Many of us enjoy hanging out our stockings, placing a festive wreath on our front door or partaking in the odd Christmas carol – but have you ever thought about how these festive traditions were born? Well, wonder no more, as The List Love is providing 10 Christmas tradition origins you must know.
Many believe Christmas all began as a way of honouring the birth of Jesus Christ. Whilst that is true, it was also born from the Roman tradition called Saturnalia, which is a festival that honours the god of agriculture, the winter solstice and the planet Saturn.
Christmas celebrations began on the back of the festival, as it seemed like a natural date to also celebrate the life of Jesus Christ. The exact date and year of Christ is unknown.
Many homes across the world hang a wreath on their door during the festive holiday. The wreath has been used as a symbol of strength and power since classical antiquity, and Roman and Greek emperors and kings would often adorn laurel wreaths as crowns, which they believed honours Apollo, the God of light and sun, and that the crown was an embodiment of his values.
The wreaths were adopted by their predecessors as modern decorations, and evergreen wreathes were used by Ancient European animists to symbolise fortitude and strength, as they could survive harsh winters. Wreaths were later used in funerals of notable people, including for martyrs and saints.
3. Christmas Carols
Nothing gets you in the festive spirit quite like a Christmas carol. This tradition began its life in France, Germany and Italy way back in the 13th century. The carols, sang in a country’s native tongue, were often sung enthusiastically at a variety of festivals or other celebrations.
It wasn’t until many years later that the carols were sang primarily at Christmas time, especially in protestant churches, as they would often encourage a variety of art forms, especially music. The practice of carol singing from door-to-door most likely stems from performances at outdoor public ceremonies.
4. Boxing Day
Boxing Day is the day following Christmas Day and is a bank holiday that is celebrated in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya, Trinidad, Guyana, Tobago and other Commonwealth nations. It is also celebrated in Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.
It is traditionally the day that trades-people and servants received gifts from their employers, which was known as a “Christmas box”, and so the name Boxing Day was born.
5. Santa Claus
It’s common knowledge that Santa Claus was inspired by Saint Nicholas, who was a kind saint who gave gifts to poor children. However, many people also helped inspire the fun-loving Father Christmas we adore today.
It is believed the Dutch Sinterklass was the primary inspiration behind Santa Claus, as they both wear red and white, are aware if a person is naughty or nice and they even work with elves. Unlike Father Christmas, Sinterklass punishes naughty children with willow canes or jute bags.
Odin is also another probable inspiration, as he had eight reindeers – just like Santa – and would fill children’s shoes with sweets.
6. Christmas Tree
You can thank Germany for the Christmas tree, as the custom all began in the 15th or 16th century, as devout Christians would bring in a tree and decorate it inside their homes, as the use of evergreen trees symbolised eternal life. Evergreens were also thought to scare away the devil at New Year.
The tradition spread nationwide across Germany by the 18th century, and made its way to Great Britain in 1800 when King George III‘s German-born wife introduced the Christmas tree at a party for her children. The tradition remained inside the Royal family for a number of years, but the custom grew from 1841 when Queen Victoria married her German cousin, Prince Albert.
Christmas stockings are a popular part of the festive season, with children all over the world running to see what Santa has left inside them for Christmas. The tradition can be traced back to the charitable donations St. Nicholas made in the 4th century.
St Nicholas would give what he could to children, including clothes, furniture and food. He therefore chose to place many of the gifts in girls’ stocking for children to find, and so little ones started to hang up stockings in the hope he would pay them a visit.
Gift giving at Christmas may have been inspired by the three wise men presenting Jesus Christ with gold, frankincense and myrrh. It may have also been inspired by Saturnalia, mentioned earlier, as wax dolls would be given from Rome to Saturn to represent human sacrifices the country had made for a good harvest.
9. Candy Canes
Candy canes are thought to have been developed by a confectioner, who created the sweet treat in the shape of a “J” for “Jesus”. The white colour symbolises purity and red is believed to indicate blood.
10. Christmas Cards
Christmas cards began in Victorian England, as adults started to send them as they had too many letters to write to share their festive greetings. It was Sir Henry Cole, a British businessman, who hired artist John Calcott Horsley to print the first Christmas cards.
The artist printed 1,000 Christmas cards in black and white and coloured each one by hand. The cards featured a happy family raising a toast to the recipient, but were widely criticised for promoting drunken behaviour.
In 1851, US store owner Richard Pease commissioned the first printed Christmas card, and in 1862 Charles Goodall & Sons, a London printers, became the first company ever to mass-produce Christmas cards for the general public.
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