic: Svaty Mikalas Denmark: Julemanden Early Days of the U.S.: Kris Kringle France and Quebec: Père Noël Germany: Der Weinachtsmann / Christkind Italy: La Befana (female) Japan: Hoteiosho Netherlands: Sinterklaas Nicaragua: The Three Wise Men Norway: Julebukk Sweden: The Tomte (Christmas gnome) Russia: Dedoushka Moroz / Baboushka Spain: Balthazar (of the Three Wise Men) United Kingdom: Father Christmas
waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer
and more beautiful." -
Norman Vincent Peale
Christmas Decorations and Decorating Ideas
traditional time for putting up Christmas decorations is the weekend
following Thanksgiving. And after all that rich food and football,
putting up the decorations is a good way to work in some exercise!
(This is also the biggest weekend for holiday gift shopping.)
some, Christmas decorations are as simple as a decorated Christmas tree
inside and a festive wreath on the front door. For others, decorating
for Christmas becomes an all out festival of Christmas lights, lawn and
rooftop ornaments, and all sorts of other indoor and outdoor Christmas
Decorating Ideas for Outdoors
For a festive, but gentle scene, suitable for the approaching "Silent
Night, Holy Night," line your drive and walkways with luminaries. These
can be made by hand cutting shapes (snowflakes, stars, snowmen, etc)
with an X-Acto knife out of colored and waxed lunch bags. But if you're
not crafty, commercial luminaries are also lovely. Note: Paper bag
luminaries are not recommended for snowy or rainy locales.
When decorating your front lawn or entryway with a nativity scene
highlight the scene with lights. If possible, light the scene from
above to simulate starlight shining down on the Holy Family. And, light
the scene with soft lighting from the front to illuminate their faces.
A Gift Giving
Do something different this year; make your outdoor space a place for
gifts...giant gifts. Wrap wood crates (or large cardboard boxes if you
live in a dry area or one with early snow and no thaw 'til spring) in
large sheets of Christmas paper (foil or waxed is best) and a large
bow. Highlight the ribbons and bows with a string of lights. For the
best scene use a number of different sizes and shapes of boxes/crates.
Pile them up, tip them sideways, get creative, and have fun! Carry the
theme to your front and garage doors.
Choose a theme and go with it. Some ideas for themes include: candy
canes, snowflakes, snowmen, Christmas trees, angels, candles, bells,
reindeer, and of course Santa Clause and his sleigh! Other
"non-traditional" options are the Grinch or favorite cartoon characters
celebrating the holiday.
Some neighborhoods are known for their decorations and people come from
miles around just to tour the neighborhood each Christmas season.
Possible neighborhood decorating ideas include enlisting adjoining
neighbors to mount a reindeer on each of their roofs while you mount
Santa and his sleigh, lighted toy soldiers marching through the
neighborhood, and stings of white or colored Christmas lights
connecting all homes in the neighborhood.