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The History of Popular Holiday Traditions

Madelaine Vrotney and Mallory Pisarcik

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With the holiday break right around the corner, students have been thinking a lot about the traditions that usually happen around the holiday season, NAEYE decided to investigate the history of these holiday traditions.

 

Christmas carols blast through the radio from the day after Thanksgiving, through December 26. Stores start their holiday displays with dozens of evergreen trees. But this left us wondering, what is the history of these traditions?

The first tradition on our list of research, Christmas Carols. Some radio stations play these perky songs without relent for an entire month! Famous singers and bands perform covers of these songs around this time of year, but how did they get started?

Carols actually started as songs that were sung during the Winter Solstice celebration. The word “carol” comes from the old French word “Carole” Which means a popular circle dance accompanied by singing.

Carols did not become associated with Christmas until the late middle ages. Many new carols were written by churches in the nineteenth century to promote the holiday. Many towns and villages had their own carols that they sung around the holiday season. However, their carols were not written down. They were taught by word-of-mouth. This makes it difficult to tell which carols came from where.

Some of the oldest carols include; Ding Dong Merrily on High, from the mid- 1500s, and Good King Wenceslas from around the 1200s. The words to Good King Wenceslas were not added until the 1800s.

The next tradition is the Christmas tree. Nowadays, trees come in all different shapes, sizes,  and colors. Some even spin on a platform! The Evergreen fir tree has been used as a Christmas tree for thousands and started being used in Northern Europe about 100 years ago.

Christmas trees started out as “Paradise Trees” during church plays of the Garden of Eden. Many people brought branches into their homes of either Fir, Cherry, or Hawthorn.

The first documented Christmas tree was either in Tallinn in 1441, or in Riga in 1510. The trees were lit on fire by the Brotherhood of Blackheads. Thus started the tradition of the Yule Log.

The final tradition might be one that very few have ever even heard of. That tradition being the Christmas Pickle. The tradition is that parents place a pickle on the tree last. Then, all of their children have to search for it. Whoever finds the pickle first receives an extra present.

It is believed to be an old German tradition, but no one has even heard of it in Germany. German or not, in the 1880s, Woolworth stores started to sell glass pickle ornaments that were imported from Germany.

While the history of these traditions is fascinating, they can make one reflect on the traditions in their own families. Over this holiday break, ask your family the history of your families traditions.

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The History of Popular Holiday Traditions