If you do a quick internet search for holiday origins, you’re sure to find a whole lot. From the origins of holiday trees to candy canes, our modern traditions have a long, rich history.
For one, did you know trees weren’t always decorated with ornaments? Also, decorating trees is a tradition that transcends religions
The evergreen is one of the most iconic holiday decorations today, but its origins are not what you might think. Trees have been used and decorated in a number of winter celebrations, dating as far back as the Egyptians and Romans.
As a Christmas celebration, Christmas trees are only around 400 years old. Still, the tradition didn’t come to America until the revolution.
Today, mistletoe carries a romantic meaning. In the past, they have been a plant that was believed to have healing powers—though we now know that they can actually be poisonous. This kissing beneath mistletoe tradition is believed to have possibly come from a Druid tradition between enemies. If they would pass one another beneath a mistletoe, they would observe a one-day truce.
In general, the greenery we use today was used by many to celebrate the winter solstice—these trees and plants remained green year-round, so they made the perfect representation for celebrating life. This celebration of life is also reflected in the hanging of wreaths, which have represented life’s unending cycle for centuries.
For more tradition origins, check out this great Mental Floss video:
It’s believed that the first Christmas tree came about from Martin Luther’s walk through the woods one night during the 16th century. Inspired by the sights of the trees and stars above him, he cut a tree and decorated it with candles to represent stars.
This tradition spread through Germany and the decorations evolved to include fruits, candies, and paper roses. German immigrants came to the US and continued the tradition, often using cedar trees and decorating them with berries and popcorn. Tinsel first appeared in the 17th century and was made from real silver.
The United States didn’t start producing their own ornaments until during WWII, where a glass company began making them with a light bulb machine. Before this, many ornaments used throughout the country were imported from Germany.
Candles are also a part of Hanukkah traditions and are used in menorahs. The eight candles in the menorah are lit on consecutive nights to commemorate a miracle that took place after their victory: upon returning to a defiled Temple, they found only enough oil to light a lamp for one day—it lasted for eight.
This has remained the same over time, but the menorah’s design has changed. Once made of clay, they are now made from a variety of materials. The only requirement is that the candles be spread far enough apart so the flams of each candle are distinct.
Kayleigh is a content writer with a BA in technical writing/literature and an MA in creative writing. When she’s not at work writing, she’s at home writing, reading, or binge-watching television shows… for research, of course. A big do-it-yourselfer and crafter, Kayleigh loves testing out projects and gifting them to friends and family—all in preparation for when she owns her own home one day and decorates with her own personal creations. Her work has appeared on The Writing Cooperative and as an Honorable Mention in East Meets West American Writers Review.