The Rushmore Report: Where Did Mistletoe and Christmas Trees Come From?

Christmas is the season for joy and forgiveness. However, it is also full of strange and beautiful traditions we all follow without really understanding their meaning. Have you ever wondered where your favorite Christmas traditions come from – such as mistletoe, Christmas trees, stockings, candy cane, and poinsettias? With Christmas Day just three days away, this is a good time to brush up on Christmas traditions.

1. Mistletoe

Traditionally, it is said that mistletoe should never touch the ground between being cut and its removal. (It is to be the last of the greens removed from the house after the Christmas season is over.) It was supposed to be hung each year to protect the house from fire, and any man and woman that met each other under it were obliged to kiss. After each kiss a berry was plucked from the bush; once all the berries were plucked, the privilege ceased. The use of mistletoe as a Christmas decoration is very common and originally began in the 18th century.

2. Christmas trees

The Christmas tree tradition began in modern Germany in the early Renaissance with the decorating of pine or fir trees with apples, roses, candies, and colored paper. Its 16th century origins seem to center around Martin Luther, but its widespread popularity followed introduction by various members of the nobility. To decorate a Christmas tree became much more popular and widely accepted in the United Kingdom after Queen Victoria’s marriage to the German Prince, Albert.

3. Christmas stocking

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the tradition of Christmas stockings, but popular legends have found ways to try and explain it. It starts with the story of an old man with three beautiful daughters who had no money to pay for their dowries and so they could not marry. St. Nicholas was riding through the village and heard of this story. Understanding that the old man would not accept charity, he crept down the chimney that night and found stockings that the daughters had hung by the fireplace to dry. Into each of these three stockings he placed a bag of gold, and the next morning the three beautiful women and their father were overjoyed, and soon the women were married. Ever since, adults and children alike have hung stockings by the fireplace or at the end of their beds to be filled with presents while they sleep, ready to be joyfully opened the next morning.

4. Candy cane

According to popular history, in 1670 a German choirmaster wished to find a way to get the children to be quiet in his church during Christmas Eve services. He asked the local sweet maker to make sweet sticks for the children, but in order to justify the giving of candy during the worship service he had the sweet maker add a crook to the tip of each sweet and to make them red and white (to reinforce Christian beliefs in the sinless life of Jesus). These delicious candy canes then spread through Europe while being given out at nativity plays. Now they are a popular tradition each year, and they come in many flavors, not just the traditional peppermint.

5. Poinsettia

The plant and its associations with Christmas stem from Mexico, where they tell the story of a young girl who was too poor to pay for a present to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Angels inspired her to pick weeds from the roadside to place in front of the church alter and these weeds became poinsettias when beautiful crimson blossoms sprouted from them. From the 17th century onwards friars in Mexico incorporated these bright flowers into their Christmas celebrations, as they believe the flowers have a special symbolism. The star shape of the leaf symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, and the red symbolizes the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Christ. Today, these beautiful flowers are popular Christmas decorations, with December 12 being National Poinsettia Day in America.

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