The Christmas holiday season falls during a time celebrated back in ancient times: the winter solstice. Various cultures around the world have celebrated this time of the year. By the time settlements in the U.S. began growing into thriving communities, the winter solstice had become a time to celebrate Christian and secular traditions of family and giving. But our history with the British and English traditions didn’t make this a popular holiday until the mid 1800s.
A Change of Heart and Seasons
In the early 1800s, author Washington Irving wrote an account of families celebrating Christmas traditions that may have been entirely fictional. During those tough times of high unemployment and conflictsnofollow, people embraced the concept of a holiday where families of all classes could come together to celebrate abundance and peace.
During this same time, the story “A Christmas Carol” was written by Charles Dickens. The message of charity and good will to people of all kinds was read and adopted by people tired of struggling. The story brought hope into the homes of families in both the U.S. and England. Americans began to celebrate Christmas as a family holiday.
This helped create an atmosphere of caring for the children that had not been seen in the strict working households. So the holiday also became a way to give praise, attention and gifts to children throughout the community.
Traditions Come From Around the World
When the Dutch settled in New York they brought their holiday traditions with them. A favorite was hanging stockings on St. Nicholas Evenofollow on December 5th and filling them with presents. The Dutch word for St. Nicholas became “Santa Clause.” With the help of Washington Irving, again, Santa Clause became the benevolent entity that traveled the world to deliver gifts to children.
Furthering the story of Santa Clause, author Clement C. Moore wrote the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” which is best known as “The Night Before Christmas.” Moore’s poem moved St. Nick’s activities from early December to the 25th of the month. His story also introduced the eight reindeer that take Santa Clause on his journey.
Combine the Dutch traditions with some writers’ creative influence, and you have the gifting tradition that children have enjoyed ever since.
The Tree Comes Inside
Christmas trees became popular in Germany in the early 1800s. The tradition included bringing a live evergreen tree into the house and decorating it with streamers and candles. It was not until Prince Albert put up a Christmas tree in Windsor Castlenofollow that Americans adopted this as part of their holiday tradition.
In response to a decline of available live trees, an American company, Addis Brush, created the first artificial tree available in the U.S. It was made of the same bristle brushes that the company was known for. The artificial tree was easy to take care of and had no needles. Artificial trees would soon become a fixturenofollow in over 50 percent of the U.S. households at Christmas.
Candles were still the preferred way to light up a Christmas tree. Thomas Edison had recently invented the light bulb, but they were still expensive and impractical to use on a Christmas tree.
The Story of the Red Nose
Retail was becoming a big part of the Christmas celebration. In 1939, Montgomery Wardnofollow needed something to draw in children with their parents. They tasked Robert May with creating a coloring book that would be given away to children. May created Rudolph (who he had considered naming “Rollo” or “Reginald”) the Red Nosed Reindeer. That first year, over 2 million coloring books were handed out.
The song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was written in 1949 by Johnny Marks and recorded by Gene Autry. It became an all-time best seller.
The American spirit incorporated ideas from many people and cultures to create their own version of Christmas. It continues to be full of giving and gratitude. Regardless of the current-day climate, Christmas is a time to celebrate, to enjoy friends and family, and to generate joy in the hearts of our children.