Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Traditions and their Foreign Origins

We do some crazy things at Christmas time in the USA. As Jim Gaffigan once remarked about cutting down a tree and putting it inside ones home, "Sounds like the actions of a drunk man".  
But us Americans cannot be blamed for all our wacky traditions. A lot of our now modernized American traditions, come from old European roots. 

1.) The Advent Calendar: Started in Hamburg, Germany as a 24 candle clock in the town square. The candles used to light the days leading up to Christmas in December, because they probably saw the menorah and said "Hey that looks fun". Then, some guy named Gerhard Lang decided it would be cool to start counting down to Christmas by opening little doors that are filled with little knick-knacks. Knick-knacks soon turned to chocolate and candy. Chocolate and candy in a calendar soon turned to a Christmas tradition. 

2.)  The Christmas Tree: Originated in Estonia in the 15th century. The town brotherhood would put up a tree in the brotherhood house and dance around in on Christmas. Then the tradition moved to Germany where they would put up a tree with apples to represent the tree from the Garden of Eden during Christmas time. The tree then moved to individual homes and shiny red bulbs replaced apples. 

Tree from the Ritz in Paris, roses are the new bulbs?
3.) Santa Clause:  Is a tradition that started in the Netherlands and later carried to Britain and the United States. Sinterklaas (in Dutch) started in the 16th and 17th century and was depicted as an elderly man with white long hair and a long red cape, wearing a traditional white bishop's alb. He rode on a white horse, accompanied by his aides, and arrived in the Netherlands from Spain by Steam Boat in mid November. He carried a list of notes to tell him whether children had been good or bad. Good children were rewarded with gifts, chocolate letters, and spice nuts, while naughty children were given jute bags and willow canes. 

I wonder if this Santa speaks Dutch?

In present day, Santa Clause is a rather obese old man that spoils kids once a year with plastic mattel dolls and video games. At least Sinterklaas was more plausible in the sense that he arrived by steamboat not a magical flying sleigh. But hey who am I to talk. I believed until I was 10, which I'm told is rather old... 

Merry Christmas! (English) Froehliche Weihnachten! (German) Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! (Dutch) Haid joule ja head uut aastat! (Estonian)

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