Ho Ho Hold On … What’s With All These Christmas Traditions?

Allen students (left to right) Kayleigh Roberts, Jessica Pollitt, Madi Maguire, Bryanna Svoboda, and Carlyn Jackson decorate their dorm room for the holiday season.

Carson Crow

Allen students (left to right) Kayleigh Roberts, Jessica Pollitt, Madi Maguire, Bryanna Svoboda, and Carlyn Jackson decorate their dorm room for the holiday season.

Carson Crow, Sports Editor

It’s that time of year again. Quickly put away those Thanksgiving decorations and start preparing for Christmas. To most people this means untangling those pesky outdoor lights, finding the perfect tree, dusting off those boxes of ornaments and decorations from the attic, and, most importantly, mass emailing those Christmas wish lists to your family.

But as you go through all these annual rituals, do you ever wonder where these Christmas traditions and stories come from? Who is Santa Claus, why do we hang Christmas stockings, why do we decorate a Christmas tree, and what’s with all the kissing under the mistletoe?

The Legend of Santa Claus

Although today’s modern image of Santa Claus is a distinctly American creation, the legend of Santa Claus comes from the real life story of St. Nicholas. A bishop from fourth century A.D. Myra (current day Turkey), he was a very kind and wealthy man who had a reputation of using his inherited wealth to help the poor and give secret gifts to people in need.

After his death on December 6, 343 A.D., the bishop was canonized as a saint and December 6 became known and celebrated as St. Nicholas Day. Within Europe the celebration of St. Nicholas Day began to merge with the celebration of the Christmas Holy Day and St. Nicholas began to be known by different names.

In Holland he was referred to as Sinterklaas. When Dutch settlers came to North America their Sinterklaas became Americanized as Santa Claus, the plump, jolly guy who places presents for children in stockings or under the family Christmas tree.

The Origin of Christmas Stockings

There are many legends about St. Nickolas and although we don’t know if any of them are true, the most popular story gives origin to the custom of hanging stockings to get presents.

The story goes that there was a poor man who didn’t have enough money for a dowry for his three daughters to get married. One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney, which fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry. The father caught Nicholas dropping in one of the bags of gold and the news soon got out. From then on when anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from Nicholas.

The Tradition of Christmas Trees

Finding the perfect Christmas tree can be important; to some people it is considered to be the centerpiece of the Christmas holiday. However, it was not too long ago that the Christmas tree was viewed as a pagan German ritual.

Long before the first Christmas celebration, ancient Europeans used evergreen branches to brighten up their homes during the winter solstice. As 19th century Germans immigrated to other parts of the world their Christmas tree tradition was viewed as a foreign custom. That is until the Christmas of 1848 when the popular Queen Victoria had the first Christmas tree set up in Windsor Castle just as her German husband, Prince Albert, had as a child.

After being published in the Illustrated London News, the Christmas tree tradition soared in popularity between the elite circles of Britain and America. Now millions of homes worldwide carry on the Christmas tree tradition each year.

Kissing under the Mistletoe

The tradition of hanging mistletoe in the house goes back to medieval times. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe comes from Norse mythology where mistletoe was also used as a sign of love and friendship.

In England, where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe grew in popularity, the original custom was that a berry was picked from the sprig of Mistletoe before the person could be kissed and when all the berries had gone, there could be no more kissing.