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Origins of Christmas Practices


A lot of the world’s population revels at the thought of Christmas celebrations: trading presents, writing lists to Jolly ‘ol St. Nick, decorating the tree on a yearly basis. But have you ever wondered when people actually started doing these things? Or have you wondered WHY they even do them in the first place?

We explore the origins of these yuletide practices so you can better understand the true meaning behind why they are practiced:

Santa Claus

Many people who celebrate Christmas are aware of the name St. Nicholas or St. Nick if you’re hip with the times. But even though the jolly and generous spirit of the season seems like a perfect fit, there are many origin points from which Santa Claus may derive from. One of the largest influences though was the Dutch figure, Sinterklaas, a large person that wears red and white, gives presents to good children and has elves. The only big difference is that he instead wears a bishop hat and “punishes” bad children. In fact, the name “Santa Claus” is an americanization of “Sinterklaas”


The origin of hanging stockings for stuffing can be traced back to the 4th century during the early days of St Nicholas. He believed that childhood was a moment in one’s life to savor and enjoy. But during those times, boys and girls as young as 10 years of age would be working to support their families. During these hard times, this figure of generosity would try to give clothes, food and any other comforts he was able to give. One problem though: Where would he leave the gifts where children would be able to find them? A lot of the old tales say he found a young girl’s stockings hanging close to the fire and the idea stuck from there on.


The story of the first gift-giving spans all of the way back to the very first Christmas: when Jesus was born. When he was born, a bright star guided the three wise men who had come to greet the new king. Knowing that their guest had just come into the world and that he was somebody of great importance, they brought with them presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh. That was basically the very first gift to be given on the first official Christmas day and has since then been a tradition with people during this joyful and generous season.


Despite the seemingly romantic role mistletoe plays during the Christmas season, it is actually a parasitic plant that latches and drains away the nutrients from its host plant. But despite its less than beautiful biological nature there are many mythological backgrounds that have one story or another about the plant. In some cultures, it was said that the mistletoe carried the male essence, making it a plant that also carried romance, fertility and vitality. It was also hung around the house as a means to protect it from fire and lightning. As for the kissing part? It still remains a mystery as of today, but it was noted that it was a popular practice during the 16th century in England.


The first Christmas songs were hymns which were developed in 4th century Rome. The “true” Christmas carols, however, were developed in France, Germany and Italy. They were written in the composer’s native tongue and were not exclusive to just the Christmas season. They were sung during other holidays and during events as well. Caroling in front of your neighbor’s house may have been derived from “carole” or “carula” which meant a circular dance. The practice may have stemmed from people publicly dancing and singing with one another.

Now you know the origins of these well-known Christmas symbols and activities. Do you know the origin of any other Christmas based decorations or practices?

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