The holiday season incorporates many traditions beyond presents under the tree. As we prepare to spend cherished time with family and friends, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on some of our favorite practices and elements of the season.
The idea of Christmas tree was born in the 8th century as Saint Boniface was converting Germanic tribes that originally worshipped oak trees and decorated them for the winter solstice. When St. Boniface cut down one enormous oak tree used for worship, a fir tree grew in its place. The newly converted Germans saw it as a symbol of their newfound Christianity and began decorating for Christmas. Much later, in the 1840s, the German husband of England’s Queen Victoria helped popularize the Christmas tree, as did German immigrants to the United States.
Saint Nicholas, a 4th-century bishop, became the patron saint of children and was famous for giving gifts. He was known as Sint Nikolaas in Holland, but the English colonists in New York (previously the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam) mispronounced it as “Santa Claus” and that name stuck! Another name for the jolly fat man also derived from a mispronunciation. In the 1600s, German Protestants recognized December 25 as the birth of Christkindl (the Christ child), which evolved into “Kriss Kringle.”
In the Bible, the three Wise Men gave gifts to the baby Jesus, which started the tradition of giving Christmas gifts. The stories of Saint Nicholas’ gift giving made this tradition even more widespread.
The custom of writing Christmas letters as a way to offer end-of-year updates and share season’s greetings had been happening for years. But it wasn’t until 1843 that British businessman Sir Henry Cole asked artist John Calcott Horsley to create and print Christmas cards. In less than 20 years, Christmas cards were being mass produced featuring a variety of designs, including Christmas trees, mangers, Santa and snowmen.
Confectioner developed candy canes to represent Jesus in various ways, starting with the “J” shape to symbolize both Jesus’ name and His shepherd’s staff. The white represents purity, while the red stripes signify blood.
The sharp edges of holly, a traditional Christmas accruement, symbolize of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus at his crucifixion. Also, the red berries represent His blood.
The Druids believed mistletoe fell down from heaven and represented the joining of heaven and earth. It became a symbol for God’s reconciliation with mankind, and a kiss under mistletoe symbolizes both love and acceptance.
Other great Christmas traditions include:
- Advent calendars
- Listening to classic Christmas music
- Cookie exchanges
- Crafting projects, from wreaths to gingerbread houses
- Christmas stockings
- Setting out milk and cookies for Santa
- Watching quintessential Christmas movies