christmas traditions

  • Why We Kiss Under the Mistletoe & How it Became a Christmas Tradition

    When did mistletoe become a Christmas tradition? And why do we kiss under the mistletoe at Christmas? Like many traditions, the origin story of mistletoe at Christmas has many influences.

    How Mistletoe Became a Christmas Tradition

    In the wild, mistletoe grows as a parasite, feeding off its host tree. But within Christmas tradition and pagan folklore, it’s a symbol of love and romance—and of course, kissing.

    So, how did a parasitic plant become associated with love and affection at Christmastime?

    Like most traditions, the origin story of mistletoe at Christmas has many influences.

    What’s In a Name? What ‘Mistletoe’ Means

    As we alluded to in the opening, mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant. According to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), there are 1,300 species of mistletoe in the world—20 of which are actually endangered worldwide.

    “When a mistletoe seed lands on a suitable host, it sends out roots that penetrate the tree and draw on its nutrients and water,” NWF explains. “Mistletoes also can produce energy through photosynthesis in their green leaves.”

    Now for the funny part: Mistletoe gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon words “mistle” and “tan,” which mean “dung” and “twig,” respectively. The modern translation? “Poop on a stick.” Apparently, Anglo-Saxons noticed that mistletoe grew where birds left their droppings.

    Mistletoe: A Centuries-Old Symbol of Health & Love

    Mistletoe has been a symbolic herb for centuries. In fact, according to History.com, several cultures “prized” mistletoe for its alleged healing properties.

    “The Greeks were known to use it as a cure for everything from menstrual cramps to spleen disorders, and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder noted it could be used as a balm against epilepsy, ulcers and poisons,” History.com explains.

    When it comes to mistletoe’s romantic associations, the Celtic Druids and the Norse are credited with that.

    For the Druids, mistletoe’s ability to bloom during winter made it a symbol of vivacity, History.com says. As a result, they often used the plant on animals and humans in hopes of boosting or restoring fertility.

    As for the Norse, mistletoe plays an important role in ancient mythology, which helps explain why mistletoe is associated with kissing.

    “As the story goes, when the god Odin’s son Baldur was prophesied to die, his mother Frigg, the goddess of love, went to all the animals and plants of the natural world to secure an oath that they would not harm him,” History.com details. “But Frigg neglected to consult with the unassuming mistletoe, so the scheming god Loki made an arrow from the plant and saw that it was used to kill the otherwise invincible Baldur.”

    Another version claims the gods were able to bring Baldur back from the dead with mistletoe. Elated by the return of her son, Frigg “declared mistletoe a symbol of love and vowed to plant a kiss on all those who passed beneath it.”

    How Mistletoe Became a Christmas Tradition

    How mistletoe made the leap from symbol of love and vitality to “Kiss-mas” tradition isn’t completely clear.

    As History.com tells us, by the 18th century kissing under the mistletoe had become widely embedded in Christmas tradition, and appears to have started among servants in England and spread to other classes from there.

    To refuse a kiss was bad luck, as long as berries were still left on the mistletoe. As biologist Rob Dunn describes an article in Smithsonian Magazine:

    “As Washington Irving wrote in the 1800s, ‘young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under [mistletoe], plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases.’”

    Pucker Up for Tradition

    While the meaning behind the mistletoe name is less than savory, it’s history in ancient folklore and Christmas tradition is rooted in luck, love, and romance. So, pucker up in the name of tradition this Christmas.

    Ready for another history lesson? Learn about the history of Christmas stockings.

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  • How Did Red & Green Become Traditional Christmas Colors?

    Have red and green always been part of Christmas tradition? The answer may surprise you.

    Why Red & Green Are Christmas Colors

    From poinsettias to Christmas stockings hung by the fire with care, the Christmas season is dripping with vibrant reds and greens as far as the eye can see. But how did red and green become the signature color combination of Christmas?

    Like many Christmas traditions, the history of why greens and reds are associated with the season is storied and debated. In this piece, we highlight the origin stories—one of which will undoubtedly surprise you.

    “Holly Jolly” Inspiration from Ancient Pagans

    While the Christmas holiday itself is rooted in religion, there are several pagan infusions that have shaped how we celebrate. And as some report, the greens and reds are one of those hybrid traditions—thanks to holly plants.

