Every family has their own Christmas traditions, from going to midnight mass to hanging Christmas stocking by the fire. Many of these traditions are actually based on traditions from specific cultures, but through time those traditions have transcended cultural boundaries. Nonetheless, exploring the roots of those traditions can help us to understand and appreciate the cultures that they came from.
Christmas stockings is one of the most common Christmas traditions. The tradition of Christmas stockings is actually closely related to the origin of Santa Claus, and can be traced to fourth century Italy. The story goes that a poor Italian father was going to be forced to sell one of his three daughters into slavery in order to pay the dowry for his other two daughters' marriages. St. Nicholas of Myra, a bishop known for his charitable nature, heard of the father's predicament. One night, St. Nicholas passed the poor father's house and saw that the daughters had washed their stockings and hung them over the fireplace to dry. He took three bags of gold coins and tossed them down the chimney, and they fell into the daughters' stockings. Because of St. Nicholas' kindness, the poor father was able to pay the dowry for all three of his daughters' marriages.
From this story, it became an Italian tradition to hang Christmas stockings by the fireplace to be filled by St. Nicholas - later Santa Claus. The stories of St. Nicholas and the Christmas stockings spread throughout northern Europe, where the tradition became adopted by more and more cultures. As northern Europeans traveled the world, they brought their tradition of Christmas stockings with them, and that is why today stocking stuffers are an integral part of many people's Christmas celebrations.
It is not just the tradition xmas stockings that comes from northern Europe. The nearly ubiquitous Christmas tree actually originated there. The first references to the Christmas tree come from Germany, where the Tannenbaum (Christmas tree) began to appear in the early 1500s. At that time, many German parishes hosted plays to spread the word of Christmas. Evergreen trees, common to that region, were often used as props in these plays. So, the German people eventually started to bring the evergreen trees into their homes at Christmas time. Members of the Germany Royal family then spread this tradition to other European nations. From there, just like the tradition of xmas stockings, the tradition of the Christmas tree spread around the world.
Another tradition of bringing foliage into the home is seen in the traditional Poinsettia plant. The tradition of the Poinsettia actually originated in Mexico. In some areas of Mexico, it is a tradition to bring gifts of fresh flowers to church on Christmas Eve to gift the baby Jesus. The story of the Poinsettia holds that two poor children desperately wanted to participate in this tradition, but could not afford fresh flowers. On their way to church, they came across some weeds and decided to bring those, rather than come empty handed. When they arrived at the church, everyone laughed at their gift, but when they placed the weeds in front of the nativity scene, the green leaves miraculously changed into brilliant red petals - and the Poinsettia was born. Today, the Poinsettia is an integral symbol of Christmas for people all over the world. It also continues to play an important role in church celebrations, often constituting much of the holiday decoration within the church.
While these Christmas traditions, as well as many other, originated with one specific culture, it is truly a testament to the Christmas spirit that they have spread so widely. After all, the message of Christmas is to love one another and to spread the word of Christ. What better way to do that than spread long-lasting Christmas traditions.