Christmas is a holiday with a rich history. The way it is celebrated has changed through the years, but each new practice builds upon old Christmas traditions to make today's Christmas celebrations even richer. Keeping cherished Christmas customs allows us to appreciate and honor the past; we can enjoy holiday nostalgia while reshaping each Christmas tradition to fit our own time and lifestyle. Let's take a look back and see how some of the most popular American Christmas practices have evolved through the years.
Historic American Christmas Decorations
In early America, Christmas celebrations centered on food, fun, friends, and family, much like our festivities do today. Early settlers in America brought Christmas traditions from the "Old World" to the new, celebrating the holiday as they did back home. Churches were often decorated for Christmas while individual homes were decorated less frequently and more sparsely. Christmas decorations of the time involved natural materials such as holly, mistletoe, bay, and evergreen. Candles and fires were an integral part of early holiday traditions, but were less decorative than necessary at this point in history.
While decorated trees as a part of Christmas celebrations appeared in Germany as early as the 16th century, the Christmas tree did not become a fixture in American holiday homes until well after Queen Victoria's family was pictured with a decorated Christmas tree in 1848. Early trees were ornamented with candles, apples, nuts, and homemade decorations. Today, there is a huge variety of manufactured ornaments available, and many families have accumulated collections of cherished ornaments from Christmases past. Christmas trees appear not only in private homes but also in public outdoor spaces, and the variations in decorations they employ are almost endless.
Popular Images of Christmas
Santa Claus may be an inseparable part of Christmas today, but this wasn't always so. Our modern Santa Claus has his roots in accounts of the 4th-century St. Nicholas's gift-giving generosity as well as in stories of the early Germanic god Odin. The current image of Santa Claus in America as a red-clad, plump, jolly, and bearded fellow gained popularity in the 19th century. Today we see a Santa Claus in just about every shopping mall during the Christmas shopping season.
Driving around many neighborhoods during December means viewing a variety of light displays. From giant inflatable Santa Clauses to traditional strings of Christmas lights, many people bring their holiday decorating to their homes' exteriors. Light has always been a Christmas symbol, with fires and candles being an important part of celebrations throughout history. The tradition of decorating homes and outdoor trees with Christmas lights gained mainstream popularity in the mid-1950s. Inside the home, light can be incorporated into a variety of Christmas decorations with elements like table centerpiece candles and strings of lights and greens wrapped around banisters.
Creating Your Own Christmas Traditions
Our collective Christmas history is filled with celebrations that have evolved over the years, but each of our families has its own special ways of celebrating Christmas. As you plan your family's festivities this year, you can incorporate both traditional and new practices. For instance, to put a new twist on an old tradition, you can bring the
non-traditional and traditional together with elements like ornaments and candles in new colors like pink and blue. Creating a theme such as a cozy country or opulent Victorian Christmas can also add a unique flair to your Christmas decorations. The possibilities are endless, so let your imagination run wild and get started creating your own special Christmas memories.