Treasured Christmas Traditions

Major Copeland, Writer

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Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Snow, hot chocolate, and family are just a few of the heart warming characteristics, of this frigid holiday. Christmas would not be the same without the traditions that millions practice, such as Christmas Trees, Stockings, and Santa Claus.

When one thinks of Christmas these are some of the things that come to mind, but hardly anyone knows or thinks about where these memorable activities originated. Fir trees, a species of evergreens placed in households, can be traced back to Pagan traditions. Before Christianity, people would decorate their homes to celebrate the Winter Solstice, on Dec. 21. When Christianity finally did begin to popularize, evergreens were used to symbolize the Garden of Eden and they were called paradise trees. These paradise trees were then adorned with fruit to represent the forbidden fruit from the Garden.

The first tree to ever be adorned with lights was by Martin Luther. Legend has it, that one starry Christmas night, Martin Luther was walking home through a forest. He saw stars gleaming through an Evergreen tree and wanted to capture the beauty of it, He cut down the tree, took it home and hung candles from the branches to symbolize the Christmas stars that he had seen. This then became a symbol, that was integrated into Christian society. Clergy then began to condemn the decoration of the Evergreen trees because they believed that it was distracting from the true Evergreen tree, Jesus Christ.

As the years past, Christmas Trees became an integral part of German tradition. When Germans immigrated to England they brought their traditions with them in the 1800s.But the tradition did not catch on until the late 1800s when Queen Victoria placed one in her house and put gifts under it. Because Queen Victoria was one of the most well liked and admired monarchs, the tradition began to spread like wildfire through Europe and eventually America.

In 1850, Franklin Pierce, was the first president to put a Christmas Tree in the White House. Ever since, Christmas Trees have been one of the most crucial parts to Christmas. According to History.com, in America alone 35 million living evergreen trees and 10 million artificial trees are sold annually. Even so, without the creation of Santa Claus, the idea of gifts under the tree may have never happened. St. Nicholas was living and helping those in need around the 3rd century. He was described as piet and kind to those who knew him and he was the subject of many legends. He was best known for the work he did to help those who were poor or sick and he eventually became known as the protector of children and sailors. On Dec. 6, his death was commemorated with a feast day. Everyone would gather and praise the work of St. Nicholas and all that he had done for those in need. It wasn’t until the 18th century when the stories about St. Nick began in America. Then feast day began to be celebrated internationally. Santa Claus evolved from St.Nick’s Dutch name, Sinter Klaas. But there wasn’t much of a face to go with the name.

In 1804, John Pintard, member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of Santa Claus at the annual meeting. The background of the engraving contained images such as stockings filled with toys and fruit hung from the fireplace.

Many began to adore Santa bu it wasn’t unt Clement Clarke Moore that the Santa that we know and love was created. Moore wrote a long Christmas poem for his children entitled, “An Account of a visit from St.Nicholas.” This poem is largely responsible for for our modern image of Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure  and the supernatural ability to ascend the chimney with a mere nod of his head. According to History.com this was the first instance of stockings being hung and filled with presents. In the late 1840s, Christmas shopping was beginning to be advertised in Newspapers and and image of Santa would also be added so more parents would come with their children to shop.

The following year a life sized Santa replica was placed in Philadelphia and millions of children and parents traveled to the sight to sneak a peek at the “live” Santa Claus.

In 1890 the Salvation Army needed money to pay for free Christmas meals for those that couldn’t afford it. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa suits and sending them to the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those Santa’s have been ringing bells on street corners ever since. The same year Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create an image of Santa Claus with a full white beard, rotund, cheerful, and holding a sack of  laden with toys with gifts for lucky children. Without the creations and ideas of those before us, including Martin Luther, Clement Clarke Moore, and Thomas Nast, the symbols and happiness that many envision around Christmas Time may have never been.

These symbols are some of the things that make the holidays so special. So the next time you are dreaming of sugar plum fairies or excited to open Christmas Gifts, do not forget about the history behind them.

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