    As Reader’s Digest reports: “Ancient Celtic peoples revered red- and green-colored holly plants for being evergreen and believed holly was meant to keep Earth beautiful during the dead of winter. So when they and other cultures celebrated the winter solstice, they decorated their homes with holly to bring protection and good luck to their families in the coming year.”

    It’s also been reported that ancient Romans used holly as part of their winter solstice celebrations, too.

    The Crown of Thorns

    Holly actually plays a double role in the history of this tradition. Holly is closely associated with the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head before he died on the cross. As a fun fact, holly is known as “christdorn” in German, which means “Christ thorn.”

    Legend says the berries were originally white, but the blood Jesus shed for our sins forever stained the berries red.

    The Paradise Play

    This explanation is one of the more colorful (pun intended) theories.

    But as David Landry, who religious studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, told a local news station, he believes red and green likely became part of tradition thanks to a 14th century play depicting the world’s first man and woman.

    “One of these plays was the Paradise play—the fall of Adam and Eve,” he told the station. “The traditional date for that was Dec. 24.”

    More specifically, the storied apple prop was red, and of course, the tree was green.

    Coca-Cola’s Iconic Santa Claus

    Arielle Eckstut, co-author of Secret Language of Color, has spoken to many publications about the Christmas colors origin stories. She attributes the rise of the colors to two things. The first is holly.

    "Holly has played a huge part in this red and green association," she told NPR with confidence.

    As for her second theory, that one’s more interesting, dating back to a Coca-Cola hiring decision in 1931.

    “Coca-Cola hired an artist to create a Santa Claus," Arielle said in an interview with NPR. "They had done this before, but this particular artist created a Santa Claus that we associate with the Santa Claus today in many ways: He was fat and jolly—whereas before he was often thin and elf-like—and he had red robes.”

    “It solidified in our collective imaginations the red of Santa's robes with the green of fir trees and holly and [poinsettia] that we already had in our minds,” she added.

    According to NPR, that artist was Haddon Sundblom. Since his art was such a bit hit, Coca-Cola continued working with him for decades.

    Photo Credit: Coca-Cola via Miel Van Opstal/Flickr

    Colorful Threads of the Same Fabric—That’s Tradition

    Every tradition we hold dear has a variety of influences and evolves over time—and the signature colors of Christmas are no exception.

    While there’s no one agreed upon point of origin, it’s safe to say that every theory has shaped the overall story of the colors of Christmas. And at the end of the day, it’s simply tradition.

    What long-time or unique Christmas traditions does your family honor each year? Tell us in the comments section below.  

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  • The Theories Behind the Tradition of Oranges as Stocking Stuffers

    Why We Put Oranges in Christmas Stockings

    For centuries, Christmas stockings have been a centerpiece of religious and secular tradition, bringing little treasures and joy to children (and adults) on Christmas Day. And just as the history of the Christmas stocking itself has many facets, so too do the traditional treasures that are left inside.

    One such treasure is: The Christmas Orange.

    As it turns out, there’s no one theory as to why the citrus fruit became a traditional stocking stuffer. But each of the reasonings has merit. Let’s explore some of those theories.

    St. Nick’s Special Gift to a Widower

    Before coming into sainthood, St. Nicholas—who’s legend evolved into today’s Santa Claus tradition—was a generous, wealthy bishop. Allegedly one day, he heard of widowed shopkeeper and father to three beautiful daughters. The father was deeply concerned that his daughters would never marry as he couldn’t afford a dowry—and if he were to die, the girls would be left alone and destitute.

    As the story is often told, St. Nick was touched by the father’s dire situation and wanted to help. So, he crept into the man’s home one night and put bags of gold—or perhaps balls of gold as some tales say—in each of the girls’ stockings.

    When the father and his girls woke the next morning, they found the gold and rejoiced. The girls could now get married and the father’s worries were put to rest.

    As Smithsonian.com points out, the tradition of putting gold in stockings isn’t very easy to replicate. As a result, oranges (and sometimes tangerines) started being used as a representation of gold.

    What’s more, some say the oranges aren’t meant to simply represent the gold St. Nick left behind—but also his incredible generosity.

    Today, Christmas is known as the season of giving. So, by stuffing stockings with oranges, we’re paying homage to both the gift itself and the intention behind it.

    A Luxurious Treat on Christmas Day

    This “luxurious treat” theory has roots in multiple different points of history. Firstly, some say the tradition originated well before the 19th Century.

