Where Did Different Christmas Traditions Come From
Christmas has many traditions in different countries around the world. Some of the more well known in the Western world include hanging stockings on the fireplace, putting lights outside, telling children that Santa is on his way, and many others, including foods and drinks such as Eggnog. Where did many of these traditions come from? The story, for some, is they derived from periods long before Christmas began, but for other traditions they are more recent.
Some Well Known Traditions
Perhaps among the best known traditions for many of us is Santa Claus, or Father Christmas in some countries. Santa Claus is likely based on the historical figure of Saint Nicholas, which is thus another name for Santa Claus, who was a bishop well known for giving gifts in the 4th century in Myra. However, other traditions and elements likely influenced his perceptions. This includes traveling in the sky by being pulled by reindeer. This tradition may have come from the belief in the god Wodan, an important Norse/Germanic god, who would ride in the sky during the period of Yule, which is a period similar to Christmas. The god also had a long white beard, similar to Santa. In 1809, Washington Iriving's History of New York merged different traditions of the English Father Christmas and Dutch Sinterklaas to give us Santa Claus. What made modern Santa Claus was the 1821 poem that is now know to us as 'The Night Before Christmas,' which characterizes the figure, describes his reindeer, and gives the story of him dispersing presents to children.
Christmas lights derive from the use of candle lights on Christmas trees, which was popular among Germany families as early as the 18th century, although in pre-Christian traditions decorating trees was also done. Initially, lights were candles and it was only in the late 19th century that the first Christmas trees with electrical lights were used, with Grover Cleveland being the first president to light an electric Christmas tree in the White House. However, Christmas lights began to spread outside of the tree by the 1940s and 1950s, as the production of lights became cheaper and new forms of lights were experimented with. Initially decorations focused on mantles and edges of houses, but soon this spread to other areas.