Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why Do We Hang Wreaths, Garlands, And Stockings? And What's Up With All These Christmas Trees?

1)  Why do we decorate our homes with wreaths, garlands, and Christmas trees?

A:  Hanging evergreen boughs in and around the home has been a tradition for many centuries. Ancient people believed that evergreens were able to ward off witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and even illness. Ancient Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death. The Romans hung evergreens as part of their winter solstice feast (called Saturnalia) as a reminder that farms and orchards would soon be green and fruitful again. Druid priests decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life.

Sixteenth century German Christians are credited with starting the tradition of bringing decorated trees into their homes. Protestant reformer Martin Luther is widely believed to have been the first to add lighted candles to a tree. When German settlers arrived in Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s, the Christmas tree made its debut on the North American continent. However, over the next hundred years thereafter, the Christmas tree was frowned upon by many Americans as a pagan symbol that mocked the sacredness of the Christmas holiday. By the late 1800s, Christmas trees had started to become a popular tradition among Americans and Europeans alike. And the rest is history...


2)  Why do we hang our stockings by the chimney with care?

A: There are two theories behind the origin of the Christmas stocking. One theory says that the Christmas stocking was introduced in America by the Dutch. It's said that in the 16th century, children in Holland kept their straw-filled clogs by the hearth for the reindeer. At the same time, they would place a treat for Sinterclass (a.k.a. Santa Claus) near the fireplace in the house. In return, Sinterclass would leave some gifts for the children. Over time, the clogs were replaced by stockings -- which makes sense, if you think about it, because stockings can generally stretch to hold much more than wooden shoes can.

The other theory is harder to summarize succinctly, so I'll just quote it directly from another source:

"A nobleman and his wife had three daughters and they were living quite happily. One day, the wife contracted some fatal illness, which led to her untimely demise. Devastated by his wife's death, the nobleman squandered all his wealth and property. Since he was left with no money, he had to move into a peasant's cottage, along with his daughters. Soon, the time came for the daughters to get married. However, the father had lost all his wealth and could not afford to give any dowry.

As time passed, the father started getting more and more worried about getting his daughters married. One day, St. Nicholas of Myra happened to pass through the nobleman's village and heard the villagers discussing what the father was going through. St Nicholas knew that the father would be too proud to accept money from him. He decided to wait till dark and then, went to the nobleman's house, and threw three bags of gold coins from the chimney.

The same evening, the daughters of the nobleman had washed their clothes and had hung their stockings by the fireplace. The bag of gold coins dropped into the stockings, one bag for each daughter. When the family members woke up in the morning, they found the money in their stockings. The father utilized the money for marrying away his daughters, each with a generous dowry. Soon, the villagers came to know of St. Nicholas' generosity and started hanging their stockings by the fireplace."

And there you have it...


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