    As you can imagine, the trade routes, transportation types, and technology were far less developed than what we have today. As a result, oranges were not easily accessible in non-native growing areas—meaning only the wealthy could typically afford such an exotic treat. So, you could imagine the jubilation of a poor or average person receiving such an incredible treasure in their stocking on Christmas morning.

    Others claim the orange tradition was founded during the Great Depression and/or World War eras in the first half of the 20th Century.

    For a little more background, according to Taste of Home, the Sunkist brand burst on the scene in 1908. In fact, oranges were the first produce item to have its own ad campaign, the publication said. As a result, the interest and demand for oranges exploded across the country—and eventually accessibility began to grow.

    But during the Great Depression, as well as World War I and World War II, many felt the major financial crunch. So, depending on location and circumstance, using oranges as stocking stuffers could have been an easy, yet special, treat or an outstanding luxury.

    Oranges Are Lucky

    Perhaps one of the more unique theories behind the orange stocking stuffer tradition is rooted in ancient Chinese and other Asian customs and beliefs.

    You see, the orange has been a symbol of good fortune and luck for centuries. During the Chinese New Year celebration, which takes place very close to Christmas festivities every year, oranges (and tangerines) are often used as decorations and are exchanged among friends and family.

    While there isn’t a definitive connection between the Asian belief and the Christmas tradition, it’s reasonable to assume it’s no coincidence. As our world has become more interconnected, and both religious and secular traditions have mingled over the years, the orange stocking stuffer tradition has been influenced from multiple angles.

    What it All Comes Down To? Tradition

    Despite the many competing and complementing theories, the common thread is simple: tradition.

    No matter the historical reasoning one chooses to embrace, the fact is that putting oranges in stockings represents the spirit of the season; giving generosity, giving joy, giving luck, and passing on tradition.

    What long-time or unique Christmas traditions does your family honor each year? Tell us in the comments section below.  

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  • Beautiful Christmas Wreaths

    wreath topFor the last couple of days I've been talking with you about Christmas wreaths....their history and just exactly how you put one of 'em together so it looks great. I was thinking last night about my first wreath and how I really had no idea on how it was supposed to look or what theme I wanted.

    If this is your first time making your own Christmas wreath, I thought maybe offering some ideas of what others have done might help to get the ol' creative ball rolling. So without further ado, settle in for some viewing pleasure. :)\

    wreath 1

     

     

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    wreath 8

     

    wreath 3

     

     

    wreath 5

     

    wreath 4 rosemary

     

    wreath 6

     

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    wreath 10

     

    See, I told you you couldn't do it wrong. :)

    Next time we'll take a look at some creative wreaths that are made out of materials other than greens. It's going to be very fun, so don't miss it!

    Until then,

    Cheryl

    Photo Credit: Title Wreath, Gallery

  • Christmas Stories | The Missing Five Pound Note

    bedtime storiesReading bedtime stories is a favorite, universal tradition. And, if your kids are anything like mine, they definitely have their favorites. I could read one of those favored stories every night for a month, and they'd never grow tired of it! There is something about hearing a familiar story that calms their little hearts and gives them permission to drop off to sleep.

    Apparently there are a few rather well known Christmas stories that have circulated, and have become very helpful in helping the kids settle down, especially on the nights leading up to Christmas! Their little bodies just have the hardest time giving it up for another day, hahahaa! I thought it'd be fun to share a few of these stories with you over the next few posts.

    Today's story comes from England, and is entitled The Missing Five Pound Note. It goes like this:

    Chippenham George worked for the Post Office and his job was to process all the mail that had illegible addresses.  One day just before Christmas, a letter landed on his desk simply addressed in shaky handwriting: 'To God'.  With no other clue on the envelope, George opened the letter and read:

    Dear God,

    I am an 93 year old widow living on the State pension.  Yesterday someone stole my purse.  It had £100 in it, which was all the money I had in the world and no pension due until after Christmas.  Next week is Christmas and I had invited two of my friends over for Christmas lunch.  Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with.  I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope.  God; can you please help me?

    Chippenham George was really touched, and being kind hearted, he put a copy of the letter up on the staff notice board at the main Fareham sorting office where he worked.  The letter touched the other postmen and they all dug into their pockets and had a whip round.  Between them they raised £95.  [$170 USD] Using an officially franked Post Office envelope, they sent the cash on to the old lady, and for the rest of the day, all the workers felt a warm glow thinking of the nice thing they had done.

