A few Christmas traditions explained


Last updated 11/21/2007 at Noon

The origin of many Christmas traditions is a bit fuzzy – some of them are myths and some are verifiable stories, but be assured that the research of this story was done in the spirit of Christmas.

Hanging mistletoe

It has been said that the hanging of mistletoe, which was popular in England during the 19th century, has its origins in a Druid ceremony. The Druids revered the plant because it stayed green during the winter.

Others say that the hanging of mistletoe is an Old Norse custom derived from the Norse people’s reverence for mistletoe because it was a symbol of their goddess of love, Frigga.

Christmas stockings

In several countries such as England and Italy children hang stockings from the mantel on Christmas Eve. No one seems to know for sure where this originated.

The Dutch have a variation of the tradition and put out their wooden shoes on December 5 with gifts for Sinter Klaas’ horse. The shoes are filled with carrots and hay, then in the morning the horse snacks are replaced with presents.

Christmas gifts

It is fitting that Jesus was the first recipient of Christmas gifts. The three Magi paid tribute to Jesus by bringing Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Two thousand years later we honor each other by giving gifts at Christmas.

Christmas cards

The first Christmas card is said to have been designed by John Callcott Horsley in England in 1843 and was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole. One thousand of the cards were sold in London for one shilling each.

The card, which showed a family making merry, was cardboard and read: “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” The family scene is drawn in the middle of the card and is flanked by scenes of people ministering to the poor.

Electric Christmas lights

In 1882, Edward Johnson, who was vice-president of the Edison Electric Light Company, was said to be the first person to put electric lights on a tree. Christmas lights were only used indoors until 1904, when the city of San Diego used the first outdoor lights.

Christmas tree

It seems that most accounts name Martin Luther as the father of the Christmas tree. It has been said that when he was walking through a forest gazing at the stars he was so struck by the beauty of the scene that he wanted to bring it indoors and share it with his family. He then brought a tree into his home and decorated it with candles.


One beautiful tale places the origin of the use of poinsettias in the 1600s. A boy in Mexico was planning a visit to a nativity scene and wanted to bring a gift to the Christ Child. He found green branches along the roadside and brought them to the crib. Some of the leaves on the branches were blooming a beautiful red and were arranged in a star shape.

Christmas carols

It is said that singing Christmas carols began in the 14th century in England and became very popular by the 18th and 19th centuries.

In Puerto Rico caroling is called “parrandas.” A group walks to a friend’s home playing instruments and singing. The group stops at the front door and sings, then is invited in for drinks and food.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The story was written by ad copywriter Robert L. May, who worked for Montgomery Ward department store, as a company project. In 1939 2.4 million copies of the book were distributed.

It is said that he also considered naming the reindeer Rollo or Reginald.

The song was written by May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, and recorded by Gene Autry in 1949.


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