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Holiday Traditions - Christmas

Updated on December 10, 2010

Victorian Christmas Cards

Christmas Traditions
Christmas Traditions

The History of Sending Christmas Cards

The receiving and sending of Christmas cards became popular in the late 1800's in England and America. The first cards were quite similar to Valentines and were decorated with spring flowers, summer scenes, birds, animals, butterflies and sentimental verses. The Christmas cards were sent with holiday wishes and a reminder that spring was not too far away.

The first commercially produced Christmas cards were designed in London by John Callcutt Horsely and commissioned by Sir Henry Cole. Though the design, a family sharing a glass of wine, was criticized for promoting the drinking of alcohol by children, it was the beginning of the booming Christmas card industry.

As more and more people became mobile, moving from small towns to the bigger cities Christmas cards filled the void left from missing friends and family and the intimacy of the small town life left behind. In 1863 postal delivery became free in the city, making sending cards even more appealing. Around the same time, German immigrant Louis Prang discovered an inexpensive and simple system of color printing . His cards became extremely popular and by 1881 he was selling five million cards a year.

During the Victorian age, cards grew more and more elaborate, with the use of silk, lace, feathers, foldouts and pop-ups. They were built with an element of surprise, a pulled string, an unusual fold, or the revealing something unexpected.

The history behind sending Christmas cards
The history behind sending Christmas cards
Holiday Traditions - Creche
Holiday Traditions - Creche

The History of the Crèche

The crèche has long symbolized the birth of the Christ child. Though the crèche came first from Germany, it was Italy that brought it to the place it holds in the Christmas celebration. Even the poorest communities were able to put together a Nativity Scene to celebrate the season. In the 1700s the building of crèches became a popular past-time of the rich, with the sewing of intricate costumes, studded with jewels. The figurines were carved out of terracotta by the great artists of the day.

The crèche came to America with the German immigrants. In the settlements of Bethlehem and Lititz in Pennsylvania, the crèches were built with life sized figurines and were so beautiful that families traveled miles to come and see them.

The beauty of the crèche and it's message soon captured the hearts of the rest of America and became an American tradition.

A living Nativity Scene - creche
A living Nativity Scene - creche

The Tradition of Christmas Lights

The first lights of the holiday season actually date back to before the birth of Christ. Yule logs were burned during the long winter months to stave off winter's cold and darkness and bring the promise of spring. In 270 A.D., Roman Emperor Aurelian declared 7 days in December as a time to worship the sun and the promise of new life it brought in the spring. Hanukkah was celebrated in December by lighting candles. During the Dark Ages, a light was put in the window of even the humblest of homes to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas.

But it was the Victorians that brought the tradition of lights at Christmas by filling their churches with light during the holiday season. With the advent of electricity, the celebration of light was brought into the home.

Holiday Traditions - Lights
Holiday Traditions - Lights
Christmas Lights - Holiday Traditions
Christmas Lights - Holiday Traditions

The History of the Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree was another tradition that was introduced to England by the Germans. Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, who was of German decsent, brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to his 5 children and it soon became a popular holiday decoration. First only used by the nobility, by 1890, the Christmas tree markets brought trees into the homes of all who wanted them.

The tradition of the Christmas tree came to America during the Revolutionary War. By the mid-eighteen hundreds, trees were commercially sold on the steets of New York. Though the tradition came from Europe, Americans were the first to use a full-size tree in their homes.

The trees were first lit with small candles, but with the invention of electricity, came the first electric Christmas tree lights. In 1882, Thomas Johnson displayed the first Christmas tree lit with electric lights. The first colored lights were manufactured by General Electric in the early 1900s. In 1910, a 60 foot tree was displayed in Madison Square Park.

The Christmas Tree - Holiday Traditions
The Christmas Tree - Holiday Traditions
Christmas Tree at the Capital
Christmas Tree at the Capital

Christmas Carol Timeline

Handel's Messiah - 1685

Joy to the World - written by Isaac Watts (1674 - 1748)

Away in a Manger - Martin Luther

Silent Night - Father Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber (1818)

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear -  Dr. Edmund Hamilton Sears (1849)

Hark the Herald Angels Sing -  Music by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1730) Lyrics by William H. Cummings (1855)

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Civil War)

We Three Kings of Orient Are - Reverend John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1857)

What Child is This - William Chatterton Dix (1865)

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem - Episcopal Rector Phillip Brooks (1865)

O Come All Yea Faithful - John Francis Wade

White Christmas - Irving Berlin (1942)

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  • Hub Llama profile image

    Hub Llama 8 years ago from Denver, CO

    Nice. I never even thought to think about where a couple of these come from.