Exploring the Origins of Christmas Traditions

As we gather with family and friends for the holidays, we celebrate using traditions and customs passed on through the years. But did we ever stop to think where some of these traditions come from?

Well, it’s time for a history lesson! Let’s take a look at the backgrounds of some of our most popular holiday traditions. Don’t worry; you won’t be graded at the end.


Mistletoe is an interesting little plant as it has no roots yet remains green even during the cold winter months. This could be why the Greeks thought the plant had special life-giving powers. Scandinavians associated the plant with Frigga, their goddess of love. This may have led to our custom of kissing under the mistletoe as a means of bestowing good luck and fortune in the coming year.

Christmas Lights

The tradition of using small candles to light up the Christmas tree dates back to the 17th century. Back then, candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch or attached by pins. In 1882, Edward Johnson (an inventor who worked under Thomas Edison) lit a Christmas tree in New York City with small electric light bulbs. This would eventually lead to the mass production of Christmas lights, which has enabled people to decorate their houses both inside and outside.

Gift Giving

As hard as it is to imagine today, gift giving was banned by the church during the middle ages due to suspected pagan origins. Eventually the church came around and allowed the practice, due in large part to the fact that St. Nicholas was now associated with Christmas. By the 1820s, newspapers began to advertise items for Christmas presents. Twenty years later, children were hanging their stockings by the fireplace. Today, the holiday season is the busiest time of year for retailers.

Egg Nog

There is some debate to the exact origins of egg nog but its roots trace back to medieval Europe. The drink was popular with the British upper class, who would drink warm milk and egg beverages seasoned with spices like ground nutmeg and cinnamon along with expensive liquors like brandy and sherry. The origins of egg nog in the U.S. are older than the country itself. The first batch was made at Captain John Smith’s Jamestown settlement in the 1600s. Since brandy and sherry were rare in the U.S. at the time, the colonists used rum instead.  It’s said the colonists called their mixture “egg and grog,” and eventually shortened it to egg nog. So how did this drink become a Christmas tradition? For one thing, the beverage was originally consumed warm, which made it a natural for the cold winter months. Also, the nogs were usually made for social occasions, making them a natural choice for spreading Christmas cheer.

Santa Claus

As he has historically done, Santa Claus continues to live at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus, the elves who build toys in his workshop and his eight tiny reindeer. He’s widely regarded as jolly, has a strong affinity for cookies and milk, and knows if you’ve been bad or good. ‘Nuff said.

 – Al Montone