Across the United States, there are many Christmas traditions that Americans follow, some that date as far back as the Middle Ages. Many of these cultural practices were brought with the wave of immigrants who came to the shores of America. For many of their descendants, the practices of their ancestors are still an important part of the holidays.
In its early day, Christmas trees were evergreen trees decorated with foods such as apples, nuts and dates. They were generally associated with pagan festivals. It wasnt until the 1400s in what was then the country of Estonia that festive trees were associated with Christmas Day. After the Protestant Reformation, Christmas trees became popular in the homes of well to do Protestant families, as opposed to the Catholic crèche, or crib. It was during the 19th century that these adorned trees were recognized as a part of German culture. Their tradition spread to other European countries and America as a large number of people emigrated from their homelands and settled in America.
Christmas trees were traditionally not decorated until Christmas Eve and taken down on January fifth. Many believed putting up a tree or taking it down outside of those specified dates would bring bad luck. Currently, many families begin to decorate their home at the start of Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas where Christians reflect on the birth of Jesus. For others, the holiday festivities begin as soon as the Thanksgiving meal is finished and the leftovers put away.
The tradition of sending Christmas cards also dates back to the Middle Ages where engravers would carve religious prints onto pieces of wood. Holiday greetings have changed with the times and have evolved from handmade creations to large business operations. In the early 1800s, it was a popular trend to make your own greeting cards and deliver them personally. As the United States postal system evolved, cards were send via the mail. England became the first country where buying commercial cards and not making your own holiday greetings was the norm. It wasnt until 1875 that Americans jumped on the bandwagon and began to purchase greeting cards. It is estimated that over 2 billion Christmas cards are sent in the United States each year.
For many children, the weeks building up to Christmas bring dreams of presents left under their tree by Santa Claus. The jolly man, dressed in red from his head to his toe, made his depute in the 19th century. It is reported that he lives at the North Pole, and with the help of a team of elves, he and his reindeer fly around the world in his sleigh, packed with toys to deliver to all good children around the world.
The precursor to Santa Claus was none other than Saint Nicholas, an older gentleman who also sported white hair and long beard. Lore has it that he would keep track of the children that had been naughty or nice throughout the year. His feast day is December sixth. People in many countries celebrate this day by giving gifts. Children also leave hay, carrots and water for Saint Nicholas horse.
Santa goes by many names to children around the world. In England, he is known as Father Christmas. In France, he goes by Pere Noel. In Italy, La Befana brings gifts for those who have been good. Mexicans celebrate Navidad, or Christmas, for nine days. In the Netherlands, Santa is known as Sinterklaass.
No matter what he is called, Santa Claus seems to enter homes around most of the world by making his way down the chimney whenever ever he can. Regardless of what language they speak, writing letters to Santa Clause has become a tradition for boys and girls everywhere. Not only do children in Mexico and other Latin American countries send their wish list to Santa via the postal system, but they dont take any chances; they wrap their letter around a helium balloon and watch it head toward the North Pole.
Santa doesnt go hungry on Christmas Eve as he makes his trek around the world. In the United States and in Canada, he will find a glass of milk and cookies at many homes. As he delivers gifts in Britain and Australia, he receives beer and mince pies. Families in Sweden and Norway leave rice porridge. In Ireland, Santa gets his share of Irish stout, a strong dark beer, as well as some Christmas pudding.
Nativity scenes can be found in churches around the world that depict the birth of Jesus, born in the town of Bethlehem. In pageants, plays, in solemn quiet and with voices on high, the story of Jesus birth is told. It was Francis of Assisi, a friar in Italy, who first brought the manager scene to life in 1223. As they grew in popularity, churches across the world continue to hold pageants each year as they celebrate and remember the true meaning of the Christmas season.
To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.