Traditions and Symbols of Christmas
Copyright the Kanata Kourier-Standard, published 7 December
2007, all rights reserved.
Advent Calendars: The first calendar
counting down to Christmas dates back to the 19th century. People
counted down 24 or 25 days until Christmas (with the last day being
Christmas Eve or Christmas Day) by using chalk lines to mark off the
Later on, the tradition of lighting a candle each night was
born. Today, Advent calendars vary. Some have drawers or doors that are
opened every day to reveal a religious icon, piece of candy, or you may
even find ones with cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse.
Candles: The first use of candles at
Christmas [time] was in the Roman festival of Saturnalia, where tall
tapers of wax were given as gifts to guests and as an offering to
Saturn as a symbol of his light.
As Christianity spread, candles were placed in the front
window of homes to guide the Christ child as he went from house to
house on Christmas Eve. [When I was a child, my grandmother always
placed a candle in the tall Russian brass candle holder in the front
window, to 'light the Christ child on his way'.]
Candy canes: According to the
National Confectioners Association, in the 17th century, the
at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany gave his young singers sugar sticks
to keep them quiet during ceremonies.
In honour of the occasion, he had the candies bent into
shepherds' crooks. In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant decorated a
small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes.
By the 1900s the candy cane got its red and white stripes
and peppermint flavours. They were mass produced by the 1950s,
eliminating the laborious task of making the treat, and their
Christmas tree: Germans would
decorate fir trees, inside and out, with roses, apples and coloured
paper. The tradition hit England and America via the German immigrants
in Pensylvania in the 1800s.
Of course, a Christmas tree isn't complete without ornaments.
Decorating trees dates back to the Victorian times. Woolworths
department store sold the first manufactured Christmas tree
[ornaments], and the trend spread.
Mistletoe: The Scandinavians thought
of mistletoe as a peaceful and harmonious plant. And they linked Frigg,
their goddess of love, with mistletoe.
The combination of these two schools of thought brought about
the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. Those who kissed beneath the
mistletoe were thought to have happiness and good luck the next year.
Stockings: A man was so sad over the
death of his
wife that he spent all his money. Unfortunately, this left his
three daughters without money for wedding dowries.
St Nicholas wanted to help the poor girls' cause, so he
anonymously threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney of
their home. The coins landed in the stockings of the women, who had
hung them by the fireplace to dry.
This page was updated on 8 December 2007.
This site was edited using Nvu and Style Master.