The Origins of 10 Christmas Traditions
By Aubrie Wise
As Christmas time approaches, people look forward to celebrating their Christmas traditions, but looking deeper, do they make sense? We hang up large socks to put gifts in, kiss under a plant, and put out desserts for a fat man who enters our house through the chimney. So where did all these odd traditions come from?
The origins of Stockings actually come from a folk tale. In the story, a father has three beautiful daughters but is poor and worries no one will marry them. St. Nicholas overhears their plight and wants to help. However, he knows the father would never outrightly accept anything, so he sneaks into their house late at night by sliding down their chimney. Once in, he puts gold coins in each of the girls laundred stockings which were hanging out to dry by the fireplace.
The story grew throughout time and the ritual of putting socks out for St. Nicholas has changed from children’s oversized fathers socks to handmade stockings that hang by the fireplace.
The Mistletoe is one Christmas tradition that has been shaped by many cultures throughout the years to form the Mistletoe we have today. Mistletoe is a plant that grows on a range of trees, and in the ancient times of the Druids it was used to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the household. This began the tradition of hanging a Mistletoe up during Christmas times as it was often used during ceremonies to ‘right wrongdoers’ and then burnt after Christmas.
The tradition of kissing under the Mistletoe comes from Norse Mythology where it is considered a symbol of love and friendship. As well as, from England in which the custom was originally that before a person could be kissed a berry had to be picked from the Mistletoe, and once the berries ran out there was no more kissing.
Santa Claus or St. Nicholas can be traced back to a monk named Nicholas from 280 A.D. He became a man of a legend who was admired for his kindness and known for his wealth. Many legends are rooted back to him including the folklore tale mentioned already for stockings. As his legend grew, people began to celebrate his death on December 6th.
This is how the legend made its way to America, a newspaper featured a Dutch family honoring the death of “Sinter Klaas” the Dutch nickname for St. Nicholas. Over time, spread of stories, and with the growth of commercial Christmas Santa Claus was transformed into the jolly fat man with a white beard we picture today.
Naughty or Nice?
The origins of ‘naughty or nice’ come from an Italian story of the Christmas witch, La Befana. She is depicted as covered in soot from climbing through chimneys, red eyes, thick lips, an eerie expression, and rides a broomstick.
The story goes that she is nice to the well behaved children and gives them treats. The bad, however, she turns to dust. La Befana is also where the tradition of leaving cookies out for Santa derives from as children would do whatever they can to get on her good side.
The tradition of giving and receiving presents originates from the Religious aspects of Christmas. Christmas is celebrated by Christians as the birth of Jesus. The tradition of giving gifts is believed to have been started by the Three Wise Men who brought Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh to Jesus for his birth.
Others, also, see giving presents through the overarching present God gave to the world with the birth of his son. John 3:16, a Bible verse says, “For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only Son, so whoever believes in him, will not perish but have eternal life forever.”
Christmas trees are often credited to the Germans who began the tradition of bringing the evergreen trees into the household at Christmas time, but the tradition of using evergreens began long before that.
In the early ancient times, many cultures saw the evergreens as special because they retained their green color even during the winter. Ancient people would decorate their houses, especially doors and windows, with evergreens because it was believed they kept evil spirits and witches away. Egyptians, also decorated their homes with evergreens during the Winter Solstice, December 21st and 22nd, in celebration of their sun god, Ra. Since the Winter Solstice has the longest night, they see all days afterwards as the rebirth and life of Ra, as the days slowly get longer.
The custom of Christmas cards originated more recently in the U.K in 1843. A government official of the time, Sir Henry Cole had helped set up the new Public Record Office (Post Office), but he wanted to find a way to allow ordinary people to use it, and thus came the idea of Christmas Cards.
The first Christmas card was painted by Sir Henry Cole’s friend, John Horsley, and sold for one shingling a piece. They were very rare and expensive for that time, and only the rich were able to purchase them. However, as printing methods became easier over time, the cards became more and more popularized.
Christmas Caroling is a unique tradition because no one knows for sure where it stems from. Some believe it originates from Pagan celebrations on the Winter Solstice in which they would dance and sing songs around a fire.
Others believe in the legend of a little girl named Carol Poles who went missing around Christmas season. Supposedly, the parents and family of Carol went door-to-door singing to show good intentions and then asking if anyone had seen her.
Name of ‘Christmas’
The word ‘Christmas’ comes from multiple languages and word play. The word is a conjunction of an old English term “Cristes Maesse” which means “Christ’s Mass” The reasoning for this is Christians began celebrating the birth of Jesus through an extended holiday season of Advent leading up to, what we would call now, the Christmas Eve ceremony or Midnight Mass as they called it.
The word “Christ” is a popular nickname for Jesus. It is actually, a title, however derived from the Greek language meaning “Appointed One” which derives from the Hebrew word “Messiah” as used to describe Jesus by the Old Testament prophets. Nickolas
A popular story of the origin of Candy Canes is a choirmaster was afraid the children would not be able to sit still throughout the entire Nativity scene, so he gave the children white sugar sticks shaped like a “J” to resemble a Shepherd’s crook, to remind them of the shepherds who visited Jesus.
Others speculate Candy Canes to have a deeper religious symbolism. They see the “J” shape to stand for Jesus, the white is to represent the purity of Jesus and his birth and the red stripes to represent the blood he shed when he died on the cross years later. Even the peppermint flavor is related to the hyssop plant used for purifying in the Bible.