Most families have special Christmas traditions that they take part in year after year. Things like decorating a Christmas tree, baking Christmas biscuits, grabbing a kiss under the mistletoe, or filling stockings for the kids. But have you ever wondered why we do some of the things we do at this time of year? Or what the meaning is behind our Christmas holiday traditions? Read on to find out the origin of some of our most popular Christmas traditions.
Decorating Christmas Trees
It wasn’t until around the 16th Century that evergreens were first used as Christmas Trees by German settlers. And when Queen Victoria set up a Christmas Tree in their palace, the tradition quickly became a symbol of Christmas. Here in New Zealand, we have our own Christmas Tree, the Pohutukawa, richly decorated with crimson red flowers every year during the summer months of our Christmas season.
A Christmas Feast
Tucking into Christmas lunch or dinner is a big part of our celebration, and we have the Victorians to thank for that. A summer Christmas in New Zealand may still feature some of the traditional roast lunch and trimmings, but many of us gather with whānau over a relaxed BBQ, beach picnic or hangi.
Making a wreath is a useful way to use up Christmas Tree trimmings, and it’s probably how wreath making became a tradition in 16th Century Germany. But even as far back as ancient Greece and Rome, wreaths woven into crowns were worn by victorious athletes, while pagans celebrating the winter solstice used evergreen wreaths as a symbol of a never-ending circle.
Hanging Christmas Tree Lights
Legend has it that 16th Century theologian, Martin Luther, was the first person to put lights on a Christmas Tree. Walking home one night through a forest, he was moved by the sight of the stars shining through trees, so went home to recreate the scene with a tree lit by candles on its branches.
Milk and Cookies For Santa
In medieval Germany, during Yule season, children left out food in the hope of getting a present from the all-powerful Norse God, Odin. These days, parents use the symbol of leaving milk and cookies out for Santa and his reindeer as a way of teaching children to be considerate of others.
Throughout history, Christmas (or the winter solstice originally) has been a time of celebration and a gathering together of people with good food. Bakers used expensive ingredients – like butter, lard and sugar – to create festive delights. Modern day Christmas is still celebrated by some communities with baking and sharing of baked goods.
Hanging a stocking
According to legend, the real-life St. Nicholas heard about a family who were poor, so he snuck down their chimney and left gold coins in their socks drying over the fire. Today, hanging stockings for the children to be filled by Santa is one of our holiday traditions that many children look forward to.
Saying Merry Christmas or Meri Kirihimete
In the 1500’s, the English carol “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” first introduced this phrase. Here in New Zealand, we have our own traditional Christmas greeting: Meri Kirihimete – Merry Christmas in Te Reo Maori.
What are some of your family Christmas traditions? Share these with us over on our Facebook page.