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Christmas Traditions, Origins, and Meanings

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician, and author of books for children and adults.

Nothing says Christmas like a dazzling decoration dangling from a real fir tree

Nothing says Christmas like a dazzling decoration dangling from a real fir tree

Christmas Traditions

Christmas has become one of the biggest and most widely celebrated holidays of the year. And while its original intention was to celebrate the birth of Christ, it has equal significance as one of the most important feast days of the calendar year for believers and non-believers alike. What marks it out as the holiday of holidays is the number and variety of traditions that have grown up alongside it, giving everyone who celebrates it the chance to indulge in a collection of activities that would seem out of place at any other time.

Red and green are the original colours associated with Christmas

Red and green are the original colours associated with Christmas

The Colours of Christmas

These days homes and trees are decorated in just about all the colours of the rainbow, including clear and white lights. But in the beginning, only two colours were associated with Christmas. These had their origins both in pagan beliefs and the beliefs of Christianity:

  • Green: The colour of the tree and the holly branch, green was used to remind people that new life would return to the world once the cold, dreary winter months had passed.
  • Red: The colour of cranberries, holly berries, Santa's suit and the robin's breast, red is believed to symbolise the blood that Jesus shed during the crucifixion.

Christmas and Santa Claus

Is there really a Santa Claus?

Why, of course, there is!

His first appearance was in the form of St. Nicholas, a 4th-century Turkish bishop with a reputation for kindness and generosity. His magnanimous nature must have been something of an oddity at the time, so much so that before long, all sorts of rumours about the miracles he performed were whispered amongst the townsfolk.

The Dutch variant of St. Nicholas is Sinterklaas, and it's easy to see how this was transformed into the familiar Santa Claus legend when Dutch settlers colonised America.

The sight of presents under the tree fills young and old with anticipation

The sight of presents under the tree fills young and old with anticipation

Frankincense is mainly used these days to make incense

Frankincense is mainly used these days to make incense

A dish of ground myrrh, also destined to be burned as incense

A dish of ground myrrh, also destined to be burned as incense

Christmas Presents

The giving of gifts at Christmas is believed to date back to the time of Christ's birth. It was then that the three wise men known as the Magi brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the stable where Jesus lay, according to the legend. But what exactly is frankincense or myrrh?

The nature of frankincense may be slightly easier to understand thanks to the latter half of its name, i.e., incense. Both it and myrrh are resins from the sap of trees found largely in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, where they've been used for centuries. Their sweet aromas were the air fresheners of the day, and they were also used for personal and medicinal purposes, from beefing up eye shadow to healing wounds.

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So if you're wondering what to buy this year for that special person in your life or someone who has everything, consider these ancient aromatic gifts.

Create Your Own Christmas Traditions

Throughout DecemberChristmas EveChristmas Day

Making decorations

Taking a walk

Giving gifts

Baking special treats

Singing carols

Making lunch

"Putting up the tree" party

Watching a favourite movie

Visiting friends and neighbours

Christmas Trees

Bringing an evergreen tree into the house reminds us that spring will soon be here. The green branches hint at new growth in a few months when the weather warms up and the days get longer.

This is a long-standing German tradition, first introduced into the United Kingdom when Prince Albert married Queen Victoria. These days Christmas trees can be artificial, big or small, decorated however we see fit. Yet they still serve to remind us that winter won't last forever.

For people who celebrate Christmas with any enthusiasm, a tree is essential. Getting it out of the attic or in from the field forms part of many a family's traditional Christmas preparations.

Christmas Cards

The sending and receiving of Christmas cards may be becoming something of a lost art, a victim of the electronic messaging that's so universally practiced these days. Now it's easier to send an e-card, many of which are free, than to try to keep track of all those postal addresses. But even e-cards can trace their origins back to the early 19th century.

It was then that the Englishman Sir Henry Cole first came up with the idea of creating cards to simplify sending out greetings at this festive time of year. Cole is thought to have printed off about 10,000 cards, each one carrying seasonal messages that could be sent to friends and family, either to wish them well or to catch up with those not seen in a long time. The tradition is still alive and well, of course, as it's common for couples to send each other a physical card.

Stockings hung by the fire in anticipation of the big day

Stockings hung by the fire in anticipation of the big day

Christmas Stockings

Legend has it that the concept of hanging up Christmas stockings originated with the precursor of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas. He is rumoured to have been moved by a poor family whose daughters had no wedding dowries. So, one day, he snuck up to their house and threw bags of gold through a window. Another bag he dropped down the chimney, and, as luck would have it, it landed in one of the girls' stockings that was hanging to dry by the fireplace.

