Archive for Holidays

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Conclusion

While not many of the traditions we celebrate as a part of our American Christmas began in our country, they were meaningful to the cultures that created them. And, they are just as meaningful to us today. Even if the meaning is somewhat different.

One thing is abundantly clear, Christmas is a joyous occasion that we spend with family and friends to not only celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but to enjoy one another’s company, if only for one day out of the year.

It is my sincerest hope that you have enjoyed reading about where our American Christmas traditions originated from and that you remember even though we may come from different places across the globe, we are all connected as brothers and sisters.

Wishing You A Happy & Healthy Holiday,

Eric Ten

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 11

Chapter 11

The Poinsettia

You would think, after reading that most of our American holiday traditions stemmed from Europe, that it would only stand to reason that the tradition of placing Poinsettia flowers around our homes would also come from that region.

Well, if you thought that, you would be 100%. . . . .Wrong!

Actually, this tradition came all the way from. . . .Mexico!

That’s right. Mexico is the correct answer.

Our American tradition of displaying Poinsettias around our homes was the brain child of none other than Joel Roberts Poinsett. I mean, check out the name! You knew it was coming :-).

If it were not for Joel R. Poinsett’s love of botany, we may have never even known about this beautiful and festive flower at all. In 1825, Joel Robers Poinsett was appointed to the prestigious title of the United States Ambassador  to Mexico.

On one of his journeys to Mexico, he discovered the vibrantly red flower. He immediately fell in love with it as a practicing botanist, and shipped some of them back to his home in Greenville, South Carolina.

After a short time of cultivating the flowers inside his hothouses, he began sending them to his friends and family as a Christmas gift.

Now, we display them within our own homes. And can purchase them from any greenhouse or corner shop.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 10

Chapter 10

The Christmas Card

No, Hallmark didn’t start this. It was an English man by the name of Sir Henry Cole in 1843. You see, Sir Henry needed a way to send out Christmas cards to family and friends to help the not so fortunate souls. And writing each one out by hand would be a tedious and timely task. Try saying that 3 times fast!

So, he hired a guy by the name of  John Calcott Horsley to pick up the process. John set off to work and began hand painting an image onto a card that depicted the act of celebrating a joyous Christmas with family.

Under the picture read a caption that said, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You”. While the idea wasn’t one that inspired Sir Henry’s friends and family to join in on his crusade, and he didn’t send any more cards out the following year, the idea of sending holiday wishes and greetings did.

Kate Greenaway, a prominent Victorian children’s book writer and illustrator, assisted with the help of Frances Brundage and Ellen Clapsaddle, designed the first popular Christmas cards during the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s.

Still, 30 years or so after this, Americans that wanted Christmas cards to send off, had to import them direclty from England. So England is responsible for the creation and tradition of the Christmas card.

Until in 1875, a German immigrant by the name of Louis Prang, started his very own lithography shop within the United States. At first, Louis didn’t create traditional looking Christmas cards that we’re familiar with today. As more people requested wintery scenes and Christmas tidings, Louis came up with some of the most beautiful designs ever spied with the human eye. By the time it was 1881, Louis was creating better than 5 million Christmas cards every year!

Can you say millionaire?

Today, we can find all sorts of different Christmas cards sporting every Christmas greeting imaginable in shops all across the U.S.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Santa Claus

The tradition of Santa Claus goes back centuries and is one of the reasons why we give gifts today. Even though no mention of this was made previously. That’s because the tradition of Santa Claus is a story that deserves a section all by itself.

Santa Claus, as we know and love him today didn’t start out that way. It all began in the 4th century A.D. With a man by the name of St. Nicholas.

What bridges the gap between modern day Santa Claus and the legend of St. Nicholas was his endearing acts of generosity.

It is said that in one particular act of kindness and generosity St. Nicholas save the lives of three sisters. The story goes that three sisters were to be sold by their father into slavery, or prostitution, because he was a poor, but God fearing man, and had no dowries to bestow upon his daughters to save them from this terrible future. St. Nicholas heard of this man, and so one night, St. Nicholas ventured off to his home.

