Christmas was established as a federal American holiday on June 26th, 1870. During the 1800s, how Americans viewed Christmas changed radically. It was during this time that Washington Irving wrote fiction about how Christmas had been celebrated in England before the Puritan takeover. These stories sparked the American imagination and some of them have went on to become a part of our traditions. While other traditions have been purely made up by Americans and even passed off as from other places. So, let’s take a look of some of our weird American traditions.
Commercial Christmas Trees
In a previous article, I talked about the traditions around Christmas trees and where in history they got their start. As their popularity was growing in American, one man decided to make a profit off of it. In 1851 a New York woodsman named Mark Carr decided to open the very first Christmas tree lot in America. He made it easier for people to get live trees for their holiday celebrations.
In A Pickle
If you remember the Christmas Tree Tradition article, I talked about how the hiding a pickle in a tree was likely a tradition brought to American. There is an alternate side of that story. During the 1800s, Woolworth received a shipment of imported German ornaments that were shaped like a pickle. The staff needed a sales pitch to be able to sell them to customers. It was likely presented as a way of keeping kids entertained on Christmas morning, like I mentioned before, but as an American created invention. The story of the Christmas pickle does, in fact, originate in Germany and thanks to Woolworth was carried on here in America.
Santa Has A Sweet Tooth
It has been a tradition to leave treats out for St Nick, or his various other iterations, almost since the first reported stories of him. Milk and cookies, however, is an American tradition. Offering these sweet treats started around the time of the Great Depression when there seemed to be so little to be thankful for. As a sign of gratitude for what was given to them during this holiday, kids were encouraged to leave out milk and cookies for Jolly Ole St Nick.
In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant moved to Wooster Ohio and places the red and white striped candy on his Christmas tree. From there it took off in American. By the 1950s there mass holiday appeal was cemented with the first candy cane making machine was invented and put into use. Look at how far we have come, all the way to making chocolate flavored candy canes, which I do not recommend.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
Images of Santa Claus and his name vary throughout history, that being said, the image we now know as Santa Claus has its roots dating back to the 1800s. Macy’s claims that they have been hosting Santa since around 1861. By 1890 James Edgar in Brockton, Massachusetts had a Santa suit tailored for him to wear at his dry goods store. However, it was about 1822 with the first images of our modern jolly fat man has its starts in the ever famous poem ‘Twas the NIght Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. He penned the idea that Santa was jolly, with a round belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly. His work also cemented the fact that he travelled by sleigh and reindeer and entered your house through a chimney. It wasn’t until about 1931 that the final image, and what we know today, of Santa Claus was put to image. In 1931, Coca Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint Santa for their holiday advertisements. They wanted a warm and cheerful fellow that had a white beard and appeared like a trusted elder. Sundbloom used the Moore poem as his inspiration and from there the image took off like his proverbial sleigh.
Americans have truly taken this holiday and made it their own. We have changed the very traditions even more than when the Christians tooks those traditions from the pagans they sought to convert. The takeaway here is that it is perfectly okay to make your own traditions for this festive holiday, shape it for you and your family. It is the thought and emotions and and with whom we share them that is the most important. Happy Holidays!