Christmas Traditions from Around the World - Part 1

In doing your family history research it is an opportunity to see how much your life style, briefs and traditions are influenced by the ethnic and cultural practices from other countries. What better opportunity than with the family favorite Christmas traditions. Here are some examples of customs at Christmas and where they originated.

From Mexico are the lovely native poinsettias plants. Since the 1700s, the Mexicans had used the colorful plants as a symbol for the Star of Bethlehem. These plants first came to U. S. in 1828 by the American ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, and so named in America after him.

Writing the shorten version of Christmas to ‘Xmas’ came from Greece.  In the Greek language, the term ‘Xristos’ meant Christ. Using the ‘X’ and adding ‘mas’ became then an abbreviation for Christmas.

A decorated tree started in Germany in the 1500s. During the Christmas season, families decorate fir trees inside the home using colored paper, apples and flowers. It was the German Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, who added candles to offer light to the tree at night. It was the many German immigrates to Pennsylvania in the early 1800s that helped promote the Christmas trees in America along with the ornate hand-blown glass ornaments made by the Germans.

The hanging of mistletoe comes from France in the 1700s. It was hung above a door during the Christmas season to bring good fortune to the household during the New Year.

From Ireland comes the placement of a ring of holly on the front door of a home. Holly has always been a plentiful plant in December so it was popular to use. The holly was taken down on January 6th.  It is considered bad luck to remove it early.

In England making festive noise during Christmas celebrations started in the 1500s.  It continued with the English colonists to Virginia in the 1600s. Things used to make noise include drums, horns and firecrackers.

Sending Christmas card greetings began in England in 1843. It is believed the first card designed by John Callcott Horsley was an illustrated card with the saying “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You” which was sent by Sir Henry Cole to his friends. Also some 2,000 of these cards were printed and sold for a shilling each to other people.

More origins of ethnic traditions in Part 2 genealogy blog.

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Maurice Leffelman 23/12/11

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