Six Christmas Traditions You Can’t Live Without

Dec 23

Christmas — that joyous time when families celebrate the birth of their saviour (or someone else’s saviour) by shopping and putting up a pine tree in their living room. Some people are granted a holiday so they can have extra time to devote to buying the perfect gift for every single person they know or are acquainted with and making sure they don’t miss out on any traditional decorations, pre-Christmas shopping days, or family fights about who has to be where and when. Children get time off school so they can learn the true meaning of coloured lights and frosted window spray.

But do you know where these Jesus’s birthday traditions come from? Join us for a trip down sucker lane and find out exactly why you have to contribute to deforestation, go deeper into debt, and eat yams with marshmallows this festive season.

1. The Christmas Tree

Everybody knows you’re not a true Christian if you don’t bring a tree into your house and cover it with mass-produced sparkling decorations from China at some point before December 25th. Hard-core traditionalists will actually kill a tree for this tradition, but that’s okay because some communities have a Christmas-tree recycling program where if you get your dead tree out of your house by a certain date, the city will collect it and grind it up for mulch in public parks or something. So it becomes part of the great circle of life and it’s all good.

Christmas Tree blow-out

Christmas Tree blow-out!

But why do we have to bring a tree into our house? What does murdering foliage have to do with worshiping the new-born king?

According to www.whychristmas.com, “The evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.” So basically what this tells us is that, during ancient Roman times when the new Christian leaders were trying to convince everyone to worship Jesus instead of the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses, the people said, “Well, what are we supposed to do with these fir trees from the temples then?” and the church leaders said, “Uh, duh! Obviously they’re a sign of everlasting life with God!” and the people said, “Oh. Okay. Better throw some tinsel and red balls on ’em then.”

2. Santa Claus

Of course you can’t have Christmas without taking your kids to the mall and standing in line for a couple of hours to get an overpriced photo of them sitting on Santa’s lap and crying because you keep telling them about stranger danger but then throw them on some weird stranger’s lap and expect them to smile. But why? What is it about a fat man in a red suit that says, “Jesus was born in a manger to sacrifice himself as payment for our sins?”

Coca-cola and The Holidays are Coming! source: wikimedia commons

Coca-cola and The Holidays are Coming! source: wikimedia commons

According to Wikipedia, St. Nicolas was a guy who lived in Turkey in the 4th century and devoted his life to being a good Christian and giving gifts to the poor. He was especially famous for giving dowries to some poor guy’s daughters so they could get husbands and wouldn’t have to become prostitutes.

There are lots of iterations of this gift-giving character: “The modern Santa Claus grew out of traditions surrounding the historical Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra, the British figure of Father Christmas, the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas (himself based on Saint Nicholas), the German figure of the Christkind (a fabulized Christ Child), and the holidays of Twelfth Night and Epiphany and their associated figures of the Three Kings (based on the gift-giving Magi of the Nativity) and Befana. Some maintain Santa Claus also absorbed elements of the Germanic god Wodan, who was associated with the pagan midwinter event of Yule and led the Wild Hunt, a ghostly procession through the sky.”

When the poem “The Night Before Christmas” was published in the USA in 1823, modern Santa Claus was born. The poem also gave the names to his eight reindeer. Between then and now, many children’s books, advertisements, and Salvation Army charity drives contributed to the development of the traditional Santa Claus figure that we worship today. According to Wikipedia, Coca-cola was NOT the first soft-drink company to use Santa Claus in a red outfit to promote their beverage, so we can all sleep peacefully on the 24th secure in the knowledge that SC isn’t merely a tool of corporate America.

3. The Traditional Holiday Colours

Google: why do red and green...

Google: why do red and green…

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without taking down all the regular ornaments and putting up a bunch of red and green schlock. Throw in anything shiny and you’re good to go. But where did the traditional colours come from? Are they symbolic? When we put on our ugly Christmas sweater, should we blame Coca-cola, or the Victorians, or who?

GODDAMMIT STARBUCKS YOU RUINED MY CHRISTMAS!

GODDAMMIT STARBUCKS YOU RUINED MY CHRISTMAS!

