Sections

Weather Forecast

Close
Advertisement
candy canes were first used to decorate a Christmas tree by a German immigrant. It is believed that the colors of the candy canes represent Christ, the blood he shed and the Holy Trinity.

Christmas Traditions

Email News Alerts

From Christmas trees to ornaments, Santa Claus to his reindeer, stockings to gift giving, where did all of the Christmas traditions come from?

Advertisement
Advertisement

The History Channel, along with a few online websites, can provide an array of information about the popular holiday that's celebrated worldwide.

Although some countries observe similar traditions to those Americans recognize, Christmas is not exactly celebrated the same way everywhere.

But for now, we'll examine the most popular traditions that all of us in the United State treasure, appreciate and look forward to every December.

Let's begin with the jolly old generous man known as Santa Claus. Or should we say "Sinter Klaas."

The origins of the legend can be traced back hundreds of years to the story of St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey, according to the History Channel.

St. Nicholas gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside to help the poor and sick. One of the best-known stories is when he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father, by providing them each with a dowry so they could be married.

Allthingschristmas.com reports that St. Nicholas rode his white horse to the women's father's home and threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney, where stockings hung near the fireplace to dry captured the fortune that saved them.

"Nicholas's popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors," a History Channel article reports.

Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters in 1822 that is now responsible for Santa's image.

"Although some of Moore's imagery was probably borrowed from other sources, his poem helped popularize the now-familiar image of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve in 'a miniature sleigh' led by eight flying reindeer," the History Channel reports.

St. Nicholas joined the American culture in the 18th century. In December of 1773 and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor his death on Dec. 6.

The name Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch version, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of "Sint Nikolaas."

Since the holidays rejuvenated in the 19th century, gift-giving became an important tradition where kids expected Santa Claus to make all of their wishes come true.

Retail stores, and later shopping malls began taking advantage of the season by allowing kids to visit with Santa as well as advertise for sales and promotions.

In 1841, according to the History Channel, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa model.

It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children -- and their parents -- and lure them to peek at a "live" Santa Claus, the History Channel reports.

The Salvation Army also needed help raising money to serve meals to the needy on Christmas, so they began dressing up volunteers in Santa Claus suits to collect donations on New York streets. Salvation Army bell ringers still, to this day, solicit donations in almost every American town during the holiday season.

Christmas trees, ornaments and lights date back long before the advent of Christianity. According to the History Channel, just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce and fir trees, ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows.

"In many countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits and illness," states an article on the history of Christmas trees, found at history.com (The History Channel online).

In the 16th century, the Germans began decorating trees and bringing them into their homes after Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree.

He got the idea walking home one evening when he saw stars twinkling amidst evergreens. When he got home, he placed a tree in the living room and wired its branches with lighted candles. Today's electricity of course makes it a lot easier to deck the halls.

In the early 20th century, Americans began decorating their trees with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples (to symbolize the Garden of Eden), nuts and marzipan cookies.

Candy canes were also used to decorate trees by the Europeans. The Huffington Post reports that the originally sugar stick candies represented a shepherd's staff and were given to children during nativity services to keep them quiet.

The canes, which were then solid white, became a part of the American tradition when a German immigrant decorated his own Christmas tree with them.

According to allthingschristmas.com, the white represents Christ's purity, while the red symbolizes the blood he shed. The three red stripes represent the Holy Trinity.

Although every family that celebrates Christmas has created traditions of their own, children (and adults) still enjoy seeing Santa Claus, eating candy canes, decorating festive trees and exchanging gifts during the holiday season.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement