Tradition by definition has to originate from something, and seeing as Christmas is full of traditions it follows that with a little bit of research we can unearth some origins. And that is exactly what we’ve done. Here are the origins of six Christmas traditions.
1. The Christmas Tree
People in Germany decorated trees as far back as the 16th century. They would adorn them with coloured paper, candy, apples and roses. The first person to put lights on a tree was protestant reformer Martin Luther. It is believed he wanted to recreate the sparkling delight of stars shining through a fir tree that he witnessed while returning home one night. As for reaching the UK, it was Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert who brought a tree from his native homeland of Germany. There was an etching published in the Illustrated News of 1848 that showed the royal family sat about their tree and the tradition was instantly popularised in Victorian England.
2. The Christmas Stocking
Born of legend this one. A nobleman squandered his fortune in despondency after the death of his wife. This left his young daughters without dowries, a serious fate in ye olde times. However, generous St. Nicholas stepped up to the proverbial plate. He anonymously gifted the girls with pouches of gold coins by hurling them down their chimney. As they fell they were caught in the stockings that had been hung out to dry.
Druids began the interest in mistletoe, though nothing to do with a peck on the cheek at the office party. They instead marvelled at the plant, as without roots it remained evergreen through the winter, and as such it was used in many of their seasonal celebrations. The tradition of kissing is thought to have come from Scandinavia where the plant was linked closely with Frigga, the goddess of love.
4. Candy Cane
Many food substances were used in the past to decorate trees, cookies and sweets alike. Among these was the white Candy Cane stick, originally straight. The curved version is believed to be the work of a 17th century choirmaster from Cologne Cathedral in Germany, who thought it might be nice if they resembled shepherds crooks. The white and red colours, it is often muted, represent Christ’s purity and his blood, yet there is no real evidence for this.
5. Rudolph the Reindeer
Rudolph was created in 1939 by a copywriter working for the department store operators Montgomery Ward. It was a colouring book, featuring rhyming couplets about a red nosed reindeer based on the ugly duckling premise. The rest, as they say, is history.
6. The Holly Bush
Branches of Holly were, very similarly to Mistletoe, believed to hold special powers due to the way they managed to stay a rich green throughout the winter. In Northern Europe winter was particularly cold and bleak, which fostered the feeling that evil was never far away. To guard against this holly was placed over doors and inside homes to keep any spiritual threats at bay.
And there we have it, the origins of six Christmas traditions, born from legend, religion and common practices…
David James researches and writes about everything Christmas related for the novelty Christmas gifts retailer Find Me A Gift.