Dr. Spike Bucklow from the University of Cambridge has been investigating the answer to this very question, and he discovered that although the Victorians started many of our current Christmas traditions, there were two pre-Victorian roots to the red-green colour coding. One was that in medieval churches, there were panels separating the naves from the chancels. These panels were called “rood screens” and were often painted in red and green. Dr. Spike reckons that might be because the red and green pigments were most readily available, but also because this colour combination symbolized the boundary between the part of the church where the priest goes and the part of the church where the parishioners go. Dr. Spike said that the Victorians, who got into restoring old church stuff, may have adopted this red-green colour code to symbolize the boundary of the ending of an old year and the beginning of a new year. Read more of Dr. Spike’s discoveries and musings here.

4. Snow

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” I’m curious to know why, even though Jesus was born in the Middle East, and as many people know the Middle East is mostly desert, snow is considered such an important part of celebrating His birth?

I think it’s because the USA is the center of the universe, and it snows in some parts of the USA in December. But I don’t have all the answers, so I Googled it, and I found the answer on howstuffworks.com. It’s because Bing Crosby recorded Irving Berlin’s song, “White Christmas,” in 1940 and it became popular in the US and with US American troops who were stationed overseas where they don’t have snow.

According to this probability map by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, most states have a less than 25% chance of snow on Christmas day, so I think hoping for a white Christmas is like hoping for a Christmas miracle. If it snows on Christmas day, it shows that God really does care.

5. Boxing Day Sales

You have to buy stuff for other people BEFORE December 25th, and give yourself time to wrap it of course, so that means you have to pay full price for those thousands of xmas gifts you’re responsible for. But AFTER December 25th, after you’ve opened and been disappointed by all the stuff people bought for you, the Boxing Day sales start, and then it’s time to buy the stuff for yourself that you really wanted but nobody thought to get you for Christmas.

But why did this tradition of buying stuff on the day after Christmas start? What even is Boxing Day?

Boxing Day Blowout

Boxing Day Blowout – How much for Burt Reynolds?

A UK radio host called Paul Denton has the answer. Paul says that the Victorians started Boxing Day in the UK and it spread to commonwealth countries. It was started as a day to give tradesmen boxes in exchange for their year of good service. Paul doesn’t mention whether the boxes had anything inside them, but he does mention that before it was Boxing Day, Dec. 26th was St. Stephen’s Day, an important saint because he was the first dude to be martyred for his Christian faith; he was stoned to death shortly after Christ’s crucifixion and he is mentioned in the favourite Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas.” Boxing day is also a good opportunity for families with lots of divorce and remarriage to have a third Christmas dinner at one of the lesser Grandma’s houses.

6. Coloured Lights

Everyone knows that in the olden days, people used to put candles all over their Christmas trees to represent the stars in the night sky when the three wise men went to meet Jesus for the first time. Of course, candles on a tree, especially a dead and probably dry one, are quite the fire hazard, so in our modern world we use coloured lights instead.

Offensive Christmas Lights in Blackpool

Offensive Christmas Lights in Blackpool

When I was a little kid I used to think, “God knows we’re doing this for Him. He wouldn’t let our house burn down.” But now I know that if you’re too busy shopping and stuff and you forget to pray, God will let all manner of bad Christmas things happen, like your house burn down, your cat eat tinsel and die, your dad get stuck in the chimney pretending to be Santa Claus and die… the list goes on. But I digress. The real question here is not, “Why would God let our house burn down when we’re only trying to show how much we love Him?” but “Why do we put up coloured lights all over our house at Christmas?”

According to gizmodo.com, the answer is Thomas Edison. Apparently, in 1880 Edison decided to promote his new invention, the electric light bulb, by stringing up incandescent bulbs all over his laboratory compound in a Christmas miracle light display, and the tradition was born. Immediately, presumably, everyone in America flocked to their local shops to buy strings of lights and then risked their necks to tack the lights all over their houses. Much like we do today, over two hundred years later.

So, the first Christmas light display was a marketing stunt, and light bulb companies all over the world still benefit from it every year. Be careful how you arrange your lights, though. You don’t want to offend anyone.

Happy holidays, everyone!

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