Christmas is rooted in tradition, from buying and wrapping gifts to drinking eggnog by the fire. But have you ever stopped to think about what the history of each tradition is? Many of the traditions we still enjoy today started more than a century ago. Getting to know the history of your favorite holiday traditions makes them even more special. We’ve taken a trip down memory lane to find out just where our wonderful holiday traditions started.
As you’re wrapping up the last of the gifts for loved ones this year, think about those families centuries ago doing the same thing. It all began in Ancient China in the 2nd Century, when government officials received money in wrapping paper made from hemp, bamboo fibers, and rice straws. Here in the west, gift wrapping was a little slower to catch on, becoming a nice way to accompany Christmas cards in the 1860s.
Baking for the holidays dates back to the Winter Solstice festivals that have been around for most of known history. Dessert was a part of the feasts that marked the end of harvest season, and spicy baked goods were a luxury that families only enjoyed during these festivals. Of course, baking looked a lot different back then! Baking our holiday cookies this year we’ll be reminded of what a blessing our ovens have become.
Those beautiful puffy-painted or traditional-style stockings hanging from your mantle have perhaps the most interesting history of all. As legend tells it, Saint Nicholas visited a penniless nobleman’s home on Christmas to find stockings hanging by the fireplace to dry. Saint Nicholas filled the stockings with coins, which gave the nobleman’s daughters the dowry they needed to get married. Hence, the tradition of filling our stockings with little gifts for the family.
If you live in one of the few neighborhoods remaining where carolers knock on your door this month, think of the history of the songs they’re singing. Carolers can also be seen at Christmas events this month! Many of the songs were written in Latin, only to begin being associated with Christmas in the 13th century. Roman Catholic Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have been the one to begin including these hymns in Christmas services, which later led to well-wishers bringing them to communities in the form of caroling. These songs have been spreading Christmas cheer for centuries!
It may seem like an odd tradition, but bringing a tree into the home dates back to the Middle Ages when Germans and Scandinavians used trees to show their hope in the spring season to come. That eventually evolved to the Christmas tree traditions we see today, with Germans bringing it to America when they stayed here after the Revolutionary War. The decorations came in the early 20th century when Americans began making homemade ornaments and popcorn strings to liven up the trees.
The delicious milky drink you either love or hate has been traced back to 13th-century Europe when monks drank something called posset. Posset was made from figs and eggs, which likely eventually became the milk and wine punches that later became popular. By the 17th century, posset had evolved to a milky drink mixed with sherry that was used to toast to health and prosperity.
Throughout history, churches have used bells to signal important events, but this particular festivity has continued at Christmastime. St. Patrick is credited with starting the church bell tradition, reportedly used a bell to gather Irish people together to worship. Over time, the bell became associated with church events and today, bells have become heavily associated with Christmas church services.
Whether you’re celebrating historic traditions or starting your own, taking some time to reflect on the history of Christmas can enrich everything you do. In the end, it’s the time you spend with loved ones that are most important. Wishing you a very happy holiday season from our family to yours.