Christmas Music

Initially, Christmas music took the form of carols and songs for celebration. As the centuries rolled by, it became ever more appropriate to create new songs to celebrate the festive season. Christmas music now exists in just about every genre, from classical to pop and rock and everything in between. Famous examples include Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols, Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride, Irving Berlin's White Christmas, and too many more to mention.

A band performs at the Americana in Glendale, California

A band performs at the Americana in Glendale, California

As Christmas also happens to be the time of year when more music is bought, it has now become a target for artists and their record labels to get a song into the charts in the run-up to Christmas. This doesn't have to be Christmas music, of course, and in most cases, it's simply the latest track of an established performer or a new release by a lesser-known artist.

Surprisingly, even though there is a lot of competition for music at this time of year, it's still possible to hear anything from "The Carol of the Bells" to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". And whether you're a fan of Christmas music or not, it's nice to know that new works are adding to the mix rather than replacing what came before.

© 2013 JohnMello


JohnMello (author) from England on May 06, 2014:

Thanks for sharing anyway!

Richard Parr from Australia on May 06, 2014:

Not sure what attracted me to this hub in May? Maybe I'm hankering for some xmas pudding. Well written. Voted up and interesting.

Christine from New Port Richey, Florida on December 31, 2013:

Thank you for comment on my Hub.. You are right remembering the reason why we celebrate is first and foremost. It started with Jesus

JohnMello (author) from England on December 30, 2013:

Thanks Better Yourself! Getting HotD on Xmas Day was a nice unexpected present.

Better Yourself from North Carolina on December 29, 2013:

Great and interesting hub! Christmas for me is about celebrating the birth of Jesus and spending time with loved ones. I enjoyed learning a few things about holiday traditions that I didn't already know, Thanks for sharing and Congrats on HOTD!

JohnMello (author) from England on December 27, 2013:

Thanks lindagdd!

Linda from California on December 27, 2013:

Very interesting hub JohnMello :)

JohnMello (author) from England on December 26, 2013:

Thanks neilcook!

Neil Cook from United States on December 25, 2013:

Wow! What a great overview and explanation of Christmas! I love it!

JohnMello (author) from England on December 25, 2013:

Thanks KenDean, I appreciate your sharing! And merry Christmas to you too...

Kenneth C Agudo from Tiwi, Philippines on December 25, 2013:

Wonderful and beautiful hub. I know you have put time on making this awesome hub. merry christmas :)

JohnMello (author) from England on December 25, 2013:

Thanks for the positive feedback. And merry Christmas!

Celiegirl on December 25, 2013:

Thanks JohnMello

for covering this so well, inspiring especially since lots of the information is being obscured by the commercialism.

torrilynn on November 29, 2013:

You are more than welcome !

JohnMello (author) from England on November 29, 2013:

Thanks torrilynn. Glad you found it interesting!

torrilynn on November 28, 2013:

I never knew the colors that are used to represent Christmas had meaning. Red= cranberries Green=Trees thanks for this information and the for the information of the meaning of Christmas. Voted up.

JohnMello (author) from England on November 26, 2013:

Thank you Anita Anne Asra. Appreciate your sharing!

Opulentus Akhila Suri from Hyderabad on November 26, 2013:

Very interesting Article JohnMello!

Voted up!

JohnMello (author) from England on November 25, 2013:

Many thanks Mike. Glad you enjoyed it!

Mike Robbers from London on November 25, 2013:

Really interesting hub John!!

Voted up

JohnMello (author) from England on November 22, 2013:

Thanks Kathleen Cochran. You can't beat the real thing...

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on November 22, 2013:

In the first years of email I tried sending Christmas Cards electronically. It's just not the same. Still love to see those envelopes in the mail from friends I only hear from during the holidays. Facebook has changed that to a great extent, but still love displaying those cards during the season.

JohnMello (author) from England on November 22, 2013:

Thanks KoraleeP. I agree, and it's interesting how Christmas means different things to different people. Glad you liked my Hub!

Koralee Phillips from Vancouver British Columbia Canada on November 21, 2013:

Interesting and well-written Hub :). It's always cool to find out how and when traditions originated. I know that the Turkish people (in Istanbul) are very proud of their connection to Santa Claus. I have been to Istanbul 4 times, and once we were there just before Christmas. The landscape looked just like it does here just before Christmas.

The older I get, the less I care about presents for myself. It's all about family, and the excitement of watching kids open their gifts.

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