    Christmas came and went.  A few days later, another letter simply addressed to 'God' landed in the Sorting Office.  Many of the postmen gathered around while George opened the letter.  It read,

    Dear God,Christmas Stories

    How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your generosity, I was able to provide a lovely luncheon for my friends.  We had a very nice day, and I told my friends of your wonderful gift - in fact we haven't gotten over it and even Father John, our parish priest, is beside himself with joy.  By the way, there was £5 [$10 USD] missing.  I think it must have been those thieving fellows at the Post Office.

    George could not help musing on Oscar Wilde's quote:  'A good deed never goes unpunished'

    Credits:  Bedtime Stories, Photo and story courtesy

  • Christmas Traditions | Poland

    PolandMost, if not all, of the Christmas traditions in other cultures that we've explored over the last couple of weeks are grand celebrations of one kind or another. There are parties, there is singing and dancing, festivals and much merry making for all.  And, of course, in this way they are quite similar to the American way of celebrating Christmas. Lots of preparation and anticipation for both young and old, most definitely!

    Today, however, we take a peek inside of a country that has a bit more of a somber note to it. In Poland, the Christmas holidays are a time to be very peaceful and to avoid the excess of anything. While feasts and parties and boisterous celebrations are going on in other parts of the world, Poland can often be found fasting, giving up their favorite food or beverage, and great effort is spent on remembering the real reason for the season.

    Advent is a very busy time, tho! Lots of time is spent cleaning the house from top to bottom, washing windows and floors and carpets. It's like spring cleaning! Everything must be clean for Christmas Day. This is common also where parties are held, but in Poland, there are no parties. It leaves one to wonder if perhaps the reason for the spic 'n span home is to honor the Christ child himself.

    Polish mealChristmas Eve day is a very important day. Traditionally it's a day of abstaining from meat. If the Christmas tree hasn't been put up yet, it is brought in and decked out with lights, tinsel and glass bulbs. And mistletoe! The Polish LOVE their mistletoe and love even more kissing beneath it! Overall, it's a pretty quiet day...that is until night time.

    Everyone is pretty hungry by now, and in order for their fasts to be broken, someone, anyone, must spot the first star in the night sky. You can bet the kids are out there, tummy's growling! Once the first star has been spotted, a big meal is served and enjoyed by all. A place is often left open at the table, presumably for the Christ child.  The evening ends with attending a midnite mass.

    At dawn on Christmas Day, it's back to church for an early morning mass with special communion, a mass that honors Mary, the mother of Jesus.

    Photo credit:  Flag, Table,

  • Christmas Traditions ~ Madagascar

    summer campSummer camp was a regular thing for me as a kid growing up. The church camp I attended was about 3 1/2 hours from home, and I still remember riding in the back of the station wagon with my feet dangling out the back window, knowing that when we hit the dirt road we'd be almost there. The week ahead would include swimming, horse back riding, box hockey and of course mess hall.

    There were also required services, and I remember many sweltering nights in the tent listening to the speaker. It seemed as though it would never end sometimes, and the heat and humidity made many young bodies restless. All we could think about in those moments was cooling off in the pool! It would last probably a little over an hour, but honestly it felt like 6 times that long.

    church serviceThe people of Madagascar would have felt right at home. Living on an island located off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar people never experience cold or snow at Christmas. Instead, it would be more like my summer camp experience. And since Christmas is far less about gifts exchanged and more about being in church there, nobody would become restless, not even the children. Their typical Christmas service starts at 5pm and goes until well after midnite! I guess we were just a bunch of whiners, haha!

    pointsettiaAnother interesting fact about Madagascar is that pointsettias, a holiday plant here in the U.S., are not these small little indoor plants that only flower at Christmas. Nope. In Madagascar, they are extremely large outdoor shrubs that flower year round! In fact the pointsettia is their national emblem!

    Photo credit:  Camp, Christmas Service, Pointsettia

     

  • Christmas Traditions ~ Boston

    Minn NiceIt is a little known fact that the people are so polite, so nice in Minnesota that they have earned the title,"Minnesota Nice."  Their politeness and willingness to go out of their way for others isn't isolated in practice toward tourists either, even though the more industrious Minnesotans have created tshirts, mugs, key chains, etc. with the slogan on it.

