The United States is a melting pot of backgrounds, ethnicities, ideas and traditions. From the foods we eat to the phrases we use, many parts of our daily lives are influenced by those who journeyed here before us. The same goes for our holiday traditions.
Our holiday traditions, and specifically our Christmas ones, are built from those others brought here to create something uniquely American.
So who brought these traditions here? Why do we share our home with a tree or bake special desserts every December?
The answer is in our heritage.
Traditions from all over the world
German immigrants can be thanked for one of our most significant customs – decorating a tree.
German settlers decorated trees in small Pennsylvania towns in the early 1820s. A few decades later, Americans got a glimpse of a decorated tree in a newspaper and the practice caught on.
The other popular holiday plant, the poinsettia, came to us from Mexico. An American diplomat, Joel Poinsett, brought the plant back with him after a trip and soon they were being sold all over the country. The green and red colors make poinsettias perfect to brighten up our holidays and celebrate with our neighbors to the south.
The yule log is a gift from Norway. During the winter solstice, the ancient Norse burnt a special log to celebrate the season. We carry on that tradition by centralizing the roaring fire in our holiday scenes and enjoying log-shaped desserts.
Of course, England is responsible for most of our holiday traditions. The English popularized sending greeting cards, hanging mistletoe from doorways and caroling. The English also hung stockings by their fireplaces, a tradition similar to Scandinavian children leaving their shoes to be filled with treats.
The big question – where did Santa come from?
And finally, the jolly old elf himself, Santa Claus. The original St. Nicholas was from modern-day Turkey, known for giving gifts to those in need. His legend grew through Italy, Germany, Norway and all throughout Europe until he was considered a symbol of giving and the winter celebrations.
Santa’s looks, character and personality have been shaped by groups all around the world. In that way, Santa Claus and December in the United States are similar – built by different customs, backgrounds, ideas and religions.
Each of these traditions adds something extra that wasn’t here before, so all can enjoy the season of giving and hope.
Which holiday traditions does your family celebrate?