History lesson on some old Christmas traditions
Cheryl Walker

We have Chr istmas Traditions that are passed down in families. There are also traditions that different communities and cultures celebrate. Many of our traditions are a blend of many different counties. Here are some historical notes on Christmas Traditions.

STOCKING TRADITION— There is an art to filling a stocking. First, you place an orange in the toe, to symbolize the bags of gold and wishes of wealth. Next comes an apple for good health and last comes small, but special gifts. Stockings are hung in many countries, but wooden shoes are also used in, some areas.

CHRISTMAS TREE— Germany is credited with the start of the Christmas Tree tradition. As early as the thirteenth century, there are German references to trees studded with candles to welcome guests.

FRUITCAKE—Christmas Eve, which is called the “Night of the Cakes” in Irish tradition. The Irish have claim to fame for the invention of the elaborate fruit cakes laced with alcohol made over the course of several months in preparation for Christmas Eve.

HOLLY WREATH, CANDLES— Ireland is also given credit for the holly wreath and lighting of a candle in the window. The Irish settlers during the potato famine brought the holly wreath tradition to North American. They also brought the tradition of lighting a candle in the window on Christmas Eve symbolically inviting in the weary holy family as they look for a place to rest on Christmas Eve.

HOLLY WREATH, IVY— During the cold winter the evergreens are a sign of life. Many countries bring the holly and the ivy in to decorate, showing the promise of green to return in the spring, but you must remember the legend. If the prickly holly comes in first the male of the house will rule the next year, but if the ivy or non-prickly holly comes in first the female will rule the home for the next year.

CAROLING—The Ir ish may have given us our caroling tradition. In Ireland, small boys go door to door on Dec. 26 carrying a stuffed wren on a tree branch. They sing a song at each doorstep and receive in exchange a little bag of pennies.

SUGARPLUM—A sugarplum is a very rich, round candy filled with fruit and cream and covered with chocolate. RUDOLPH—Rudolph was not added to the sleigh until 1939 when an employee of Montgomery Ward’s created Rudolph as a promotional gimmick for Wards. Rudolph was given away free to all their customers. The story rights were sold by Wards in 1947 and the song followed in 1949.

CHRISTMAS CARDS— The first Christmas card was designed in 1843 England for Sir Henry Cole to save him time on Christmas correspondences. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent the first official White House Christmas Cards in 1953.

A precursor to the Christmas card was the “Christmas Broadside”. The “Christmas Broadside” was a sheet of paper decorated at the top and around the borders. The center was left open of the children to write a message to their parents to show their penmanship.

CHRISTMAS STAMP—The first U.S. Christmas stamp was a four cent stamp issued on Nov. 1, 1962. It was a Christmas wreath printed in red and green inks. Canada issued the first Christmas motif stamp in 1898 to commemorate the Penny Postal System which started on Dec. 25, 1898.

‘HUM BUG’—In England, King James II ordered his Dublin mint to make coins of cheap, inexpensive metals (lead/pewter). The Irish called the coins “Ulm Bog” meaning soft metal, hence the term “Hum Bug.”

YULE LOG—The Yule Log is a tradition handed down to the English from the Scandinavian ancestors where they lighted big bonfires for the god Thor. The English adopted the tradition because it was pretty. A very large root or log was burned during the Christmas celebration. The ashes were either saved to start the next Yule Log the following year or saved until Feb. 2—Groundhog Day. If saved until Feb. 2, the ashes were spread on the fields to promote a good harvest.

MRS. CLAUS—Katherine Lee Bates introduced Mrs. Santa Claus in her 1889 book, “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride.” Ms. Bates later composed “America The Beautiful.”

MISTLETOE BALL—The Mistletoe or kissing ball is made from holly (the man’s plant) and ivy (the woman’s plant). The evergreen is gathered together in a ball with the mistletoe dangling from the bottom. As a kiss was given under the ball a berry was removed from the mistletoe. When all the berries were gone you stopped kissing.

WASSAIL—Father Christmas (an English Santa Claus) brought food, wine and good fortune. Some legends state that Father Christmas would go from house to house with a large bowl in hope that his neighbors would fill it with drink. The bowl was often filled with wassail, a hot spiced ale with toasted apples.

NEW WORLD (AMERICAN) SANTA CLAUS—The New World had many images of Santa Claus. He was a pioneer man in buckskins, a bishop from the Old World and a gent in Dutch garments chewing on a long pipe. It all depended on the cultural influences of the locale. This changed after the Dec. 23, 1823 publication of a poem entitled “A Visit from St. Nicholas” better known today as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Clement Clarke Moore vividly described the jolly old elf and named his original eight reindeer. In 1823 famous Harper’s Weekly cartoonist, Thomas Nast started drawing the universal Santa figure described in Moore’s poem. The drawings were widely distributed setting the image of a jolly elf. Mr. Nast also gave the jolly elf a place to live, the North Pole. SODA POP SANTA— Our modern day Santa Claus is a collections of the traditions from the past, but in the 1920’s during prohibition our Jolly Santa Claus with his red and white suit and his “Ho Ho Ho” appeared in Coca Cola ads. The famous soft drink ad created by Haddon Sundblom for the Coke company gave us our famous figure known as the Soda Pop Santa. The advertising world was starting to use color and red and white was selected for the ads. Santa Claus was now on billboards and printed material across the nation.

START NEW YEAR WITH HELP—If you need help to get motivated to eat healthy and exercise, you need to sign-up for the 12-week “Step Up and Scale Down” series. This series is not a quick weight loss plan, but it is a lifestyle change to help everyone in the family reduce risk from major chronic diseases.

Now is the time to get yourself and your family on the right track to healthy eating and exercise. Along with the one hour class and weigh-in each week, the local fitness centers are providing four thirty minute sessions for everyone in the series. Details on the fitness sessions from Results Fitness in Cameron and Snap Fit- ness in Rockdale will be provided at the first meetings in January. The “Step Up and Scale Down” 12-week series will be conducted in Cameron and Rockdale. A registration fee of $30 will provide you with a notebook of educational information, recipes and guides to help you make 2013 the year you “Step Up and Scale Down.” If you currently have Scott & White health insurance, the registration fee will be waived.

All sessions will be from 6-7 p.m. at the following locations:

Rockdale—Every Tuesday starting on Jan. 8 at the Rockdale General Store meeting room.

Cameron—Every Thursday starting on Jan. 10 at the Cameron Chamber of Commerce meeting room.

“Step Up and Scale Down” is a 12-week educational program being taught by representatives from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service-Milam County Office, Little River Health Care Clinic, Scott and White Healthcare Clinic and Pharmacy and Milam County Health Department.

For more information, contact the Milam County Extension Office at 100 E. 1st Street in Cameron, 254-697-7045, email

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