The holidays are a time when we can take a break from our hectic schedules and remember the special bond we have with family and friends. To help us get into the spirit of the holidays, we trim the tree with twinkling lights, hang Christmas cards from the louvered shutters, buy each other Christmas gifts, and listen to carols. But aside from the universal and timeworn traditions, it seems every family has at least one holiday tradition that they claim as their own.
Your family tradition may be as simple as watching “The Christmas Story” on TV every year, or as elaborate as hosting the annual neighborhood party. Maybe your family enjoys cooking soups and casseroles for your local food bank, or taking blankets and winter clothes to a homeless shelter. Perhaps it’s a traditional Christmas morning breakfast that makes the holidays special at your place. Mom might make her famous cinnamon rolls or French toast, or dad might have a special Christmas morning scrambled eggs recipe that he cooks up for everyone.
There are Christmas traditions that have lasted centuries and there are those that we make up along the way. Following are some of our favorite traditions that have taken on new characteristics over time.
Gingerbread & Eggnog
There are foods and drinks that are reserved strictly for Christmas celebrations. No matter how delicious these treats may be, you will only see them from December 1st, to New Year’s Eve, and then the window abruptly closes. If you didn’t get your fill of pumpkin spiced lattes before the New Year, bad luck – you’ll just have to wait until next year.
When you think about it, candy canes, gingerbread, warm Christmas pudding with custard, German stollen and Italian panettone, are all a testament to our incredible will power throughout the year. The same goes for holiday drinks. No matter how much we enjoy our mulled wine, warm apple cider and eggnog at Christmas time, curiously, we don’t feel the need to drink them any other time of the year. Sure, we could whip up a homemade Christmas pudding and eggnog in April, but wouldn’t it feel like cheating?
Perhaps the most iconic Christmas fare is the candy. With the overabundance of sweets on the market today, many old-fashioned favorites have disappeared from our everyday candy lexicon. What ever happened to Pez, Black Jack Gum, Clarke, and Sugar Daddy? Thankfully, many of our favorite holiday candy varieties, like candy canes, gingerbread houses and gingerbread men, have stood the test of time, and reemerge each year like clockwork.
The notion of sending greeting cards to family and friends was first dreamed up by the influential English entrepreneur Sir Henry Cole, who had apparently run out of time to write individual greeting letters to all of his friends. In 1843, Cole commissioned John Calcott Horsley to provide the illustration for what is now widely believed to be the first ever commercially produced Christmas card.
The US Postal Service can attest, that the Christmas card tradition is alive and well in America today, but you are probably noticing some changes in the design of cards in recent years. Photo cards are popping up everywhere, giving the annual Christmas card mail-out a personal touch. Putting your family photo on a greeting card used to be an expensive luxury that most people didn’t have access to, but thanks to the advent of inexpensive online printing presses, the photo card is now accessible to anyone who would ordinarily send standard cards.
Oh Christmas Tree! Oh Christmas Tree!
The tradition of tree trimming seems to have originated in West Germany. Evidently, the custom harks back to the days when German families would decorate their Christmas trees with food items. Early trees were symbolic of the Paradise Tree from biblical stories of the Garden of Eden. Cookies, fruit and wafers were hung on the tree as “symbols of plenty.” Some time after the Paradise Tree became a part of the Christmas tradition, it was noticed that the tasty symbols of plenty would occasionally go missing. This phenomenon was attributed to Santa and his reindeer, who had evidently been getting hungry on their neighborhood tour. Families began to leave the fruit and wafers on plates by the chimney instead of hanging them on the tree, presumably so that Santa and his reindeer could indulge on some “guilt free” snacking, instead of pilfering the tree trimmings.
Apart from candy canes (which still periodically go missing during the lead up to Christmas Day), nowadays we trim our trees with Christmas ornaments of the non-edible type. Bells and tinsel and etched glass are some of the wonderful decorations that are used to adorn the tree today, and trimming the tree has remained one of our all time favorite traditions at Christmastime.
The story of the Christmas stocking varies depending on who is doing the story telling, but one of the more popular versions is the legend of a nobleman who lost his wife to illness and was left to care for his three young daughters. After losing all of his money, the family struggled terribly. One cold night in December, the daughters washed their winter stockings and hung them to dry above the fireplace. Later that night, Saint Nicholas, who took pity on the family, visited the house, and sitting atop the chimney, saw the three sets of stockings hanging above the fireplace. Struck with inspiration, he took three bags of gold from his sack, and dropped them one by one, into each of the stockings. In the morning, the family woke to find that they were freed from their financial despair.
Today, the tradition is continued with our hanging of stockings above the fireplace or on the mantle, to be filled with, not coins of gold, but small treasures, keepsakes and candy that family members have collected during the year. You are likely to find all manner of “stocking stuffers” in your stocking, and sometimes, if a valuable gift is small enough, it may find its way into a stocking, making the Christmas stocking a mysterious and exciting part of Christmas morning! The range of stockings from Personal Creations includes gorgeous vintage inspired handcrafted needlepoint stockings and knit Argyle stockings.
Whether you look forward to the annual neighborhood party in your quiet cul-de-sac, or your family enjoys piling up in the car and driving around the neighborhood in search of the house with the best Christmas light display or nativity scene, Christmas traditions are what makes the holidays so special. What will your holiday traditions be, this year?
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