They brought with them their tradition of feasting and general merriment on Christmas. The typical English Christmas in colonial times consisted of a lot of food, and the colonial equivalent of hard partying this included firecrackers and playing lots of loud music that included horns and drums, as well as group singing.
This was the norm for English settlers everywhere except Massachusetts. The Puritans and Pilgrims who settled there looked upon this merrymaking with disdain and thought it led to a lack of morals. As such, they banned Christmas celebrations and refused to recognize the day in any special way. While they were pretty much back to celebrating by the time of the American Revolution , Christmas was not legally reinstated in Massachusetts until The Dutch also celebrated Christmas with 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 with sweet treats.
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The Swedes were among the first to settle Delaware , and then eventually moved inward to help colonize the midwest, particularly the areas of Wisconsin and Minnesota. They brought the tradition of hanging a wreath made of evergreen tree branches on the front door. 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. It was the Germans who brought some of our most recognized Christmas customs to America. These customs include decorating Christmas trees with candles and other ornaments and baking special Christmas cookies.
French children left their shoes by the fireplace before going to bed on Christmas Eve.
They hoped that if they were very good that year, the baby Jesus would fill their shoes with gifts for them to receive on Christmas day. As Catholics , the French attended a midnight mass on Christmas Eve, as well… something that can be seen in many Catholic and non-Catholic churches today. After the mass , the families had a special Christmas dinner, then spent Christmas day in prayer and contemplation. This was a big pageant that included a procession and a play. As many people in the community participated as were able.
The pageant was followed up by a community-wide party. Children would take hits at a pinata during the party and scramble for the sweets that fell out of it when it broke. While the original Africans who came to America were not Christians and did not celebrate Christmas, they had their own holy days and festival days. As they were gradually converted to Christianity, they incorporated their old traditions into their Christmas celebrations, and these new traditions influenced how Christmas was celebrated all across the early American south. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.
In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts , also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree.
Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles. Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity.
The first record of one being on display was in the s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania , although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as But, as late as the s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.
It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was adopted so late in America.
To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy. In , the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree.
Unlike the previous royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society.
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The Christmas tree had arrived. By the s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling. The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies.
Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.
The tallest tree displayed at Rockefeller Center came in and was a Norway Spruce that measured in at feet tall and hailed from Killingworth, Connecticut. The first tree at Rockefeller Center was placed in It was a small unadorned tree placed by construction workers at the center of the construction site. Two years later, another tree was placed there, this time with lights. These days, the giant Rockefeller Center tree is laden with over 25, Christmas lights. Canada German settlers migrated to Canada from the United States in the s.
They brought with them many of the things associated with Christmas we cherish today—Advent calendars, gingerbread houses, cookies—and Christmas trees. Mexico In most Mexican homes the principal holiday adornment is el Nacimiento Nativity scene. However, a decorated Christmas tree may be incorporated in the Nacimiento or set up elsewhere in the home. As purchase of a natural pine represents a luxury commodity to most Mexican families, the typical arbolito little tree is often an artificial one, a bare branch cut from a copal tree Bursera microphylla or some type of shrub collected from the countryside.
Britain The Norway spruce is the traditional species used to decorate homes in Britain. The Norway spruce was a native species in the British Isles before the last Ice Age , and was reintroduced here before the s. Greenland Christmas trees are imported, as no trees live this far north.
They are decorated with candles and bright ornaments.
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Gifts are left under the tree on Christmas morning for the children. Brazil Although Christmas falls during the summer in Brazil, sometimes pine trees are decorated with little pieces of cotton that represent falling snow. Ireland Christmas trees are bought anytime in December and decorated with colored lights, tinsel, and baubles. Some people favor the angel on top of the tree, others the star.
The house is decorated with garlands, candles, holly, and ivy.
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Wreaths and mistletoe are hung on the door. Evergreen trees are decorated with stars, sunbursts, and snowflakes made from straw. Other decorations include colorful wooden animals and straw centerpieces. Norway Nowadays Norwegians often take a trip to the woods to select a Christmas tree, a trip that their grandfathers probably did not make. The Christmas tree was not introduced into Norway from Germany until the latter half of the 19th century; to the country districts it came even later.
When Christmas Eve arrives, there is the decorating of the tree, usually done by the parents behind the closed doors of the living room, while the children wait with excitement outside. Afterwards, gifts are distributed. Spain A popular Christmas custom is Catalonia, a lucky strike game. A tree trunk is filled with goodies and children hit at the trunk trying to knock out the hazel nuts, almonds, toffee, and other treats.
Italy In Italy, the presepio manger or crib represents in miniature the Holy Family in the stable and is the center of Christmas for families. Guests kneel before it and musicians sing before it. The presepio figures are usually hand-carved and very detailed in features and dress.
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The scene is often set out in the shape of a triangle. It provides the base of a pyramid-like structure called the ceppo. This is a wooden frame arranged to make a pyramid several feet high. Several tiers of thin shelves are supported by this frame. It is entirely decorated with colored paper, gilt pine cones, and miniature colored pennants. Small candles are fastened to the tapering sides. A star or small doll is hung at the apex of the triangular sides. The shelves above the manger scene have small gifts of fruit, candy, and presents.
The ceppo is in the old Tree of Light tradition which became the Christmas tree in other countries. Some houses even have a ceppo for each child in the family. Germany Many Christmas traditions practiced around the world today started in Germany. It has been long thought that Martin Luther began the tradition of bringing a fir tree into the home.
According to one legend, late one evening Martin Luther was walking home through the woods and noticed how beautifully the stars shone through the trees.
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He wanted to share the beauty with his wife so he cut down a fir tree and took it home. Once inside he placed small lighted candles on the branches and said that it would be a symbol of the beautiful Christmas sky. Hence, the Christmas tree. Another legend says that in the early 16th century, people in Germany combined two customs that had been practiced in different countries around the globe. The Paradise tree a fir tree decorated with apples represented the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.
The Christmas Light, a small, pyramid-like frame, usually decorated with glass balls, tinsel, and a candle on top, was a symbol of the birth of Christ as the Light of the World. Today, the Tannenbaum Christmas tree is traditionally decorated in secret with lights, tinsel, and ornaments by the mother and is lit and revealed on Christmas Eve with cookies, nuts, and gifts under its branches.