Where do Christmas traditions originate?

by Emily Prescott, Features

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Have you ever wondered why we decorate Christmas trees every year? Or why we eat candy canes that are red and white? Why we hang stockings?
The fascinating history of the candy cane and the Christmas tree stems from Germany, while the origin story behind stockings is a darker tale yet to be told.

Before Christianity, people would decorate their homes with green plants and trees in the winter time to protect them from witches and evil spirits. Many people also believed that the sun was a god.

Evergreens would remind people of summer, when plants were green and the sun god ruled.

However, the Germans are credited for starting the tradition of Christmas trees. One legend of the tree is that, on Christmas eve, a forester and his family were keeping warm around a fire when there was a knock at their door. When the man opened the door, he discovered that there was a little boy lost and afraid on his doorstep. The man offered him shelter.

The next day when the family awoke, they had discovered a choir of angels and the little boy was actually Jesus! The little boy went outside and grabbed a branch off of a fir tree to gift to the family. After this, people had begun to decorate Christmas trees!

In 1670, a choir conductor gave the children watching a nativity scene something to eat so that they would be quiet. He made them white sugar sticks in the shape of ‘J’ to remind them of the crooks of Shepherds who visited Jesus at his birth. However, this story is probably a fable as it was told two-hundred years later. To other Christians, the ‘J’ shape represents Jesus.

Around 1920, a man started making candy canes. Then over time they became an American Christmas tradition.

The dark origin story of the stocking begins after a man lost his wife when she died from a long and painful sickness. The man was left to raise three daughters. He soon lost all of his money due to poor investing.

At the time, it was very common for unmarried women to become prostitutes. The man did not want his daughters to become prostitutes. A monk named Saint Nicholas heard of this man’s struggle and decided to anonymously help them.

Saint Nicholas left bags of gold in a sock near their chimney. One day when Saint Nicholas was planting the gold, the father caught him.

The Saint begged the father not to tell people of this, but the story of the his compassionate act eventually spread. The daughters did not become prostitutes because of him. The Saint was anointed as the patron saint of children because of his generous deeds. The Saint also serves as the modern day inspiration for Santa Claus!

Mistletoe is a plant that grows on range of trees including willow, apple and oak trees. The tradition of hanging it in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where the custom of kissing under the Mistletoe comes from.

Most Christmas traditions obviously have Christian roots and connotations. It is interesting to see how these traditions have diverged from their original sacred form and turned into common American household traditions.

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