Origins of Some Christmas Traditions

Mistletoe grows on the bark of wide-leaf trees (often oak), drawing sap from the tree for nourishment and it can also grow as a bush. It blossoms in the summer and spawns berries in the wintertime. It is said to have mystical, magical power and when placed over a crib keeps fairies away from baby and protects against witchcraft. Mistletoe is hung from doorways as a symbol of peace, but the custom of kissing under the mistletoe probably has its roots in Pagan fertility rites.

Christmas cards first appeared in England with the start of the penny post around 1840, growing to even greater popularity later, when mass printing improved and the postage for a card became half a penny!

Christmas trees (tannenbaum) emanated from Germany around 1550, brought to America and the new world by German immigrants and was Anglicized in the 1840 by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, while the Duchess of Orleans is said to have taken this tradition to Paris. Martin Luther has been traditionally credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition,

The Yule log seems to come from Scandinavian Pagan festivals. A very big log was selected from the forest, taken home, lit on Christmas and allowed to burn to Epiphany (through the 12 days of Christmas) -- a similar concept of the Jewish Hanukah, in which an oil lamp is lighted and left to burn for 8 days.

Boxing Day follows Christmas (December 26th -- also the date of St. Stephen's Day) through most of Europe and the UK. It was a day to give money and later to distribute presents (boxes) to charities and churches, enlarged to include servants or staff in the 19th century. Today it would be the secretary, postman or bottled water delivery person getting the gift! The name was derived from alms boxe or box at the church where patrons left their money offerings, which was opened on this date and the money was then distributed among the poor.

Christmas pudding is largely a UK tradition, with each person in the household taking a turn stirring the pudding as it cooks from in and east to west direction. Cooking of the pudding commences on Advent (stir up Sunday) which is just prior to Christmas week.

For the scoop on Santa Claus see the story in our Issues section.

Our Holiday Special Issue continues with these offerings:

Holiday Festivals, Displays and Events - Diwali - India's Festival Of Lights
Holidays Around the World - How Christmas Is Celebrated In Many Countries
The Origin of Some Christmas Traditions - Picking and Trimming a Christmas Tree
Shipping Your Holiday Gifts - Oh Ye Disbelievers: The Fable of Saint Nick - Gifts She'll Love
Techno Gifts - CD Musical Stocking Stuffers from Then to Now - Every pick's a hit!

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