Brainwaves Newsletter
The Origins of Holiday Traditions
By Cynthia Kirkeby
Oct 15, 2002, 11:25

Read this poem then scroll down to read the history behind each of the words in blue.

The Origin of Traditions
by Sarah Lane

Yore snug as a bug
in your
Yule Log warmed home,
yove left your
sled in the snow,
yove hung the
wreath, the mistletoe,
stockings on the mantle,
and cookies are waiting for Santa.

Christmas cards are written,
eggnos ready for sippi,
lights and candy canes
are on the
tree, carolers
sing songs about
Rudolph and Frosty.

Did you ever stop to wonder where yod be,
without traditions on Christmas Eve?


Did you know the burning of the Yule Log was taken from ancient sun worship rituals?  Yule Logs are supposed to be cut from red oak trees and burned all of Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day.  It is unlucky to buy your own log and lucky ones usually come from your neighbos woodpile.  It is also customary to light the new log with a scrap of last years log.  The scrap is kept under the homeownes bed to protect the home from fire and lightning during the next year.

Can you believe the very first ice skates were made from animal bones?  The oldest pair ever discovered was found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland and date back to 3000 B.C.  Leg bones from large animals were used as the blade and the skates were tied on with leather straps.  The Dutch word for skate isschenke which means leg bone.  The largest outdoor skating rink is the Fujikyu Highland Promenade Rink in Japan.  It was built in 1967 and covers 3.8 acres.


Can you think of what was used to move heavy items before the invention of the wheel?  Sleds were used in the Neolithic Period as well as in pre-Columbian America where Eskimos used dogs to pull them.  Ancient Egyptians also used sleds to haul large blocks of stone.  Soon people created runners to make the sled slide over the ground easier, lightweight passenger sleds drawn by horses, and bobsleds created by joining two sleds together.

You may already know that no two snowflakes are alike, but do you know how they differ?  Symmetrical crystals, meaning all sides are the same length and size, form each tiny flake.  Each flake is different from the next in size, lacy structure, and surface markings.  The United States gets about 28 inches of snow every winter.  Some fun activities associated with snow are skiing, snowboarding, sled riding, hiking with snowshoes, and snowmobile riding.  Some areas of the country have winter sports centers that depend greatly on the snow to make money.

Snowflake Patterns for Kids
Every child should learn to cut snowflakes from paper for the holidays.  Through the years these paper cutouts have been an endless source of fascination for many people.  Print out existing patterns or learnHow to Create Your Ow.
Source:  David Stredulinsky

Can you believe people used to worship evergreen holly as a sign of eternal life because it did not brown or die in the winter?  Some religious groups say that the crown of thorns placed on Jesu head was made of holly.  The berries were supposedly white but turned bright red from Jesu blood.  Holly is also said to represent the sus return after a long winter.  We now place wreaths on doors or hallways to create a festive atmosphere during the holiday season.

Did you realize that mistletoe is rarely used in churches because it comes from the ancient Druid ceremony celebrating winter solstice?  This once pagan tradition started when a girl would stand beneath the hanging plant and a boy would walk up, pick a berry, and then kiss her.  When the berries were gon no more kisses!

Do you know why we hang stockings on the fireplace?  Long ago it was said that Saint Nicholas (now called Santa Claus) threw three coins down a chimney of the home of three poor sisters.  Each of the coins landed inside separate stockings left on the hearth (fireplace) to dry.  It is now a modern tradition to hang stockings by the fireplace in hopes that we might have the same good fortune.

Do you know that the most popular cookie kids leave for Santa is the Oreo? Maybe thas because over 9.1 billion of them are sold each year.  There is no exact date recorded, but the idea of leaving cookies for Santa started sometime in the 193s.  Naughty kids use them to bribe Santa at the last minute and nice kids use them as a way of thanking him for all his hard work on Christmas Eve.

Can you believe that Santa has been around since the 4th century?  Originally known as Saint Nicholas, the patron of children and sailors, he was a bishop who was immortalized because of his generous and loving nature towards children.  He was said to have brought joy to the poor by throwing gifts through their windows.  The Dutch called him Sint Nikolass, which eventually evolved into Sinter Klaas.  It wast until the Dutch began entering America that the colonials of New York began calling him Santa Claus.

The earliest known designer of a Christmas card was Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It was both the Penny Post Postal Service in 1840 and the industrialization of the printing industry, which led to the popularity of sending Christmas cards.  By 1846, one thousand were sold at one shilling each.  Cards in unsealed envelopes could be posted for half a penny.  A German printer by the name of Louis Prang was designing and selling cards in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1874.  Ten years later his shop was selling more than five million cards a year.

Did you know eggnog was once made with beer?  In the 17th century, strong ale calledno was very popular in Britain around the holidays.  It was made from beer, sugar, egg yolks, lemon rinds, and cinnamon.  Later in the 19th century, North Americans took the French version of the drink calledLait de Poul, made from milk, sugar, and egg yolks, and added spirits.  With the addition of brandy, rum or sherry, we have our own modern day eggnog.  We now cook the drink to remove the threat of salmonella, but the recipe has been the same for over 150 years.

The very first person to have Christmas lights on their tree was Edward Johnson who worked for Thomas Edison.  It would be a while before the general public could purchase similar lights though.  The first strands to be mass-produced came from Ever Ready in the early 190s.  By the 192s General Electric had improved upon the invention.

Can you believe that someone once thought sugar would keep kids quiet?  In the year 1670, the local choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral gave his young singers sugar sticks to keep them quiet during the long ceremony.  He had the candy bent in the shape of shepherd crooks to celebrate the festive occasion.  In the 192s a man named Bob McCormack made candy canes by hand for his friends and family, but it took too long to bend them and only a few people could enjoy them.  In the 195s his brother-in-law, Gregory Keller, invented a machine that made lots of candy canes at the same time.  Bos Candies, Inc. became the largest maker of candy canes in the world.  It was only in the early 190s that red stripes were added and peppermint became the standard flavor.

Did you know the tradition of the Christmas tree comes from Germany?  The very first trees were oak, the same tree used for the Yule Log.  Trees have been a symbol of good luck since the Middle Ages.  In Germany, whenever someone would build a house, a small evergreen tree would be nailed to the highest beam.  Soon people began bringing the tree inside during Christmastime and decorating it.  When German immigrants came to the United States, they brought this tradition with them.

The custom of singing Christmas carols is said to have come from 13th century Italy where a man named St. Francis of Assisi led songs of praise.  It is very bad luck to send carolers away empty handed.  It is customary to offer food, drink, or even a little money.  It is also said to be unlucky if you sing Christmas carols at any other time of the year besides the festive season.

Can you believe the invention of Rudolph was an advertising gimmick? The red-nosed reindeer was born in 1939 when a 34-year old writer for Montgomery Ward named Robert L. May was asked to invent a Christmas story. The company gave copies of the story to customers during the holiday season as a promotion for their stores.

Source:  Urban Legends Reference Page;;, Inc.;;;;; Columbia University Press;; Codenet, Inc.; National Confectioners Association

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