How Christmas Traditions Got Their Start

How Christmas Traditions Got Their Start

Lily Cravens

     From Elf on the Shelf to ugly Christmas sweaters, Christmas in America has been filled with a variety of holiday traditions. Some of these traditions have started in recent years, while others have dated back to the 16th-century. But how and why did these traditions start in the first place?

     Traditionally, if you are the first child to find the hidden green pickle ornament on the Christmas tree, you are either awarded a gift or you get to open the first present on Christmas morning. In the late 1800s, this tradition came about when a retailer from Woolworths received a shipment of imported German ornaments shaped like a pickle and just needed a sales pitch. 

     Many families hide a toy elf each night around the Christmas season for their child to find each morning. In 2005, Carol Aebersold and her daughter, Chanda Bell, published the book Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition. More than 13 million Elf on the Shelf toys have been “adopted” since then.

     When the German Brothers Grimm wrote “Hansel and Gretel” the idea of gingerbread houses was created. They started out as and continue to be edible decorations to decorate Christmas. Now, you can get the houses in a multitude of shapes and sizes in pre-packed kits.

     According to Fox Business, the ugly Christmas sweater industry is a multi-million dollar business that includes large retailers, like Target, Macy’s, and Kohl’s. In 2001, the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book stated that the trend first became popular in Vancouver, Canada. The trend and tradition has stayed popular ever since. 

     A very popular Christmas tradition is to leave milk and cookies for Santa as a thank you for leaving presents and a snack for him to continue the rest of the night. Americans began this custom during the Great Depression in the 1930s; it was a sign of gratitude during a time of struggle. 

Candy canes are the number one selling non-chocolate candy during the month of December. The candy arrived in the United States in 1847, when a German-Swedish immigrant of Ohio made them and placed them onto a tree. By the 1950s, an automated candy cane making machine was invented and increased the production of these traditional candies. 

     The first official Christmas cards began in Britain in 1843, but the American tradition did not begin until 1915. The Hall Brothers from Kansas city, now Hallmark, started the folded Christmas card with an envelope. Today, more than 1.6 billion holiday cards are sold every year. 

     Thomas Edison is famous for inventing the lightbulb, but Edward Hibberd Johnson is famous for stringing bulbs around a Christmas tree in New York in 1882. By 1914, the lights were mass produced to be placed on Christmas trees; 150 million sets of lights are now sold in the United States annually.