A magical holiday of folklore and religious significance, Christmas warms one's heart and soul. Many of the holiday's customs and traditions revolve around the act of giving and celebrating life.
Families remember their ancestors as they place heirloom ornaments on the Christmas tree. Daughters bake their mother's fruitcake recipe, as handed down from Grandma. Fathers and sons arrange lights on the house and reindeer on the roof. And many read T'was The Night Before Christmas to young ones too excited to sleep with visions of Santa sliding down the chimney laden with toys.
Although the rituals of this holiday are carried on from one generation to the next, many build new traditions into their celebration as a way of sparking the true meaning of Christmas in their children.
The Yule Log
The Norse are believed by some to have started the tradition of the Yule log. During the ancient mid-winter festival entitled "Yule," people would light a log in their hearth and celebrate until the log burned out. "Yule" is derived from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel, as they believed the sun to be a wheel of fire.
Fruitcake and Eggnog
We have to mention the poor misunderstood fruitcake! Many give a fruitcake loaf to friends and family as a symbol of the sweetness of the season. Packed with red and green cherries, nuts, pineapples, and anything candied, this little cake becomes so heavy that some jokingly refer to it as an edible paperweight.
Nog is an off-shot of grog, which refers to a rum drink. Records show that eggnog has been a part of the Christmas celebration since 1607 in the Jamestown settlement.
Caroling is believed to have started in England around the middle ages. As was the custom on many holidays, those hoping for a donation of food or money sang songs as they traveled from house to house. Today, we carol with our neighbors and at holiday parties, as it always fills one with the Christmas spirit.
Sending Christmas Cards
Each year Christmas cheer is sent to friends and family by the millions through the U.S. Postal Service. It all began in the 1830's when an Englishman named John Calcott Horsley began to make small cards featuring Christmas scenes and a holiday verse. Simultaneously in America, R.H. Pease was manufacturing Christmas cards in Albany, New York, as well as Louis Prang, a German immigrant, in 1850.
Stockings on a Fireplace
In our tale of Santa Claus, we told of how St. Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down the chimney as dowry for a poor man's betrothed daughter. As legend has it, the bag of gold fell into a stocking that was hung to dry on the fireplace. We hang Christmas stockings today hoping Santa will drop gifts into it.
Gift-Giving and Mall Santas
A tradition that stems from Saint Nicholas' generosity, the practice of giving many gifts to children became popular in the 19th century. Stores began to publicize Christmas shopping in 1820 and by mid-century newspapers had holiday sections advertising a real Santa in the stores for children to visit.
This snowballed into the gift-giving bonanza we know today, as many parents couldn't resist buying more trinkets for their darlings, especially after they had personally told Santa what they wished for.
Mistletoe and Holiday Greenery
In ancient times, decorating with greenery was symbolic of the coming spring, and mistletoe a sign of fertility. Apparently, we have the Celts to thank for this custom of hanging mistletoe in the doorway and kissing those who pass under it. We all know what a simple kiss can lead to.
Christmas Customs Around the World
Each country has its own way of celebrating Christmas. The holiday occurs in Australia's summer, and instead of a tree, a Christmas Bush with little red-flowered leaves is decorated.
In England, Father Christmas brings toys to children wearing a long red or green robe and children also hang stockings.
Pere Noel fills shoes left out by French children with gifts, and La Pere has a light-hearted spanking for naughty children.
German children put a wish list on the windowsill along with a spoonful of sugar to make sure St. Nicholas pays them a visit.
Many Italians gather in Vatican City at noon on Christmas Day to be blessed by the Pope.
Dedushka Moroz symbolizes Grandfather Christmas in Russia, with Baboushka playing "Santa" and handing out gifts to children.
Scandinavian countries observe St. Lucia Day on December 13th. The eldest daughter, called "Lucy Bride," wakes each of her family dressed in a long, white gown tied with a red sash, and a crown with nine candles.
In the Ukraine, the youngest child watches for the first star to appear after which the family feast can begin.
Reindeer & Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer
Russian Emperor Vladimir visited Constantinople, now Turkey, around the 9th century and, upon hearing the charitable stories of Bishop Nicholas, he made him the patron saint of Russia. The stories spread to the Laplands where people drove sleds pulled by reindeer.
But "the most famous reindeer" is Rudolph! In 1939, Montgomery Ward's department store publicized a Christmas poem written by employee Robert L. May to boost holiday sales. We all knew the story of the red-nosed marvel, but when Gene Autry sung the tale of Rudolph in 1949, and Burl Ives narrated the clay-mation version in 1964, Rudolph became a seasonal favorite.
We've got festive free games for you to download and play!
Ask the kids to do this skit for the family.
You hear them all season long - how well do you know your Christmas tunes?