The History of Christmas, Facts and Trivia!
Where did many Christmas traditions come from?
Rudolph the red nose reindeer, Santa Claus, Christmas trees. Did you ever wonder where these things started? No, I am not forgetting the birth of Jesus. This lens however, only deals with things we think of as being associated with the celebration of Christmas.
History of Candy Canes
Where did candy cames come from?
In the 1600's when Christmas trees began, people used baked items to decorate them. The sugary sticks called candy canes were popular. They were only white and just straight sticks. In Germany, a choir master at the Cologne Cathedral put the hook on the end to look like a shepherd's hook. Supposedly he passed them out the the children during the long services to keep them quiet. Later on, stripes were added. Nobody knows for sure when, but sometime around the turn of the century candy canes with green and red stripes began to appear.
History of the Christmas Tree
Why do we put up Christmas Trees?
As far back as the Romans, even perhaps before, people thought evergreen trees would help ward off evil spirits. During winter, these trees would remind them that green would eventually come back.
However, what we call the modern Christmas Tree was first done in Germany in the 1500s. Christians began decorating their homes with evergreen trees and branches. Some made structures that resembled the pyramid shape of trees out of wood. Lighted candles on the tree are credited to Martin Luther. Luther used candles to resemble the bright stars he had seen one night.
In the United States, the Christmas tree was not something well-known until about 1830. Germans in America had put up trees before, but this was the time when they were put up in public. Before that, early Americans thought that symbols like these were pagan. In fact, the Puritans wanted to keep Christmas sacred. It was not to be a joyful occasion. How crazy is that? They even made laws that were current up to the 18th century against decorating and caroling!
Then it happened. Boom! Almost overnight Christmas trees sprang to life and became a symbol of Christmas! What happened? In England, Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert (who was German), were seen in a drawing standing next to a Christmas Tree! The Victorians had to do it! It spread across the ocean, as America was enthralled with the Victorians as well. By the time 1900 came, Christmas Trees were well-entrenched and decorations became a big business. Who can imagine Christmas without a tree and all the trimmings? Many companies started making ornaments, but most Americans still liked home made items and edible treats on their trees. Electric lights soon appeared as well. What town, city, or community does not have a Christmas Tree now?
History of Santa Claus
Who is Santa Claus? St. Nicholas ?
In the third century, a monk named St. Nicholas lived near what is now Turkey. He is said to have devoted his life to giving away money, food, and other items so others could live and survive. He was the saint of children and sailors. A feast in St. Nicholas' honor was held on December 6th, the day he died. Apparently his legend and honor traveled all over the known world. Holland, for some reason, embraced him the most.
The Dutch name for St. Nicholas was a shortened version known as Sinter Klass. Some Dutch in America gathered on December 6th to honor the death of St. Nicholas in 1773. The name Santa Claus was just a natural evolution of Sinter Klass. It was Washington Irving in the early 1800's that wrote about Sinter Klass and even called him the patron saint of New York. This really set off the Santa explosion.
Santa Claus had all sorts of different images as to what he looked like. Gift giving took off as well in the 1800's and many stores had advertisements with Santa Claus, or their version. It was not until Clement Moore wrote 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, or as it was originally called, A Visit From St. Nicholas, that our current image was born. Thomas Nast in 1881 used this writing to draw his version of what Santa Claus looked like. His artwork appeared in Harper's Weekly. It showed Santa as a fat, jolly man, with a white beard, red suit, white fur, bag of toys, etc. Nast tossed in some elves, the workshop, North Pole, and Mrs Claus for good measure!
Variations of Santa Claus Around the World
How about these Santa Claus-like traditions?
Italy has La Befana
La Befana is a friendly witch that shows up on January 5th to deliver gifts to Italian children. La Befana comes down the chimney and warns with either a bell or a cane. The bell means La Befana will leave gifts. The Cane means La Befana will leave only coal because of bad children.
France has Pere Noel
He has sort of an evil twin, Pere Fouchette. Pere Noel and Pere Fouchette visit the children in France. The children leave their shoes out. If the have been good, Pere Noel fills them with gifts. If they have been bad, Pere Fouchette leaves switches.
