Christmas Traditions

Page 3

Here’s what you’ll find on this third page:

Lights
Mistletoe
Seals – Christmas Seals

Lights

Lighting at winter festivals goes back many centuries, even before the birth of Jesus. And it continued to be part of pagan celebrations for countless years after Christ.

Extra candles and even special candles have likely been part of Christmas church services for centuries. For Christ is the symbol of light and hope.

But let’s focus on electric Christmas lights. How did this tradition get started?


Folklore has it that the first candles on Christmas trees appeared in Germany in the 16th century.  Specifically Martin Luther is credited with cutting a fir tree from his garden one wintry Christmas Eve (around 1525 – 1535). 

He placed it in the nursery of his home for his wife and children. And to show them the great beauty of the celebration of Jesus’ birth, he decorated the tree with candles to represent the stars.

Many historians question this and cite facts to the contrary.  In fact, there are historians who say the first evidence of a lighted tree occurred a bit later, around the mid-1600s.  Yet the legend giving Luther credit prevails.

Regardless of exactly when they first appeared . . . During the 16th century the record and popularity of Christmas trees grew. And as long ago as the beginning of the 17th century other decorations – such as apples and colored paper – began to be added.

Some of our other traditional ornaments – sun, stars, moon and animals – are thought to descend from ancient symbols of nature. Symbols pagan people hung as trinkets from trees during winter festivals.

1st Electric Lights on Christmas Tree - 1882, New York City

Back to the lights: An associate inventor to Thomas Edison is credited with the first electrical lights on a Christmas tree in 1882. Edward H. Johnson was his name and here’s a black and white picture of that first tree in his home. Johnson’s tree was hand-wired with 80 red, white and blue electric incandescent light bulbs about the size of walnuts.

Then in 1895 the first Christmas tree with electric lights appeared in the White House. U.S. President Grover Cleveland was proud to sponsor the tree.

And so the craze began to spread almost like wild-fire. By 1900 businesses were adorning their display windows with Christmas lights and some were erecting large illuminated trees.

But since they were still too expensive for the “average” citizen, candles dominated well into the 1930’s. And electric lights on Christmas trees really weren’t adopted in mass by average households until the mid-1950’s.

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Mistletoe – Kisses Beneath

Although kissing under the mistletoe is linked with Christmas, there’s no reason why it ought to be. Although it is an example of the power of “customs.”

In a Scandinavian myth, Baldur the beautiful – god of light and spring – was troubled by dreams that his life was in danger. His mother Frigga – goddess of love – traveled over the world asking everything from earth, air, fire and water to promise not to hurt her son.

Mistletoe on an apple tree

However, she did not ask the mistletoe.

Now it’s important to the legend to know that mistletoes is a parasitic plant which attaches itself to trees.  Therefore it does not grow from any of the four elements.

Loki – god of fire – was jealous of Baldur and finally had him slain with a dart of mistletoe.

The tears of Baldur’s mother became the white berries of the plant. And she decreed that mistletoe would never again be used as a weapon. She also decreed that she would place a kiss on anyone who passed under the mistletoe.

Exactly how it became so closely tied to Christmas is uncertain. Perhaps it comes from an old legend that at the end of a year, if a girl receives no kisses under the mistletoe she will not marry in the New Year. (Bit silly, don’t you think?)

By the way, a berry should be removed with each kiss, and when all are gone the bough has lost its power.

Seals – Christmas Seals

1st Christmas Seal - Denmark, 1904

Tuberculosis was a deadly and much-feared disease in the very early 1900’s. Children seemed to suffer with particularly horrible severity. More needed to be done.

A postal clerk in Denmark – Einar Holbøll – came up with an original idea in 1904. His plan was approved by the Postmaster and the King of Denmark. So for the Christmas season in 1904 the world’s first Christmas Seal was issued. It bore the likeness of the Danish Queen.

Holbøll’s clever idea? Add an extra charitable stamp on mailed holiday greetings to help sick children with tuberculosis. Enough money was raised during the first six years to build the Christmas Seal Sanatorium in Denmark.

First U.S. Christmas Seal - 1925

Emily Bissell introduced them to the U.S. in 1907 after reading an article on Seals. Her goal was to raise enough money for a sanitarium in Delaware.

By 1908 Christmas Seals had already become a national program thanks to the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis (NASPT) and the American Red Cross. The antibiotic “streptomycin” was developed after World War II and tuberculosis (TB) became a curable disease.

The NASPT evolved and by 1973 had become the American Lung Association.

Go Here to read about the Traditions of stockings and tinsel

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