The different traditions and customs for the way Americans celebrate Christmas has actually a variety of many cultural traditions from other nations. Here are a few such cultural celebrations for Christmas as done by most Americans today.
Those of German heritage have given much to the celebration of Christmas. There is the beginning of decorating Christmas trees with candles (later the use of electric lights) about 1531 and other special ornaments, and the baking exceptional Christmas cookies. There is the German Advent Calendar or Christmas Calendar marking the days. The more modern drawing of what Santa Claus (Kris Kringle) looks like came from Thomas Nash who was born in Germany, came with his family to America as a young boy and developed this image of Santa in the 1860s.
English traditions included feasting and general merriment at Christmas time. The typical English Christmas in colonial times consisted of a lot of food cooked and eaten, and the colonial equivalent of ‘hard partying’ which meant setting off firecrackers and playing lots of loud music with horns and drums. Singing songs especially in groups was popular. Having the Christmas meal at mid-day is English, with a ham, roast turkey, goose or chicken and trimmings. A favorite is eggnog, which originated in East Anglia, England based on a medical European drink using hot milk and eggs.
The French Catholics attended Christmas Eve Mass which is now done by other religious groups besides Catholics. The giving of gifts to children was also popular. Christmas Eve is also when a special meal is served and the exchanging of gifts.
Dutch heritage for Christmas had feasting and a general atmosphere of merriment. They also had the tradition of St. Nicholas, who was a magical man who brought presents to good children, and filled Christmas stockings (originally done placing treats in the children’s shoes) with sweet treats. The Dutch settled first in New York (New Amsterdam), and the tradition of gift giving and stockings “hung by the chimney with care” started there in America.
The tradition of hanging a wreath made of evergreen tree branches on the front door was practiced by those from Sweden. This was meant as a sign that visitors were welcome, and was also used for good luck. They also had a legend of elves who brought gifts on Christmas.
Photos: Swedish Christmas wreath, German Kris Kringle, Dutch stockings hung, and English eggnog.
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