Peering in the window, St. Nicholas saw the three sisters fast asleep in their bed. He noticed that they had just finished washing up their stockings and hung them to dry by the window and the fireplace.

As the story goes, St. Nicholas then took many gold pieces from his pockets and began throwing them through the window and down the chimney.

Amazingly enough, the gold pieces fell into the sister’s stockings, and when they awoke in the morning, they found their stockings filled with shimmering gold pieces that saved their lives from a destitute future.

That’s just one act of charity St. Nicholas performed. And it is the most well known and retold account. He performed many other everyday “miracles” rescuing the poor from the fates that awaited them.

His legend spread throughout Europe like wildfire, and hopeful children would leave their stockings hung beside the chimney. And in some cultures, their wooden shoes sitting on the hearth. They would awake in the mornings to find all sorts of presents and goodies filled their empty stockings, or shoes.

What is of important significance about Nicholas was at the time he was performing these acts of kindness, he was not a Saint. He was an ordinary man with an extraordinary heart. He cared for his fellow man and was a devout follower of Christianity modeling his life around it. Because of his good deeds and acts of charity to the less fortunate, he ascended to Sainthood.

But, the then St. Nicholas looked nothing like the Santa Claus we are familiar with in today’s American society however.

This new vision of Santa came long after, but his character was based on the legendary St. Nicholas. And what a wonderful person to base a figure loved by children the world over after!

Around the 17th century in Britain, there was a notoriously jolly man that delivered gifts to children across the country on Christmas Eve, lovingly referred to as Father Christmas. He wasn’t exactly our vision of Santa Claus, but it’s pretty darn close.

Father Christmas was a somewhat portly fellow, had a white beard, an older gentleman with a cheerful face, and dressed in a green robe trimmed in white fur that carried a staff. Basically, he looked like an older Christian fellow. Or maybe “Gandalf” from the Lord of the Rings? Yeah. You get the picture.

If you watch the classic Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, and spy the “Ghost of Christmas Past”, well that is similar to what Father Christmas looked like. With the white beard and hair of course ;-).

But, how did Santa get is name?

Chalk that one up to the Dutch. People from the Netherlands also had created their own version of Santa. But to them, he was called by the name “Sinterklaas”. Sounds a lot like “Santa Claus”, right?

It doesn’t end there though. Wonder where all Santa’s little helpers came from? Yep, I’m speaking about the elves. Well, those were a contribution of the Dutch too!

The story goes that St. Nicholas set free a little Ethiopian boy named “Piter” from a Myra marketplace where he was to serve indefinitely throughout his life. Because of this, Piter decided to devote his life to his savior, St. Nicholas, and help him out with his work.

Later on, the one “helper” became many. And so we have Santa’s helpers, the elves, helping Santa get ready for the biggest night of the year, Christmas Eve.

On an interesting side note, “Piter” was give this name to represent another saint that went by the name of Peter. You may have heard of him ;-).

So, we know where Santa came from, and how he got his name, but how did he go from the look of Father Christmas, to jolly old Saint Nick?

That one’s easy.

On December 23, 1823, the Troy, New York local newspaper called the “Sentinel” released a moving Christmas poem entitled “A Visit From St. Nicholas”. But, we know it today as “The Night Before Christmas”.

As we all know, from our own childhood’s, Santa is portrayed as a portly old fellow with a red nose, white beard, and fur trimmed outfit. We also know from the poem that Santa is equipped to do his nightly rounds with a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. What, not 9?

Nope. Rudolph wasn’t thought up until a little bit later.

Santa began donning the red outfit sometime later in 1863 when an American cartoonist by the name of Thomas Nast that appeared in “Harper’s Weekly”. Since then, Santa has been, for the most part, looking the same. Later on, in about 1885, Santa made his first appearance on a Christmas greeting card wearing his traditional red clothes and looking mainly as he does, still, to this very day.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 8

Chapter 8

The Candy Cane

Would you believe that the Candy Cane as we are familiar with it today, was actually invented as a tool to keep children quiet?!

It’s true.

