Origins of Popular Christmas Traditions and Their Meaning

Have you ever wondered why we have a Christmas tree? What its purpose is, it’s meaning? We just know we’re excited to gather around it to collect and pass around gifts placed underneath the night before. Why do we hang stockings on the hearth or wall? Why are the Christmas colors green and red? Why aren’t they blue and yellow? We have become so use to these things, that most of us probably don’t even think to ask, why. It’s simply tradition. We know the reason for the season, what the spirit of Christmas is, and that all of these things are associated celebrating the birth of Christ. So, we feel warm and fuzzy inside, when it comes to these traditions. We embrace them, we look forward to them, we even love them. But Christmas isn’t just celebrated by believers in Christ, non-believers celebrate Christmas and participate in the same traditions as well. And they are just as excited to. Buy why? We live in such a beautiful and diverse world, filled with people of many traditions, back grounds, and religions. Over the years, we have seen great melting pots of cultures it large cities throughout the world, and the US is one of the biggest melting pots of them all. As a result, many traditions that were not necessarily Christian in their origin have become a part of what we celebrate during Christmas time in our modern day. This has given everyone, Christian and non-Christians alike, something beautiful to celebrate that brings us all a little closer this time of year.  

Christmas colors: Green and Red

[caption id="attachment_1347" align="alignnone" width="747"] an assortment of red and green coloured christmas decorations[/caption] Ask just about anyone what the Christmas colors are, and their answer will likely be the same. Of course, we have added a lot more colors over the years in our decorations and lights, but these remain the two ‘official’ colors of Christmas. Interestingly, these colors had their place in both pagan and Christian beliefs, historically:
  • Green – is the color of the Christmas tree and also the holly leaves. Green also represents new life returning to the world after cold, snowy winter.
  • Red – red represents the blood of Christ, shed at the time of his crucifixion for those that believe in him. Red is also the color of Santa Claus’ suite, of holly berries and cranberries, and of a robin’s chest.

Santa Claus Origins

We have all heard similar stories of the origin of Santa Claus. Historically, this magical character is linked back to a Turkish bishop, St. Nicholas, who lived during the 4th century. St. Nick was know for being giving and kind to such a level to become renowned and was rumored to have also performed miracles. He became legend. Another version of Santa Claus comes from the Dutch, where he was known as St. Nicholas of Sinterklaas. Between the two, we’ve come to call him Santa Claus after Turkish and Dutch settlers colonized America.

Christmas Gifts

The first Christmas gifts were those given by the three wise men to the baby Jesus. Their gifts were, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Being given alongside gold is an indication that frankincense and myrrh are of great value. What makes them valuable? Frankincense and myrrh are resins from the sap of rare trees from East Africa and Arabia. They were used for medicinal purposes to heal wounds, but also as air fresheners and a part of things like an eye shadow compound. Their rarity meant that only the wealthy could afford them, and were truly a gift fit for a king. Moth of these are used by many still today, often used as essential oils for many of the same reasons they were used in ancient times.

The Christmas Tree

The tradition of a Christmas tree started in Germany and was added to the traditions of the United Kingdom when Prince Albert from Germany married his first cousin, Queen Victoria. The Christmas tree is meant to remind us that Spring is around the corner, that the cold winter won’t last forever. That new life and new greenery will soon be in full bloom. For Christians, this also meant to represent the new life of the baby Jesus. This tradition was adopted and celebrated by all, religious or not. For many today, the Christmas season hasn’t really started for them until they have their symbolic Christmas tree setup and decorated in the home.  

Christmas Cards Tradition

Though this has become a dying are in the last 20 years, the tradition of sending a Christmas card was started by Sir Hendry Cole in England in the early 19th century. Sir Hendry printed around 10,000 card with Christmas messages to wish family and friends well, or to reconnect. The card was to simplify the time-consuming task of sending out the usual greetings during the holiday season. Naturally, the time saving idea caught on.  

Christmas Stockings

As part of the story of St. Nicholas, it was rumored that when St. Nick was moved by the poor circumstance of a family unable to afford their daughter’s wedding dowries, he brought the family three bags of gold. In secret, he delivered the gold, throwing one back through a window, and one of the three he dropped down the chimney. Lucky for one of the girls, her stockings were hanging to dry in the fireplace and the bag of gold landed directly in her stockings. The story, of course spread during those days, inspiring many to hang their stockings on the fireplace during the holidays in hopes of receiving a bag of gold themselves. We uphold this tradition, and in fact look forward to it, still today.  

Christmas Music and Carols

[caption id="attachment_1353" align="alignnone" width="771"] Four carolers, attired in the mode of the 1860s, sing Christmas songs in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 23, 1948. (The Associated Press)[/caption] Caroling and choirs were historically the main form of Christmas music for celebration. You can still hear beautiful classic holiday music, like Handel’s Messiah performed by church choirs, capturing the spirit of Christmas in a very classic way. Over time, and as new song writers came along wanting to create their own music, it became more and more popular to create new songs to celebrate the holidays. As the modern music group has become popular in the last century, this become very common. Now days, just about every genre has popular Christmas songs, country, jazz, pop, you name it! Christmas music has become largely commercialized, as a result. But in that mix, are Christmas classics that we all have come to love and identify with feelings associated with this special season. Song like, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Little Drummer Boy, and many others, give us all music that puts us in the Christmas spirit.