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There are so many Christmas traditions in America--some with roots in Germany or Puritan culture and some made popular through commercialism and story telling. We thought that it would be fun to share some of the origin stories to five Christmas traditions so you can share it with those around you this holiday season!
Nicholas was born around 280AD in Lycia, now modern day Turkey. As the story goes, Nicholas lost both of his parents as a young man and decided to use his inheritance to help those around him. He is credited to giving money to a father who needed dowries for his three daughters, stopping a violent storm to save three sailors and even reviving the lives of three boys who were brutally murdered by a butcher! Because of his reputation, he is known as the patron saint of children, sailors, wolves and even pawnbrokers. His fame grew in the Middle Ages as his story reached Europe and the Dutch translated his name to Sinterklaas and most likely brought the tale to the Americas when they migrated to the Hudson River Valley. By the 1800s, cartoonists were depicting St. Nicholas as a portly dutchman with a white beard, delivering his gifts to homes in a flying sled--the image we most likely think of today. Much of the world celebrates the life of St. Nicholas on the approximate date of his death, December 6 by leaving gifts in your loved ones shoes or exchanging them the way you might on Christmas.
The earliest versions we know of date to 1903 in Germany with a publisher who wanted a way for children to be able to count down to Christmas (I'm sure it was created to give a more visual answer to the seemingly incessant "how many more days until Christmas?" question children love asking). Originally, the doors or windows on the advent calendar could be opened to contain Bible verses, poems or a small gift. Today, advent calendars can be based on any theme a company or product desires--from socks and chocolate to wine and nail polish--making it a fun and festive countdown for anybody on your Christmas list.
This fun, yummy and albeit messy Christmas traditions again lies in German history with the story of "Hansel and Gretel," written by the Brothers Grimm. As the story goes, two children are walking along in the forest and stumble upon a house made of gingerbread and candy where an evil witch lives. While I wouldn't suggest this as the story to read before making your own gingerbread house, it's fun to know where it all began. And if you opt for a smaller activity and want to decorate gingerbread cookies instead, you can thank Queen Elizabeth I who first made this tradition popular.
the nutcracker ballet
One of the must-sees of the Christmas season is the Nutcracker ballet, which premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892. It is the combination of the beautiful work of composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographer Marius Petipa. It was brought to England in 1934 and made it's way to San Francisco in 1944. With performances across the nation beginning in the 1960s, it is now a beloved must-see Christmas tradition.
Want to guess where candy canes come from?? If you guessed Germany, you are right! They really knew how to promote new holiday traditions. These peppermint treats date back to 1670, when a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany wanted an easy distraction for his younger singers. Though sweets are not usually a welcomed notion in the church services, this choirmaster added a hook to the traditionally straight peppermint sticks to pay homage to the Christmas story, appeasing the church board. These red and white striped candies didn't arrive in the United States until 1847, when a German-Swedish immigrant in Wooster, Ohio placed one on a tree. When the automated candy-cane making machine was created in the 1950s, these sweet, minty candies solidified as a permanent Christmas treat, becoming the No. 1 non-chocolate candy sold in the month of December.
We wish you a merry christmas and a happy new year!
Did you learn something new about one of your family's Christmas traditions? We hope you enjoy celebrating this holiday season and being with your loved ones as you share stories and traditions with one another.
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