There are all kinds of Christmas traditions: opening one present Christmas Eve, finding a pickle ornament for a prize, or watching holiday movies. Some are so well known, though, that it begs the question: where did they originate?
The Colors of Christmas
The color combination of red and green has seemingly always been linked with the Christmas holiday. Believe it or not, that isn’t so. Experts attribute it to two things: holly and Coca-Cola. Holly, which has bright red berries and deep green leaves, has long been associated with the winter solstice by Pagans, and later by Christians the thorny crown of Jesus. Later, when Coca-Cola hired Haddon Sundblom to draw a Santa Claus for their advertisements, red became synonymous with the jolly man’s coat and hat, and firmly took its place as an official color of the season, along with the green of Christmas trees.
It’s hard to think of Christmas without the bright red poinsettia flower coming to mind. Well here’s how that tradition came about: according to Mexican legend, a little girl had no gift but a handful of weeds for baby Jesus, but because her gift came from the heart, they miraculously transformed into beautiful red blossoms, “La Flor de Noche Buena.” In the 1820s, botanist and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Joel R. Poinsett brought the plant back to the states. The newly named Poinsettias became wildly popular and by 1900, were a universal symbol for Christmas. Fun fact: December 12th is National Poinsettia Day!
The Christmas Tree
Decorating evergreen trees has been a part of German and Pagan winter solstice traditions for centuries. The first expressly “Christmas” trees appeared in Strasbourg in the 17th century, and in the 1820s, the first German immigrants brought the tradition with them to Pennsylvania. After the marriage of German Prince Albert to English Queen Victoria in 1840, Christmas tree decorating was introduced to England, and the rest is history!
Many ancient cultures prized mistletoe for its properties, from medicinal to magical. It was believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Mistletoe was also a symbol of love and friendship in Norse mythology, with the goddess Frigg famously promising to kiss all who pass beneath a sprig of the little plant. All of this combined to inspire the Victorian English to begin the custom of kissing underneath the mistletoe, which was believed to inevitably lead to marriage!
- Elyse Kaderli, CPH Community Partnerships & Programming Apprentice
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