    Minnesota Nice is really just common courtesies in every day life extended  to anyone you might happen to meet without expecting anything in return. While this kind way of living has been lost in many other parts of the U.S., Minnesota has managed to retain it. It really is remarkable.

    But, as it turns out, Minnesota is not the only state in the union that knows a thing or two about this. On December 6th, 1917, a massive explosion rocked the City of Halifax, destroying 1600 homes, killing close to 2000 people and injuring hundreds. Within hours, help came from across the border, a most unlikely place. The people of Boston, upon hearing the devastating news, were on the scene to lend a hand. A relief train with food, water, medical supplies, and workers to distribute them was dispatched, arriving on December 8 only slowed by a massive snow storm.

    boston tree

    Food and water were distributed, and medical workers relieved the Nova Scotia team, many of whom had been on duty since the explosion. Bostonians continued helping throughout the rebuilding process, forming an enduring bond between the two cities that still exists today!

    That year, as a small gesture of their gratitude, Halifax sent a Christmas tree to Boston. Decades later someone decided that once wasn't enough, and so since 1971 Halifax has sent a Christmas tree to Boston every year! Talk about Minnesota nice. And, being neighborly and grateful. This definitely gives Minnesota a run for their money in the nice category!

    I'd love to see other cities trying to outdo the people in Boston, Minnesota and Halifax. That would put a whole new face on Christmas!

    Photo credit:  MN Nice, Christmas Tree

     

  • Christmas Traditions ~ Finland

    christmas loveI've been taking a look over the last couple of weeks at Christmas traditions in other cultures, and I hope you have found it as interesting as I have! I think my favorite ones have been those that, no matter what they do, there is a sense of community. While it is true that numerous countries believe that Christmas is a stay-at-home, private celebration, even those places have gatherings and visit family and friends and participate in community events either in the days preceding Christmas or the days following. It's all about the love!

    The Finns have one of THE best Christmas traditions that I have read so far, tho. Being one of those countries that holds fast to Christmas being a private, family, stay-at-home event, there is something that many Finns do after a light Christmas Eve lunch. They go to the spa! Since the weather is so frigid in Finland, I think we can

    finnland saunasafely assume that these spas are not what we think of in the U.S. More than likely, they are something of a hot house in the backyard. The Finns, perhaps in order to prepare themselves for the busyness of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, decide there is no better way to spend Christmas Eve afternoon that in the sauna. Whatever the reason, the practice is significant enough that a stamp was created in its honor!

    When I was in Vegas a couple of weeks ago, I did something similar. Many of my team members wanted to walk down the strip, see the sights. It was nearly 100 degrees, and since I'm from Minnesota all I could think about was sitting at the edge of the pool! So, I stayed back while the others did the traditional Vegas thing, sunbathed and scheduled a Swedish massage! By the time my work event started that evening, I was rested, relaxed and ready to learn!

    I think sitting in a sauna with the people I am closest to on Christmas Eve afternoon sounds like one of the most relaxing, refreshing ideas I've ever heard.

     

    Photo credit:  Heart, Sauna

  • Christmas Traditions ~ Venezuela

    massIt's been fun discovering the interesting ways that other cultures celebrate Christmas and what traditions they hold to. If you've missed any of the posts in this series, take a look back...some of them will definitely bring a smile to your face. :) We've looked at Ireland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Japan. Today we're moving to the country of Venezuela in South America to see their unique ways.

    Venezuela, like most of the rest of South America, is largely Catholic, and so going to mass on Christmas morning would be very customary. Church goers, and even those who don't attend regularly, would go very early in the morning. Nothing really unique about that. But, what is rather striking is the mode of transportation used to get to mass. The streets are even closed down to vehicles the night before in order to ensure safety. You see, everyone gets to mass on . . . roller skates!

    Rollerskating-Venezuela

    And, that's not all. The night before, children tie a piece of string to their big toes and hang the other end out the window. As the roller skates go by the next morning on their way to mass, they yank on all the strings hanging out the window! You know this would never work in America because children are typically up before anyone on Christmas morning!

    There is still more. On Christmas Eve, instead of the usual caroling from house to house, the people beat drums....and, at the stroke of midnight, people shout "Jesus is born!" Firecrackers set the sky ablaze, too. I like that!

     

    Photo credit:  Church, Skating

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