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Christmas Traditions -- Wacky and Wonderful

Aug 18, 2007
Christmas traditions make the holiday season special. We all have certain rituals or customs we do every year to celebrate the season. Did you ever wonder how these customs got their start? Some traditions are well known to all some are celebrated by the few but all are a wonderful way to share the meaning of Christmas with those we love. Read on to learn more about how some traditions came to be.

Advent Calendar
Counting down the days until Christmas with an advent calendar is a popular holiday activity that started in 19th century German homes. The days were counted by making a chalk mark on the floor or hanging a different picture each day. This lead to homemade advent calendars with little doors that were opened each day revealing a Christmas image or bible verse.

Animal Crackers and Christmas?
The National Biscuit Company introduced "Barnum's Animal Crackers" as a holiday seasonal promotion in 1902. The boxes carrying string was designed for hanging on the Christmas tree at a time when candy and treats were typical tree decorations.

Bells
Bells and Christmas are inseparable. A simple silhouette of bells depicts a Christmas meaning. Bells became part of Christian worship around the year 400 and their sound summoning the faithful to worship was their first link to Christmas. This became the notion of "ringing-in" Christmas. In England Christmas is rung in starting December 21st. In Scandinavia, bells ring to announce the end of work and the beginning of the festive season. In some stories, St Nick carries around a hand bell on his visits. The gift-giver in Italy, Befana, rings a bell as she descends the chimney and in Hungary, angel bells are rung to announce that the children's presents have been delivered. Numerous carols use bells as a metaphor for joy and hope as in "Silver Bells," "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day," and "Jingle Bells."

Boxing Day
In Britain and many Commonwealth countries, December 26th is a legal holiday known as Boxing Day. Since the middle ages it was the custom during the Christmas season for English employees to solicit tips from people with whom their employer did business. These tips were collected in earthenware boxes which is where the day got its name.

Candy Canes
The red and white striped stick of hard candy known as the candy cane has its origins around 1670. The candy was invented as a means of quieting children during the Christmas service by a choirmaster of Cologne Cathedral. The candies were made in the shape of a shepherds hook. The shape of the hook soon led to hanging them on the tree as it was the custom to decorate the tree with sweets.

Christmas Carols
Carols were started as songs celebrating events of the Nativity. The word carol is said to be derived from a Greek word for circle dancing. Throughout the years religious organizations have both participated in and prohibited singing carols depending on the religious teachings of the day. During the 17th century carols were sung by carolers on "begging visits" during the Christmas season. After 1878, the Church of England renewed its use of Christmas carols which led to their popularity. The 20th century saw a continued interest in carols and a number of new religious and secular Christmas songs were written and became popular holiday favorites.

Childremas
December 28th is that date of the Feast of the Holy Innocents which commemorates the murder of the male babies of Bethlehem by King Herod. In many countries the day was considered a day of ill omen. In England no business was conducted on that day. In Ireland, no new venture was to begin on that day . Many sailors would not sail on December 28th. On the Aran Islands, no one was to be buried that day. In Cornwall washing that day would bring death to one of your relatives.

Christmas Crackers
A Christmas novelty made popular in Britain. The Christmas cracker is a small cardboard tube covered in decorative wrap. When pulled apart the tube makes a small explosive sound and the inside reveals toys and papers with humorous sayings. It was invented by a London confectioner who wanted a novelty that would sell for the Christmas season. Originally filled with sweet treats it was later filled with humorous or romantic sayings and prizes from inexpensive toys to expensive jewelry. It is now a popular part of Christmas celebrations in homes around the world.

Department Store Santas
The first department store to feature a visit with Santa was the J. W. Parkinson's store in Philadelphia in 1841. Astonishingly, no other department stores copied this event until 1890 when a store in Boston repeated it. Before long lines of children formed at stores across America to sit on Santa's lap and tell him their Christmas wish list. The department store Santa has been immortalized in films such as Miracle on 34th Street and Christmas Story.

Eggnog
This popular holiday drink takes its name from an old term for ale, "nog." It is copied from the French drink lait de poule, made of eggs, milk and spices. Americans added rum to it and topped it with nutmeg.

Elves
Small creatures who are associated with Christmas as Santa's helpers in the North Pole. They were not always so friendly. They originated in Scandinavia as house-elves who could be helpful if bribed but malicious if slighted, especially at Christmas. In Denmark, its customary to leave a bowl of milk out for them. Elves begin to take on a more positive and Christmas oriented persona in the 19th century as part of a drive to make Christmas more child-centered.
About the Author
Terri Hunziker founded GamesAndLetters.com. Games and Letters provides hundreds of print-and-play games -- Christmas party games, bridal shower games, baby shower games, and more! For immediate access to hundreds of fun games and ideas for your next party, visit, gamesandletters.com.
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