December 17, 2012
It’s Christmas—time for trimmed trees, lights, mistletoe, Santa, and of course, greeting cards. Have you ever wondered how these traditions started? Well, a quick trip around the world can answer that!
Trimming the Tree: In Germany, fir trees were associated with Christmas nearly 500 years ago, with fruit, flowers and candies used as decorations. Prince Albert brought the tree to England when he married Queen Victoria, and the tradition came to America with the Pennsylvania Germans. Along the way, new types of Christmas ornaments were added, from homemade ornaments to little presents and trinkets.
Christmas Lights: It’s said that Martin Luther, a famous German monk, was inspired by the heavenly stars to add candles to a fir tree. A large Christmas candle, symbolizing Christ as the Light of the World, still burns throughout Christmas night, especially in Europe.
Mistletoe: First used by the Norse as a symbol of peace– warriors would meet under it to reconcile. Other cultures saw it as a sign of fertility, and as a blend of both beliefs, today couples kiss under it.
Santa Claus: Most stories link the jolly fellow with St. Nicholas of Myra, (Turkey), who generously gave money and gifts to those in need. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, but it’s Father Frost who visits the children there. In other countries, such as Spain and Mexico, the Three Kings are also givers of gifts.
Greeting Cards: It’s back to England for the first commercial greeting card, created by Sir Henry Cole in 1843 because he was just too busy to write individual messages for his friends! He probably would have loved the time-saving benefit of personalized paper cards and ecards today, especially in sharing his still popular wish:
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You!