Every year people around the US settle into the holiday season deeply enriched by Christmas (or Hanukkah) traditions from around the world. Whether putting up a Christmas Tree, singing carols, putting out cookies and milk for Santa, or opening an advent calendar, our Holiday traditions are brought to us by (and constantly evolving from) the rich diversity of our immigrant population.
The Christmas Tree
Perhaps the greatest symbol of Christmas, and the holidays season, Christmas trees are one of the dominant images of the month. The Christmas Tree was originally a German tradition dating back to the 16th Century, but had its history much further back when evergreens were the symbol of eternity, renewed life, as well as warding away evil spirits.
The first records of a Christmas tree in the United States was in the mid 1800’s with trees being put up by German settlers in Pennsylvania. At the time they were seen as pagen symbols, and had even preached against by Oliver Cromwell.
Thankfully in 1846 Queen Victoria and her German Prince Albert popularized Christmas trees, and today there are 25-30 million real Christmas trees sold each year!
This “jolly old elf” is actually a blend of many different characters and cultures over hundreds of years. Also known as Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Chris Kringle, and simply Santa, he found his roots in 4th century Greece, and then travelled through pagan traditions in England, Holland, and Germany (as Wodon) among others. The blended modern version of Santa Claus, the sleigh-riding gift-giver seem to have come out in the 1800’s in the United States. In 1821 there was an anonymous poem published in New York called, Old Santeclaus with Much Delight, that detailed a man on a sleigh giving out toys to children, and only 2 years later the now very famous poem The Night Before Christmas was published in New York as well. Finally in 1902 L Frank Baum ( of Oz book fame), published a story called the Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, and then was picked up by Coca Cola marketing in the 1940’s who branded him with their red and white colours. One could even say that Santa Claus is the perfect American immigrant success story, although apparently he’s currently a Canadian citizen.
Cookies and Milk, Candy Canes, and Gingerbread
Leaving treats for Santa and his reindeer dates back to ancient Norse mythology, but cookies and milk for Santa is all American, and began during the Great Depression in the 1930s, as a sign of showing gratitude during a time of struggle. Candy Canes and Gingerbread are once again owed to our German ( and Swedish) immigrants. Candy Canes are the single biggest selling non-chocolate candy and date back to the mid 1830’s, and the first automated Candy Cane machine was developed in the 1950’s. Gingerbread came out of the famous story by the Grimms brothers which was originally published in 1812, but it was once again Queen Victoria that brought this tradition to the rest of the world.
Brought to us by Russian genius Tchaikovsky the Nutcracker Ballet is one of the most performed ballets in the world. Loosely based on a well-known Russian story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, written in 1816, the ballet is likely Tchaikovsky’s most well known piece of music. The first performance of the Nutcracker in the US was in 1944 by the San Francisco Ballet.
Regardless of your heritage, or how you celebrate this time of year, we at Harlan York and Associates wish you all the best this holiday season.
Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Happy Hanukah, Frohe Weihnachten, Buon Natale, from all of us.