Gift Giving – In the Dec. 17th Roman festival of Saturnalia and Jan. 1st Roman New Year holidays, gifts were given as good luck emblems and houses were decorated with greenery. The early Christians frowned on this pagan ritual, and wouldn’t have any part of it. For years though, many of the converts wouldn’t part with the practice of giving gifts and related it to the Magi’s giving of gifts and later to St. Nicholas’ gift giving. Gift giving became widely accepted by the middle ages.
The most popular gift requests of boys & girls are of toys, but in the 19th and early 20th century it was fruit, nuts and candy and for many of the early letters to Santa printed in newspapers would include this.
Beginning in early 1900’s Teddy bears became the most requested gift by boys and girls and still is the most popular stuffed toy of all time.
Many churches to this day make up sacks of fruit, nuts and candy to pass out to everyone on the Sunday before Christmas. I don’t know where this got started at, maybe you know, email me if you know.
Holly – Early Christians of Northern Europe decorated their homes & churches with this easily grown evergreen and was called “Holy Tree” later “Holly”, because the pointed green leaves reminded them of the crown of thorns and the red berries of the drops of blood at Jesus’ crucifixion.
Kris Kringle – German for “Christ’s Child” or “Christkindlein”. A name for a early German gift-bringing infant Jesus or angelic being, who was thought of as a Christ’s helper and gave gifts to poor and needy children. As cultures merged, visits from the similar St. Nicholas, Pere Noel, Pelznickel and Christkindlein all became overshadowed or mutated into Santa Claus.
Lights – The lighting of candles and decorating with candles has always been popular, but also one of biggest sources of danger during the Christmas holidays.
In 1895 a New England Telephone employee, Ralph Morris, while looking at the newly installed string of lights made for the telephone switchboard decided to take some home to decorate his tree with. And/or it may be attributed to Thomas Edison’s partner, Edward Johnson for inventing the first string of lights around the same time Ralph, for safety reasons.
In 1923 President Calvin Coolridge started the annual tradition of the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on the White House lawn.
Check out Outdoor Christmas Lights. – Information on outdoor Christmas lights as well as tips, safety and troubleshooting.
Merry Christmas! – When the phrase was coined, merry meant blessed and peaceful, “or Blessed and Peaceful Christmas”. The phrase “God bless ye merry gentlemen” when written, meant “blessed peaceful” gentlemen.
Mistletoe – Ancient Celtic priests calls Druids around the New Year would collect mistletoe from their holy oak tree and offer some as a sacrifice to the gods. Some would be hung up during a ceremony which people would stand under it and kiss showing an end to their old grievances with each other. This later practice never actually died out.
Nativity Scene (creche) – St. Francis of Assisi is responsible for popularizing the nativity scene, but it most probably existed earlier.
In 1223 or 1224 St. Francis wanted to add hope and joy of God’s love to his message by constructing a life-size manger scene with live animals, with the gospel sung around the scene. This became very popular.
North Pole – In 1882 Thomas Nast drew a cartoon showing Santa sitting on a box addressed “Christmas Box 1882, St. Nicholas, North Pole”. Nast just figured it was a good place for Santa to live.
Ornaments – Early Christmas trees had real fruit and flowers and candles as decorations, looked good but was very heavy on the branches. German glass blowers began producing glass balls to replace the heavy decorations. These became known as Blubs.
In the 1800’s the women’s publication, “Godey’s Lady Book” popularize the making of homemade Christmas ornaments & decorations.
Poinsettia – Early Mexican Christians called it the “Flower of Holy Night” and legend has it that a small boy was upset on Christmas eve because he had nothing to offer the Christ Child on His birthday. While the boy was praying at his village church altar, a flower sprang up with its brilliant red and green.
The plant was named after the American ambassador to Mexico, J. R. Poinsett, who found out they grew well in the U.S. after sending some to his home in S. Carolina.
Poinsettias have long been considered poisonous to humans, but according to the POISINDEX information service, a 50 lb child would have to eat around 500-600 leaves. The AMA handbook just lists occasional vomiting as side effects of ingestion of leaves.
Red and Green – Possibly from the Holly, which was a early Christmas decoration. Or from the AD325 council of Nicaea, which laid down guidelines for symbolism in church art; Red – blood, sacrifice, divine love, courage, & martyrdom, Green – stood for hope, earth growth, spring, safety, rest youth, & victory, Blue – divine mystery, eternity, & heaven, Purple – royalty & riches, Violet – justice, penitence, pain, pity, & sadness, Gold – Spiritual riches, achievement, & good life, White – purity, faith, truth, peace, & eternity, Black – evil & unknown.