Christmas is such a joyous time of year and soon your children will be hanging their stockings and anxiously waiting for Santa to arrive on what is, to kids, the longest night of the year—Christmas Eve. Christmas brings family together to share good food, laughter and traditions—new ones as well as the old ones. But while you’re sharing in those Christmas traditions, did you ever stop to wonder where they began?
As the tale goes, a nobleman became very depressed after the passing of his wife and foolishly spent all of his money. This left his three daughters unable to marry as they didn’t have dowries and it looked as if they would grow into old maids.
St. Nick—or Santa Claus as he’s known today—had heard of the daughters unfortunate circumstances. One night he anonymously rode to the nobleman’s house, entered and dropped a bag of gold into each of the newly washed stockings that the girls had hung to dry by the fireplace. The following morning, the three ladies and their father were quite surprised to find the bags of gold in each stocking. Now the nobleman had plenty of money for his daughters to get married—and they did! Kids have been hanging stockings on Christmas Eve ever since then.
Many years ago, Christmas stockings were usually hung by a fireplace; but since most homes today don’t have fireplaces, just about anywhere you can find to hang your stocking will make a good spot. The stocking is supposed to be filled with gifts from Santa Claus. For those children that are naughty during the year, it’s said that these children won’t find anything in their stocking on Christmas morning.
In Germany in the sixteenth century, outdoor and indoor fir trees were adorned with colored paper, apples, gold-covered candies and roses. It’s claimed that while driving home one December night, a theologian got the idea to place candles on his Christmas tree after seeing the bright stars shining through a fir tree’s branches. By the seventeenth century, decorating a Christmas tree was very popular in German towns and spread to other areas of Europe.
Prince Albert of Germany brought the Christmas tree home to England and his wife, Queen Victoria, where, in 1848, a portrait was made of the royal family around their Christmas tree in Windsor Castle; thus causing the Christmas tree to become famous in England. This portrait was then brought to the United States in 1850 and by the late nineteenth century Americans favored decorating the Christmas tree in their homes—and that tradition is still going strong today.
A modern story of the symbolism of the candy cane is the colors represent Jesus Christ: white signifies His purity, the three stripes are the Holy Trinity and the red color of the stripes is for the blood He shed for us. However, there isn’t any proof that this story is fact. The true legend of the candy cane dates back to the sixteenth century when Europeans started decorating Christmas trees. The people mostly decorated the trees with food—like cookies and candy. One of those candies was a white, straight candy stick. In the seventeenth century, it was suggested to craftsmen by a German choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral that these sticks should be made into the shape of a shepherd’s staff.
At ceremonies such as a Nativity scene the candy canes were handed to the restless children in hopes that this treat would keep them calm. It must’ve worked because it soon became popular at ceremonies through all of Europe to pass out candy canes to the children.
In 1847, a German settler of Wooster, OH decided to adorn his Christmas tree with candy canes. It’s said that over fifty years later, a resident of Albany, GA created candy cane goodies to give to local shops, family and friends. Then his brother-in-law designed a machine that would produce candy canes at a much faster rate automatically; this removed the tedious work that was involved with making the candy canes and because of this inventive machine, the candy cane became a favorite treat.
Like the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath began in Germany many centuries ago. The circular wreath represents a life that doesn’t have an end and they were made of evergreens. The wreaths were set on tables with four violet-colored, evenly placed candles put in the wreath; a fifth candle was set in the center and this inner candle was pink. Once a week one of the four candles was lit and a prayer of hope was recited. On Christmas Day the inner pink candle was lit to symbolize Jesus’ birth.
Many wreaths are ornamented with red berries and thorns, both of which are the image of Jesus’ journey. The red berries are His self-sacrifice and His blood; the thorns stand for the Crown of Thorns that was placed on Jesus’ head on the day He was crucified. Berries and thorns are the two most popular items to have on a wreath but there are many other things that can be put on a wreath as well such as bows.
Many Germans started hanging their Christmas wreaths on their front doors and in the sixteenth century, Christians adopted this tradition and it continues to this very day. Wreaths are even hung over fireplaces, on walls or in windows.
There are more of these interesting Christmas traditions to come in part two—so stay tuned!