The History Behind 7 Holiday Traditions

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The turkey, its trimmings, and even the leftovers are nothing more than a memory; as the television and every other media source is telling us, now it’s time to turn on the Christmas cheer. But why exactly do we hang socks by the chimney, purchase poinsettias, or steal smooches under dangling greenery during this time a year? What’s the real story behind these holiday traditions?

1. From Saint to Santa

The History Behind 7 Holiday Traditions

Photo: reusableart.com

St. Nicholas of Dutch origin is often portrayed as a tall white bearded man dressed in red clerical robes. Known as the patron saint of children, wolves, sailors and pawnbrokers, several stories exist as to why he became such colorful symbol of Christmas. One says that he saved sailors from a dangerous storm earning him much love from their grateful families, another claims he gave money to a poor man to save his daughters, one even claims that three boys murdered by a crazy butcher were brought back to life by the good saint.

Upon his death, the bones of Saint Nicholas were distributed to Catholic churches throughout Europe and became honored religious relics. The traditions associated with St. Nicholas first came to the New World via the Dutch colonists. In 1809, Washington Irving writes in the “History of New York” about a portly man flying about in a wagon dropping gifts down a chimney.  Then in 1823, Clement Clark’s famous “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” replaces the wagon with a sleigh led by eight tiny reindeer. Finally, during the Civil War years, German born American cartoonist Thomas Nast published a series portraying Saint Nicholas as he is known today – the jolly old fat man squeezing down chimneys with a bursting bag of toys.

2. Stuffed Socks

The History Behind 7 Holiday Traditions
Photo: reusableart.com

We can blame a poor widower for the tradition of hanging stockings. Worried that his impoverished status would ruin the marital prospects for his girls, the distraught widower’s story was known to all the town.

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