For Christians, it is a time of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ the son of God. While it is understood that December 25 is perhaps not the exact birth date of Jesus, it is the date chosen to honor the birth of mankind’s Redeemer.
Throughout hundreds of generations, the Christmas holiday has carried many traditions, from decorating Christmas trees to cooking special holiday foods. Traditions often inspire joy and a sense of belonging. They also help create heartwarming memories for children and adults alike for years to come. Yet it is fascinating to learn the history behind some of the traditions that are so fondly and fervently embraced.
Santa Claus and the Christmas tree are two of the most common traditions found every year during the holiday season. It is almost unheard of for a home to not have a Christmas tree. Likewise, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa Claus. Children all over the world go to bed with great anticipation that Santa Claus will sneak in sometime during the night and leave presents under the Christmas tree. The two just go together, there’s no doubt about it. Setting up and decorating the Christmas tree still remains one of America’s favorite holiday activities. Some families even make the choosing of a live tree an entire family affair. They take the day to go up into the mountains and select the perfect tree to bring home for the holidays. Yet whether it is a fresh-cut tree or an artificial one, decorating it can make for much smiling and laughter.
Typically donned with lots of tiny white or colored lights and colorful, shiny ornaments, the Christmas tree was first introduced to the United States in the early nineteenth century. Since then, the look of the Christmas tree decorations has evolved from wax candles to strings of popcorn and cranberries, and from tinsel and lights to more elaborate beaded and hand-crafted ornaments. Some people flock their trees. Others wrap them with festive-colored ribbon. A few of Grandma’s old crocheted ornaments here, a couple of primitive preschool creations there. All of this is done in anticipation of the arrival of Christmas’ famous Santa Claus.
Old St. Nick, a name that is often loosely associated with the character of Santa Claus, was known for his charitable giving at Christmastime. While Santa Claus may just be a childhood fantasy, Old St. Nick is not.
St. Nicholas was a real person who was a saint and bishop of Myra, located in modern-day Turkey. He lived during the third century and had a reputation for secret gift-giving. Eventually, this charitable characteristic of St. Nicholas evolved into the fictional character of Old St. Nick, someone who secretly left candy or coal in a sock or shoe left outside the front door on the eve of December 6. This custom obviously became Americanized and modernized by the development of Santa Claus. The difference is that Santa not only fills the stockings with goodies, but also leaves gifts and toys under the Christmas tree for the unsuspecting, sleeping children. The only other evidences of his appearance are the missing cookies and milk left out for him the night before and the excitement of the children on Christmas morning.
The holidays, however, are not always as joyous for those who live alone or do not have children. But being alone does not mean someone is excluded from celebrating. They still can find ways to enjoy the holidays by making their own Christmas traditions. They can find people to invite over for a tree decorating party. They can fix a Christmas dinner for a single mother and her children. They can gather a group of friends to go Christmas caroling. If they don’t have any friends, they can make some. No one needs to remain isolated when there’s exciting Christmas traditions and memories yet to be created.