The History of Popular Christmas Traditions


by Richard Martindale

Sending greetings cards is a tradition that first began in the 1830s. John Calcott Horsley in England and R. H. Pease in Happy HolidayAmerica were creating small cards with pre-written messages and greetings inside. The popularity and introduction of new post offices and a new postal service in both these countries helped Christmas cards erupt in popularity.

Mistletoe has always been deemed to have mystical powers, having the ability to heal and increase fertility. In Victorian times, mistletoe was hung from doorways and from ceilings. Whenever someone was found to be stood under the mistletoe someone else in that room was supposed to kiss them. This was an unusually personal habit for Victorians but one that has remained popular ever since.

Carol singing is a tradition that began in England. Traveling musicians would visit wealthy homes and estates and perform for the residents. They did this in the hope of receiving food, money or other gifts in return. Again, this is still a popular tradition that many groups, families and individuals partake in.

Hanging a stocking from the bed is one of the stranger customs associated with the holiday period. By doing this, children hope to receive small gifts and little trinkets to open on Christmas day. This stems right back to the times of St Nicholas. The most famous and popular story associated with the monk was that he saved three daughters from being sold into slavery. They had no dowry to offer potential husbands and so they would have sold, however Saint Nicholas provided them with the dowry they required. He allegedly threw bags of gold through the window and down the chimney; one of these bags landed in a stocking.

Children all over the world have sent letters to Santa Claus informing him of the gifts they want this Christmas. Originally this was done simply to let parents know what their children wanted. Not only is this tradition still alive and well, but it has advanced as well. Not only can children send letters to Santa they can also receive a response.

Christmas is historically a time of family and tradition and it is important to many families that these traditions are upheld. Children still open advent calendar windows beginning on the first day of December and culminating on Christmas Eve. Many families also have their own traditions, whether this is regarding who decorates the tree or who provides the centerpiece for the table. These traditions are just as important to most families as any of the more generic ones.

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