The history and traditions of Christmas

More by Kai Fortner Newby
Kai Fortner Newby

More stories from Kai Fortner Newby

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November 22, 2017

Photo by: Lydia Estepp

Discover the history of one of the most beloved holidays

Since the first recorded Christmas in 336 to now, several traditions and fantasies have accumulated through generations. From “Rudolph” to “Frosty the Snowman,” beloved folk tales and motion pictures warm our hearts each holiday season. All throughout the world, each race and religion celebrates the holiday in their own unique way, but the big green tree still holds its special place in homes across the globe.

Jesus and Christmas

Dec. 25 represents the birth of Jesus Christ. In the early days of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the commemoration of the birth of Jesus did not appeal to most. Not until the fourth century did church officials begin to commence the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Pope Julius I picked the 25th of December possibly to correspond with the traditions of the Pagan Saturnalia festival. However, people celebrated the holiday the same as today’s Mardi Gras.

Although loved today, many states and countries outlawed Christmas prior to the American Revolution. Anyone who celebrated the holiday received a fine in shillings. Christmas did not become a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

History of the Christmas Tree

A belief existed stating that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, illnesses, and supposedly evil spirits that roamed in many countries. This would lead to the idea of bringing the beloved Christmas tree into the home of many families. However, credit remains in the hands of Germany for the initiation of the Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century when devout Christians placed the tree in the living space of their homes. The tree, grown in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska, symbolizes the spirit of the holiday season.  

A “Sweet” Tradition

Most people know about those warm cookies and milk left for Santa for the long journey ahead of him. The tradition of leaving goodies for Mr. Claus did not become an American tradition until the 1930s, during the Great Depression. According to several theories, this chocolatey tradition formed from an older tradition where families fill stockings with goodies and treats for Santa by his preferred mode of entrance: the chimney. However, this would not work nowadays due to the overflowing stockings filled with self-pertaining toys.

Introduction of Rudolph

Lastly, the introduction of the famous red-nosed reindeer, Rudolph. The beloved reindeer became a new cast member in 1939 when Robert L. May introduced the character to the world of Christmas fantasies. May’s inspiration of a misfit reindeer came from the well known story “The Ugly Duckling.” Rollo and Reginald were at the top of the list for the characters name, however May settled on the unique name of Rudolph. Rudolph hit the big screens in 1964 on NBC and continues to fill us with joy each and every Christmas season.


Many traditions have arisen throughout generations, some more unique than others. For the 24 days leading up to Christmas people of all ages cannot wait until the morning when their houses have been visited by the infamous “Jolly Ol’ St. Nick”