Russia has Ded Moroz
During New Years, Ded Moroz (Father Frost) delivers gifts to children. Ded Moroz has a granddaughter named Snegurochka.
China has Dun Che Lao Ren
Dun Che Lao Ren is Christmas Old Man. He brings gifts to families that celebrate Sheng Dan Jieh. Sheng Dan Jieh means roughly the Holy Birth.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer!
Who is Rudolph?
In 1939, Montgomery Ward wanted something to give out during Christmas to promote the store. Robert May came up with what was really a comic book detailing the story of one of Santa's reindeer, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. His red nose was almost nixed as it could be seen as coming from drinking. But the little book came out and the rest is history. A short cartoon came out in the late 1940s. Yeah, Rudolph was pretty popular but who knew he would really take off and fly! In 1949, Gene Autry rocketed Rudolph to the top of the charts with his song, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The song lyrics written by Johnny Marks was a little different from the story that May wrote. But who cares? In 1964, Rudolph reached stellar heights when his story was made as a stop-motion animation film with Burl Ives. Who cannot have a Christmas without that movie?
History of the Christmas Stocking
Why do we hang stockings by the chimney?
The legend of St. Nicholas gives us this tradition.
A poor man and his daughters were living in a time when to be married, fathers needed dowries. This poor father thought that his daughters would never be married and be poor with him all their lives. One night they had washed their stockings and hung them by their fireplace to dry. St. Nicholas walking by just happened to see them. He tossed some gold coins in the chimney and they landed in the stockings!
Children all over the world began to leave mostly shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill. The story A visit from Saint Nick written by Clement Moore was the first to really mention hanging stockings by the chimney.
Isn't it amazing that most of the things that we think of as being what a real Christmas is, consists of things that are barely 150 years old!
Where do other Christmas symbols come from?
Holly? Mistletoe? Wreaths? Poinsettias?
Why do we use holly?
Holly is evergreen and has been revered as sacred for ages. The thorns also symbolize Christ's crown of thorns. The Romans and other ancients thought it could ward off evil spirits.
Why do we hang bells?
The ring in sorrow and happiness. Bells are also said to ward off evil spirits. Bells are hung high in churches to be a way of ringing in heaven.
Why do we hang wreaths on the door?
Romans bent evergreen boughs in ring shapes and put them on doors to ward off evil. It also symbolized good health. Sometimes these wreaths were exchanged as gifts.
Why do we hang mistletoe and kiss?
Again, mistletoe is green in the winter as was thought of to bring good luck. It's berries have been thought of as inducing love and fertility. Kissing may have began with the Romans. If there are no berries, you are not supposed to kiss anymore. You are supposed to remove a berry when you kiss. Be careful as mistletoe is poisonous.
Why do we show Poinsettia plants?
Poinsettias were 'discovered' by Joel Poinsett in Mexico. He was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico back in the middle 1800's. Mexicans had used them to decorate on Christmas Eve. The red or colored foliage, is not a blossom. Only colored leaves. They are star-shaped and apparently were considered as Flores de Noche Buena (flowers for the holy night). The Paul Ecke Ranch in California produces most of the ones used in the United States. They are not poisonous, but can be irritating to the skin. National Poinsettia Day is December 12th, declared by congress. This was the day of their 'discovery.'
Some little know facts and tid bits about Christmas!
The song Jingle Bells was written in 1857 for a Sunday School in Boston for Thanksgiving. But, it just became so popular that it went on to be big at singing at Christmas time.
Santa's 9th reindeer was first named Rollo, then Reginald, then of course, Rudolph.
The two biggest selling songs of Christmas are White Christmas, followed by Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer.
The first Christmas cards were printed in 1875 by Louis Prang in his shop in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
In 1836, Alabama became the first state to declare Christmas as a holiday.
Oregon produces the most Christmas trees of any state.
Pope Julius I declared December 25th as the official Christmas in the fourth century.
The first president to have an official Christmas tree was Franklin Pierce. Teddy Roosevelt banned them during his terms.
The Salvation Army began collecting at Christmas in 1891 San Francisco.
Silent Night was written in 1818 by an Austrian priest, Joseph Mohr.
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