Back in the 1670’s, a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, took a well known candy, a “sugar stick” and bent one end to resemble that of a Shepherd’s staff during the long church Christmas ceremonies. This new idea quickly spread over to America and churches then began performing the same tradition within their midst.

Candy Canes, in their infancy, were mostly reserved for Christmas themed religious ceremonies. But, there was one documented case of someone decorating their own Christmas Tree with the traditional “white” candies.

A man by the name of August Imgard, a German immigrant, displayed candy canes on his family Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio, in the year 1847.

At first, the Candy Canes were all white, void of any other color. Until in the 1920’s, a man by the name of Bob McCormack began making the Candy Cane as we know it today, with the red stripes included, for his family, neighbors, and friends. Bob did this process, every year all by hand.

That all changed when his brother in law, a Catholic priest by the name of Gregory Keller, invented a machine that automated the Candy Cane creation process in about 1950.

Now, we all enjoy Candy Canes, from the traditional red and white striped peppermint candies, down to the multi colored fruity flavored ones.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Gift Giving

Logically, for most Christians, the act of gift giving would be symbolic of the first Christmas Eve and the Three Wise Men bestowing gifts upon the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus to celebrate his birth.

And indeed, this is where the tradition of gift-giving began. Of course, throughout the ages,  and throughout countless civilizations such as the Romans and Egyptians, subjects would offer up gifts during ancient celebrations or festivals. Unless you are a historian, or scholar, you would not be aware of them.

While the concept of gift-giving remains the same, the methods have changed quite a bit over the centuries. From the Victorian era on, gifts, or presents, have been wrapped with elaborate papers, ribbons, and bows. And instead of placing the gifts at the foot of a King, they are now scattered underneath a Christmas Tree, or found snuggled within our Christmas Stockings.

Even though some might lose sight of where the tradition of gift giving began, the message these gifts bring forth are that of wonder, happiness, and surprise.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 6

Chapter 6

Christmas Caroling

The actual invention of  Christmas caroling is not clear. Some claim that carols, derived from the French word carole, meaning “kind of dance”, began as far back as the 4th or 5th century A.D. Others report that carols, as we know them today, originated between the 12th and 13th centuries with St. Francis of Assisi, a Roman Catholic saint leading the way.

Because the act of caroling is an unwritten tradition, it makes the task of origination all the more difficult.

As the term “carole” or “carol” implies, in the beginning, there were no Christian ties involved whatsoever. When one would “carol” in early times, they would be performing a traditional cultural dance often times accompanied by some sort of music. In the French translation of the word, it is accompanied with song. In the early stages, there was no singing associated.

What is known is that St Francis of Assisi ushered in a more well known form of caroling by combining singing Christian songs, or hymns, with Christmas church services. But where did these hymns come from? It is believed that they were written around the 4th or 5th century A.D. praising the birth of Jesus Christ.

But why do Christmas carolers travel in groups going from house to house singing and celebrating the season today?

It is believed that this portion of Christmas caroling developed in or around the 16th century with those too poor “singing for their supper”, going from door-to-door until they received enough food and drink to sustain them for the night.

The Christmas carol as we know it today wasn’t widely accepted in America until the late 19th century, when it was concurrently made popular in England during the Victorian era.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 5

Chapter 5

The Yule Log

The Yule Log, as we have come to know it, is a rather large piece of wood, cylindrical in shape, that is placed inside the fireplace and burned on Christmas Eve.

Or, you may know it simply as a little cake that resembles a wooden log!

Either way, they both originated from the same place. Northern Europe. While different regions would make use of the Yule Log in various ways, it was always used as part of Christmas Eve festivities.

More often than not, the Yule Log was bought inside, lit in the hearth, and kept burning from 12 hours to 12 days. Which could be where the 12 days of Christmas idea came from.

During the Yule burning ritual, it was believed that a household would enjoy good luck in one form or another to every member of the home that the warmth of the fire from the Yule Log touched. Normally this mean a life full of health, wealth, and happiness.

It was also considered a tribute to Odin, the Norse god of war, wisdom, and death. And, in Scandinavian culture, the name of Odin was actually Jolnir. It is interesting to note that the first three letters in the aforementioned name was also the name of a popular Solstice festival and when pronounced it sounds like “Yule”.

