Christmas Traditions

christmas traditions

Traditionally Christmas is observed on 25th December annually to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Both religious and secular holiday, Christmas includes exchange of gifts, Santa Claus, display of the Christmas tree with decorations, and religious ceremonies.

American Christmas Symbols of Christmas tree and Santa Claus

Many American Christmas traditions such as Christmas tree and Santa Claus where adopted from immigrant Christmas customs.

Christmas tree originated in Germany during 16th century. The Pennsylvania Germans gifted the tradition of Christmas tree and Christmas decorations to the Americans.

The legend of Santa Claus, with origins in Europe and was brought by Dutch settlers to New York in the early 18th century.

Traditionally, Santa Claus - from the Dutch Sinter Klaas - was depicted as a tall, dignified, religious figure. In North America Santa Claus, a fat, jolly old gentleman rides a reindeer sleigh and enters the house through chimney and leaves the Christmas gifts in Christmas stockings hung out by children on Christmas Eve.

Recreating and Enacting Nativity Scenes

Recreating Nativity is an important part of Christmas Celebrations. Nativity refers to the birth of Jesus, who was born into a manger in the city of Bethlehem. In some Churches children perform plays depicting Nativity and sing Christmas carols about that event. Many homes also display "Nativity Scene" which is a recreation of the Nativity. These are often part of Christmas tradition that also includes displaying Christmas tree.

Regional and Ethnic Christmas Traditions

As America is a land of immigrants, Christmas customs and tradition across America differ according to region and ethnic background.

For example in Colorado, an enormous star is placed on the mountain, while in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a star is lit in early December. Polish Americans on Christmas Eve spread hay on their kitchen.

In Philadelphia, a procession called "a mummers parade" runs for a whole day. In Arizona they follow the Mexican traditions called Las Posadas.

The greatest variety in the Christmas traditions is in the spread of Christmas feast.

New England has Lumberjack Pie while Pennsylvania Dutch serve Sand Tarts and North Carolina gifts us Moravian Love-Feast Buns. Baltimore serves Sauerkraut with their Turkey. Southern states have Hominy Grits Soufflé and Whiskey Cake. Louisiana's treat is Creole Gumbo. New Mexico has the Empanaditas.

Every year when Christmas rolls around, you might think about all of the Christmas traditions that go along with the holiday and wonder where they originated. There are many American Christmas symbols, but there are also international Christmas traditions. Here are some of the Christmas customs that many people use to celebrate the holiday along with some of the stories that lie behind those Christmas traditions.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus is someone that is often associated with Christmas around the world. He began in the 4th century under the name of Saint Nicholas in Turkey. He was a generous man who was devoted to children. His reputation for his kindness made him a patron saint in Russia and he was known by the red cape he wore along with his flowing white beard. He took on many different appearances in countries around the world. His popularity grew, however, based on an 1822 poem by Clement C. Moore called a Visit from Saint Nicholas. From that poem, the image we have of Santa Claus today was born.

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees are international Christmas traditions that began in Germany during the 16th century. During that time, Germans used fir trees and decorated them with colored paper, apples, roses and other items both indoors and outdoors. Many symbols went along with the items people put on their trees. In the 1800s, the Christmas tree moved over into England and it was brought to America by the Pennsylvania Germans in the 19th century.


Legend has it that a kind gentleman used his fortune after his wife died, leaving nothing for his own family to live on. St. Nicholas then heard about the family and helped by putting gold coins in their stockings, which were hanging by the fire to dry. This legend grew and many people place stockings of all different types next to the fire place on Christmas Eve in hopes of receiving extra gifts.


Mistletoe was actually used by druid priests in winter celebrations long before Christ's birth. The plant did not have any roots but it always remained green during the winter months so it was revered by many. The Celtics even believed that it had healing powers and it was used for the antidote for many different illnesses. The plant was a symbol of peace for the Romans and enemies who met beneath it were to lay down their weapons. The Scandinavians associated the plant with love and it is from them that the custom of kissing under the mistletoe first originated.

Candy Canes

After Europeans began decorating trees, special items were made for decorations. Food items like candy and cookies were the most popular and straight white sticks were used as ornaments. Legend tells that a 17th century craftsman changed the white stick to include a hook to look like a shepherd's staff. More recent stories say that the candy cane symbolizes Christ's purity with its white color and the blood he shed with its red.

There are many other Christmas traditions in both America as well as across the world. Christmas cards, Holly and ivy, Rudolph and many other Christmas symbols have grown over the years.

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