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American Christmas traditions


American Christmas traditions

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 American Christmas tree
American Christmas tree

American Christmas traditions range from religious symbols to the mythos of Santa Claus. Their origins are both Christian and pagan.



Christmas traditions in the United States encompass the customs, history, folklore, family practices, interior and exterior decorations, religious and secular symbols, and perennial television shows and movies connected with this holiday. Many American Christmas traditions originated as Germanic Christmas traditions.


Christmas tree

The Christmas tree, or Tannenbaum, has its roots in pre-Christian Germany. Religious rites were held in the forests and trees were decorated with candles. Like the Druids, the oak was sacred to the ancient Germans, in particular to the god Odin, so it was often the oaks that were lit and not the pines. The use of evergreens can be traced back to the 8th century, which is when St. Boniface engaged in the common practice of adopting local pagan customs to help Christianize the indigenous peoples. He substituted the fir tree (Tannenbaum) for the oak of Odin and then he dedicated it to Christ, making it the Christbaum. The creation of the modern Christmas tree is often attributed to the founder of the Lutheran movement, Martin Luther (1483-1546). This is questionable but there are "Tannenbaum" songs that date back to the middle of the 16th century. By the 19th century the Christmas tree had become popular in Europe and America, having been introduced by German immigrants.

Santa Claus

 Traditional AmericanSanta Claus
Traditional American
Santa Claus

Santa Claus also has his origins in Germany. When Germany was being Christianized in the early Middle Ages, St. Nicholas, a 4th century bishop of Asia Minor, became popular there. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children and his feast day is December 6th. Gradually a custom grew up where on the eve of St. Nicholas' feast day children would place their shoes or boots out for St. Nicholas to fill with candy and fruit, with the bad children getting twigs. St. Nicholas carried with him a book of sins with which he determined whether the child warranted the goodies or the twigs. Historically, St. Nicholas rode a white horse and he traveled with a dark-faced companion. The most common one was called Knecht Ruprecht. After the Protestant Reformation in Germany, German authorities wanted to do away with the image of a Catholic saint distributing gifts, so the idea of Santa Claus, a jovial grandfather-type figure in dark green robes with a white beard was born. St. Nicholas is known by several names in different parts of Germany. These include Klaasbuur, Rauklas, Bullerklaas, and Sunnercla. In the eastern part of Germany, he is Ash Man, Shaggy Goat, or Rider. The American "Kris Kringle" is a corruption of the German term Christkindl ("Christ Child"). America altered the image of Santa Claus further when the advertising department of The Coca-Cola Company decided to produce ads depicting him in the soft drink's iconic red-and-white color scheme, cementing the image of Santa that persists today.

Nativity scene

A nativity scene, also called a crèche (meaning crib in French), refers to a depiction of the birthplace of Jesus. These are generally either life-size or near life-size outdoor displays situated in yards or public squares, or small miniature scenes placed in homes. At the very least it includes the figures of Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus situated in the manger. They are somtimes supplemented by the Three Wise Men, the stable boy, the innkeeper, and other characters involved in the story of Christ's birth.

Christmas card

A Christmas card is a greeting card that is decorated in a manner that celebrates Christmas. Typical content ranges from purely Christian symbols such as nativity scenes and the Star of Bethlehem to more general Christmas images such as Santa Claus, Christmas trees, snowmen, and similar themes.

Christmas carol

A Christmas carol is a song whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas. A Christmas song is often only considered a carol after it has been in existence for many years. The tradition of Christmas carols dates back to the 13th century A.D.

Christmas gift

In the United States, children receive their gifts from 'Santa Claus.' Christmas presents are usually opened on Christmas Day but some people open their gifts on Christmas Eve.

Christmas lights

Christmas lights are strands of electric lights used to decorate Christmas trees, homes, and other buildings during the Christmas season.

Television and movies

A popular tradition of the entertainment establishment in the United States is to produce films, television specials and episodes of established television series generally set during the Christmas season. Some of the most notable of these include:

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
    A Christmas Carol (1951 film)
    A Christmas Story
    Frosty the Snowman
    How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
    It's a Wonderful Life
    Miracle on 34th Street
    National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (TV special)


See also

Home | Up | Santa Claus | Advent calendar | Advent wreath | American Christmas traditions | Ashen faggot | Christmas Bird Count | Bracebridge dinner | Bubble light | Christmas card | Carols by Candlelight | Christmas cracker | Christmas customs in Poland | Christmas customs in Romania | Christmas customs in the Philippines | Christmas dinner | Christmas tree | Christmas worldwide | Christmastime greetings | Festival of Trees | Garland | German Christmas traditions | Grand Illumination | Hanukkah bush | Holiday Trail of Lights | Hollywood Christmas Parade | Koleda | Koledari | Kūčios | Christmas lights | Christmas Market | National Christmas Tree | Nativity scene | Nutcracker | Christmas ornament | Pagan beliefs surrounding Christmas | Pasterka | Christmas pickle | Pumpkin pie | Rich's Great Tree | Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree | Royal Christmas Message | Santa Claus | Santa Claus parade | Santa's Grotto | Santon | Christmas stamp | Christmas stocking | Striezelmarkt | Toronto Santa Claus Parade | Tree topper | Twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper | Christmas village | Wassailing | Wigilia | Yule Goat | Yule log

Christmas Guide, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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