Christmas traditions through the ages

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen — and like me, you’ve probably wondered if we should be teaching such words to our children, especially all in the same sentence and tied together like that. This is aside from the point I’m trying to make, though: Do you recall the lesser-known facts of Christmas at all?

For example, what is it about standing under a parasitic plant that encourages us to smooch? (That’s mistletoe, for the botanically oblivious.) This goes back to Hellenistic traditions in which Mistletoe was believed to have the power of bestowing fertility. Centuries later, this concept of fertility was incorporated into marriage rites. In the eighteenth century during Christmastime, a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe could not refuse to be kissed. (Keep that in mind ladies.) Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she could not expect not to marry the following year. Though history books do not bear this out, it is apparent that this tradition was probably a joint marketing ploy initiated by Carmex and Listerine to encourage more wintertime kissing.

How about the tradition of poinsettias? Poinsettias are a plant native to Mexico and were named after Joel R. Poinsett, a U.S. ambassador to Mexico who brought the plant to America in 1828. Poinsettias were likely used by Mexican
Franciscans (Spanish Friars) in their 17th century Christmas celebrations. A legend goes that a young Mexican boy, on traveling to his village’s Nativity scene, realized he had no gift for the Christ child, so he gathered some green branches from along the road and brought them to the church. The other children made fun of him and didn’t let him join in any reindeer games, but when the leaves were laid at the manger, a beautiful star-shaped flower appeared on each branch.
The bright red petals, often mistaken for flowers, are actually the upper leaves of the plant.

The beauty of Christmas traditions, both widely known and not-so-well-known, is that they can catch on as easily as a viral video on YouTube.
And if you can get Burl Ives on your team, you can immortalize your Christmas tradition into a beloved children’s song.

Merry Christmas!

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