Christmas Traditions and Symbols

Decorations

In preparation for Christmas, many people decorate their houses with colored lights and hang a wreath of ev­ergreen branches, or other Christmas decorations on the door. Inside the house people often decorate with bright red poinsettia plants. Most families also put up Christmas trees. In some parts of the USA there are Christ­mas tree farms where people can cut down their own trees. Most people,

however, buy trees that have already been cut and are sold from Christmas tree lots on street corners or in shop­ping areas. The trees are brought home, set up in the liv­ing room, and decorated with lights, ornaments, tinsel, and a star or angel at the top. Under this tree, family members and “Santa” will leave gifts.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus’ origin goes back to Norse and pre­Christian mythological characters who were also asso­ciated with gift giving. The Norse God, Odin, rode on a magical flying horse across the sky in the winter to re­ward people with gifts. In Scandinavian and other Eu­ropean countries, Father Christmas, or Saint Nicholas, comes into houses in the night and leaves gifts for the children, to bring happiness in the coldest months of the year. The legend of Saint Nicholas may have developed from stories of a real Saint Nicholas, a priest who lived in the 300s AD, and reportedly gave money to a poor family. Saint Nicholas became a symbol for gift giving among Christians. Later, Saint Nicholas was substituted with a non-religious figure, Father Christmas, who was represented as a kindly man with a red cloak and long white beard. Immigrants brought the idea of Father Christmas to the United States. His name was eventu­ally changed to Santa Claus, from the Dutch “Sinter Claas,” which means Father Christmas. Santa Claus took shape in the United States, and Americans made him a cheery old gentleman with red cheeks and a twin­kle in his eye. American children believe that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole with his wife, Mrs. Claus, and his helpers, the elves. All year he keeps a list of the names of children in the world, and notes whether they have been good or bad. He decides what presents to give to the good children. He oversees the manufactur­ing and wrapping of the presents by his helpers.

Santa Claus supposedly gets his ideas for the toys from the millions of children who write to him at the North Pole, explaining what they would like for Christmas. Children also find Santa Claus at shopping malls across the country. They sit on his lap and tell him what they want. Of course, their parents are prob­ably nearby listening in as well.

On December 24, Christmas Eve, Santa hitches his eight reindeer to a sleigh, and loads it with pres­
ents. The reindeer pull him and his sleigh through the sky to deliver presents to children all around the world, that is, if they have been good all year. On Christmas morning, children can’t wait to open their eyes and see what Santa left for them under the Christmas tree. In many families, on Christmas Eve children prepare a glass of milk and cookies as a snack for Santa. Of course, in the morning the snack is gone, and they know that Santa was there. Santa Claus exists only in our imaginations. But he, Saint Nicholas, and Father Christmas all represent the spirit of giving.

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