While these traditions are mentioned below, many others could be added. Some to mention include: Nativity scenes; Christmas pageants; the feeling of charity and general goodwill toward others, especially the unfortunate. We don’t want to forget the many beloved Christmas stories and films such as Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story.
Different from many other American Christmas customs, the sending of Christmas cards was without connection to earlier history. However, by the 1850s they were mass-produced and sent as an acceptable form of Christmas greeting. Often they served as an inexpensive way to complete a long Christmas list and soon became imperative for fostering relationships, also serving as a substitute for traditional gifts.
Decorating an evergreen tree was another American Christmas tradition that emerged in the 19th century. The use of the evergreen tree in Christmas celebrations spread throughout Europe and eventually made its way to the United States, in large part through the Pennsylvania Dutch in the early 19th century. The Christmas tree has traditionally been extravagantly decorated, with gifts, toys, sweets, and other ornaments hung on the tree, though now we often find gifts under the tree.
Hanging mistletoe in the home is an ancient pagan practice adopted by early Christians. The word itself is Anglo-Saxon and the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe originated in England. Each kiss required a berry to be plucked until none remained.
Carols were songs and dances of praise and joy in pagan times and the practice of carol singing carried over into the Christian era. Carols have been written through the centuries but the most familiar date from Victorian times.
Stockings on the Fireplace
Preparation for the arrival of Santa involved hanging stockings to be filled with gifts from St. Nick. The story is told that the ancient St. Nicholas dropped bags of gold into the stockings of three daughters of a poor man in order to deliver them from a life of slavery or prostitution. It thus became a custom to set out stockings to be filled on Christmas Eve, and in America these “represented the shoes that children of New Amsterdam had once set in the chimney corners on St. Nicholas Eve”–the fireplace possibly being symbolic of a place of happiness and good luck–though they could also be set in other places, such as on a bedpost or banister. The tradition of hanging stockings on the fireplace continues today.
Though holiday giving was an old custom, the giving of gifts at Christmas is a recent innovation for Americans, the earliest account coming from German immigrants in Pennsylvania in 1745. Puritans did not often exchange gifts, though exceptions are sometimes found. Following the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, gift-giving eventually became a cemented part of Christmas celebration in America.
We wish a Very Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!