Christmas Traditions and their History

Christmas is a magical time of year for many people. It is an opportunity to be with family, exchange gifts, and decorate. (Photo courtesy of public domain).

This holiday season, as many Leesville families prepare for Christmas, a few items appear in most households — a tree, stockings, and presents — but when did these things become part of the average Christmas?

Christmas Tree

As December progresses, Christmas trees are slowly becoming one of the most popular items in the background of class. These trees come in all different types, sizes, and styles, but all of them represent Christmas. 

Putting up the tree is a favorite tradition for many Leesville students, and they look forward to it each year. However, many of them do not know its importance nor its origins. Christmas trees are beautiful additions to this holiday, and it is odd to imagine a Christmas without one, but for many years a tree was not part of the holiday celebration.

In 15th century Germany, Christians decorated their households with a “paradise tree,” a fir tree with apples and wafers/cookies placed on it. Later in that century, candles became another popular decoration. The apples, wafers/cookies, and candles represent the Garden of Eden, the body of Christ, and the light of Christianity. This “paradise tree” was one of two significant parts of Christmas, the other is the “Christmas pyramid.”

This pyramid was a wooden structure with shelves for figurines and other decorations. It would often be in the same room as the tree. By the 16th century, these two objects merged together and became the Christmas tree. It only took a few years for this new decoration to become popular in Europe.

Despite being a well-established tradition in European countries for years, it was not until the mid 19th century that Christmas trees became popular in the USA. It finally caught on when the then-current queen of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria, and Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, put a tree up.

“This single image cemented the Christmas tree in the popular consciousness,” wrote Judith Flanders in her book, Christmas: A Biography.

From medieval Germany to present-day Raleigh, Christmas trees are lighting up the holiday season and imbuing people with the Christmas spirit.


Christmas stockings appear in many holiday celebrations around the world. They’re a favorite among little kids who hope to find toys and candy in them come Christmas morning. These pieces of cloth are an important aspect of the holiday and are more than just part of a silly children’s tale.

The two main contributors to this tradition are an Italian custom and an aspect of an old Nordic religion. Over time, these two traditions, along with the help of a popular legend, melded together to form this popular Christmas decoration.

“Italian nobles had a practice called ‘Zapata’, wherein they placed in the slippers or stockings of persons they wished to honor, some present of dress or trinkets,” wrote Flanders. 

Though it is the same article of clothing, this practice is pretty distinct from Christmas stockings. The time of year and reasoning is the main differentiation between the two. Though different, this Italian ritual helped create the stockings that are so popular today.

The old Nordic tradition is more closely related to the current stocking custom. In this religion, children would put carrots in their shoes and leave them out for Odin’s horse, Sleipnir, on the Winter Solstice.  In return, the Norse god would put gifts in the shoes.  This custom is similar to what children do with stockings nowadays. 

The final piece of this puzzle is a story.

In this tale, a poor man struggles with arranging marriages for his three daughters and fears that they will never have a good life. One day, Saint Nicholas sees this man and decides to help him, but he knows that the man is too proud to accept help. That night St. Nicholas sneaks into the man’s home and goes to the girls’ stockings, which are hanging by the fireplace and puts gold coins (or a gold orb) in each one, and leaves. The next day, the daughters and the father are happy because, with the gold, he can arrange their marriages.

Aspects from each of these stories are prevalent in today’s Christmas stockings. Good behavior, the time of year, and Saint Nick are all essential parts of this tradition that come from these old myths and customs,

Each stocking is unique. Some students prefer old homemade ones and others like newer store-bought ones. No matter what type they are, one of the best experiences each year is hanging them with family.


This December, Leesville students are rushing to finish their holiday shopping on time. Gift-giving is a fundamental aspect of Christmas, and this year plenty of families will exchange presents, but why?

These gifts express people’s appreciation for their family and friends. Yet Christmas presents did not always have a happy meaning. The tradition started as a way to keep the social classes separated and to children from leaving home. 

In the 19th century, more and more people lived in cities because of industrialization. During this time, holidays such as Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and Christmas were days when the poor could ask the rich for food and water and celebrated in the streets. The upper class did not like these celebrations and would create excuses to avoid them. One of these excuses was giving each other presents. By doing this, instead of going around town and socializing with the lower class, they could stay home and enjoy their new gift.

Mothers also wanted their children to stay home because they did not like what they were doing in their spare time. Parents gave their kids toys or books to distract themselves with, so they would be too busy playing to leave the house. Eventually, parents only gave them gifts at Christmas, and it became a tradition. 

Today gift-giving has a far better connotation than its original purpose. Students give presents to their friends and family to show that they appreciate those people. It is important to give gifts to people because it makes them feel happy and conveys how much people know and care about them. 

Home is not the only place for Christmas presents. Some classes participate in a Secret Santa and give everyone a gift. In other courses, teachers give students a movie to watch instead of a presentation or not give out homework as a gift to the students. No matter what happens, this is a classic part of Christmas and is one of the more fun things to do during the holiday.

Three of the most popular aspects of Christmas are the tree, stockings, and presents. Their history ranges from medieval Germany to 19th century America, but all of them have found a place in this holiday season. Despite their importance, the best part of Christmas is not the physical items, but the time spent with family and friends.



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