Holiday Traditions

Written by Tim Murphy and Josh Tiaga.

Christmas trees, mistletoes, caroling, and leaving cookies for Santa are pretty common Christmas time practices in most households, but where and when did it all begin? What we take for granted this holiday season had to start somewhere. Christmas trees, for instance, where first used as decorations in 18th century Germany. Mid-19th century Americans found it an oddity when the first trees were displayed in Pennsylvania by German settlers. From then on, the tradition of decorating a tree in your home spread throughout the United States.

Have you ever wondered why people kiss under the mistletoe? Legend has it that if a couple kissed under the mistletoe, they would soon be married. This tradition started in 18th Century England. People beforehand used mistletoe as a Christmastime decoration, hanging it up on their ceiling and walls to display their green leaves and pearly white berries. Although it is unclear exactly when the tradition started, but pretty soon, the act of kissing under the mistletoe became a national and eventually international phenomenon.

One very popular German Christmas tradition is the advent calendar. Advent calendars are 25-day calendars that count down the days to Christmas from December 1st to the big day itself. Most advent calendars have pieces of chocolate behind the dates of the month. The first known advent calendars were hand-carved out of wood in Germany during the early 1850s. Before the calendar itself, people would mark a line with chalk leading up to Christmas Eve. Also some lit candles as a way of counting down to Christmas.

Stringing up Christmas lights on your house is one of the most strenuous, yet most beautiful holiday traditions. It began around the 17th century when people decorated their trees with lights during the Christmas season. People were fascinated by the colorful decorations, so they decided to bring the color outside. Today, many people take part in this tradition with contests and displays during Christmastime; however some people choose to start in October. Outdoor Christmas lights bring joy and a competitive spirit to people everywhere.

You might as well admit it. Every once in a while, you catch yourself singing Christmas tunes. Originally Christmas carols began as pagan songs thousands of years ago. They were sung at winter solstice celebrations normally on the 22nd of December. The word carol actually means to dance or praise and sing. As time went on, the rhythms and songs became incorporated into Christmas songs. Actual door-to-door caroling didn’t become popular until the early 19th Century. Before then, beggars would sing on street corners for money or food. Soon, charities, churches, and other organizations began to sing to collect donations.

Writing Christmas cards is a long and tedious process. You have Louis Prang to thank for that. In 1875, Prang introduced the Christmas card. Before then, people simply wrote letters to one another with season’s greeting. Prang’s cards were Christmas-themed, so people knew what the message was inside. The invention was an immediate success. Today billions upon billions of Christmas cards are sent through the mail during the holidays.

Every Christmas Eve, families leave cookies and milk out for Santa Claus. The actual origin of leaving cookies and milk for Santa is unknown, but there are many theories that could be the true history. In one case, it is told that naughty kids began to bribe Santa in the 1930’s to give them presents instead of coal. Others suggest that it was started during The Great Depression, when parents wanted to inspire their children to share during the hard times. Either way, Santa is grateful that this tradition was started.

When you hang your stockings by the chimney with care this Christmas Eve, think about why you do so. Like any other legend, the beginning of hanging stockings over the fireplace has many versions. One of the most common is a story of a father and his three beautiful daughters. The father simply could not afford to pay all of their dowries. Saint Nicholas was traveling through town and heard of these girls plight. He knew that the father was too proud to accept any offering. So he waited until dark and put three bags of gold in each of the girl’s stockings that they recently cleaned later that day. The stocking tradition hold true today, and Santa always seems to find a way to slip a few extra presents in on Christmas.
These and many other holiday traditions set the tone for the holiday season. It’s a festive, happy time of year to share time with friends and family. Christmas would not be the same if it wasn’t for the Christmas traditions that we celebrate today.

Holiday traditions are very abundant in our community. During the first week of December, Lovettsville puts on the Christkindltmarkt, a German Christmas shop and celebration. Embracing the local German heritage, the Christkindlmarkt sells authentic German food and decorations. There are also fun and games for the whole family. On December 6, Middleburg had its Christmas in Middleburg celebration. The celebration included two parades, breakfast with Santa, live music, arts and crafts, food, and much more. The local hunt club paraded down Middleburg, followed by nearly 100 horses and riders. Then, at the end of the parade, Santa Claus arrived.

On December 13, Purcellville held its Christmas Light Trolley Tour. Here, people can ride the trollies and look at all of the Christmas displays around the town. The day that followed was the Purcellville Christmas Parade. Throughout the town, families could participate in holiday crafts and activities, and watching the parade at midday. To top it all off, the town of Purcellville gathered to watch the tree lighting. Also on the 14th was the Jingle Jam at the Tally-Ho Theater in Leesburg. The Jingle Jam is a beneficial rock concert for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and features local bands and artists.

Some Woodgrove students and their families have some pretty unique holiday traditions. Megan Northern, a senior, spends Christmas like many other people. She listens to Christmas music, wraps presents, and decorates the tree. What’s not conventional is the family tradition that has been practiced for generations. “We make miniature Christmas trees out of butter,” Megan said. “My grandma started it a long time ago. She used to churn the butter herself and pour it into the molding.” The mold is a hollowed out image of a Christmas tree. Once the butter is poured into the mold, it goes in the refrigerator so the butter can settle and solidify. The result is a small, three-dimensional, Christmas tree butter statuette. “It’s a really fun thing to do during Christmas. It reminds me of my grandma.”

Zach Matthewson, a junior, celebrates the Christmas pickle tradition in his family. “The pickle is an ornament we have and it is hidden somewhere in the Christmas tree. If you find it, you get extra presents on Christmas.” The Christmas pickle tradition originated in Germany in the mid-1800s. As the story goes, St. Nicholas (yes, Santa) rescued two children from an innkeeper who had encased them in a pickle barrel.

Minna Charland, a senior, gathers with her family for an Italian Christmas tradition. “Every year, my Italian family comes over and we have a seafood dinner on Christmas Eve.” This Italian tradition is called the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The tradition originated when the Italian immigrants came to America. The feast was fit to satisfy dozens of people, with up to nine different seafood dishes, pasta, calamari, and vegetables.

Perhaps the most important holiday tradition is spending time with your family and freinds. The true spirit of the holidays doesn’t lie in material possessions, but in the love and joy that is shared between each other. Remember that during this holiday season.

“Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years… Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart.”
-George Matthew Adams