This tradition finally made its way to England, where the gathering of the Yule Log was an entire family involved event. Family members would venture out into the forest, select a huge tree, chop it down, make one great log from a portion of it, and drag it with ropes back to their home. The log had to be big enough to keep ablaze for 12 days.

It was widely believed that if you participated in the dragging, you would have good luck throughout the following year.

After the log had finished it’s burning cycle, a small bit of it was saved back for lighting next year’s Yule Log. Indeed, some of the ashes from the Yule Log were scattered throughout home owner’s fields to ensure a healthy crop the following year.

This tradition made its way over to America from our English forefathers when arriving to our country and has been part of our Christmas traditions ever since.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The Christmas Tree

Besides a beautiful blanket of freshly fallen, glistening snow, Christmas Trees really make the holiday special. Each one has it’s own personality. Much like snowflakes.

But, did the tradition begin in America?

Certainly not!

It actually began in Germany. In about the 8th century, there was a missionary that went by the name of Winfred. Later this man attained Sainthood and was called St. Boniface. As the story goes, St. Boniface happened to run across a group of pagan worshipers near an oak tree, who were in the process of making a human sacrifice by means of a small boy, to their god, Thor.

Enraged by what he saw, St. Boniface chopped down the oak tree immediately. Once the tree was down, St. Boniface noticed that a tiny fir tree had miraculously sprung up in its place!

At this time, and forever after, the image of the fir tree was a symbol of Christianity and one of everlasting life.

Not until the 16th century did bringing a living tree indoors become a tradition. There is much speculation as to who exactly this tradition is accredited to. But, here is one scenario.

Around the year 1500, a man by the name of Martin Luther saw an amazing site one winter evening while walking home. Some say it was Christmas Eve.

He came across a small patch of evergreen trees in the woods, covered with freshly fallen snow that seemed to twinkle in the moonlight.

Martin Luther thought this was such a beautiful sight, that he wished to share the story with his family. Thus, Martin Luther cut down a small  fir tree, took it into his home, and decorated it with small, lit candles tied to the branches to recreate what he saw. It is believed that the lighting of the candles was to simulate the stars that shone in the night sky, just as they had done during the first Christmas Eve over the small town of Bethlehem.

That was the earliest documented case of the indoor Christmas Tree. In the above Martin Luther story, more people give him credit for decorating the first Christmas Tree, however.

From 1500 or so up until around 1700, the indoor Christmas Tree was growing as a German custom in certain areas.

After the year 1700 or thereabouts, adding lights and decorations such as apples etc., really made this custom take off and placed it into “tradition” status quickly across the land.

It is even rumored that during the Revolutionary War of 1776, in what is now more commonly known as Trenton, New Jersey, the Hessian soldiers left their posts to celebrate around a candlelit evergreen tree on Christmas Eve, with thoughts of home. Because of this, they were defeated by George Washington and his troops.

Then, around 1848, England’s Queen Victoria was presented with the gift of a Christmas Tree from her husband, Prince Albert. It’s important to note that Price Albert was of Germanic descent, and therefore, having an indoor, decorated tree would be more traditional to him.

When the people saw the sight of this gorgeously decorated and glowing indoor tree, they decided that “if it was good enough for the Queen we love and admire so much, then it must be good enough for us!”. Thus more and more homes across England began including the “royal” tradition of a Christmas Tree into the holiday season.

Eventually, the tradition of an indoor, freshly cut and decorated Christmas Tree became a part of our own American Tradition and was commonplace by the 1960’s.

Since then, the Christmas Tree has become a symbol of the American Christmas holiday traditions long steeped in far off culture.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

In order to fully understand why, as American’s, we perform different tasks throughout the celebration of Christmas, it is important to know where exactly each tradition originally came from. That’s what this chapter is all about.

It may be interesting to note that many Christmas traditions we perform during the holiday did not originate in America at all. Remember, when America was just an infant itself, it was comprised of many different peoples from many different countries. And these people had their own “homeland” traditions that they carried right along with them.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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