The Great American Melting Pot contains a wealth of holiday traditions which can be traced to countries across the globe:
- Christmas trees were first used in Germany. Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.
- Santa Claus (aka St. Nick) is said to have first shown up bearing gifts in Scandinavian homes. Most kids learn that Santa Claus comes from the North Pole, but children in Scandinavia are taught he lives a bit farther south. Where exactly is a matter of much debate, with businesses in Finland, Sweden and Norway competing to cash in on the cachet that comes with claiming Santa’s hometown.
- Letters to Santa. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the earliest Santa letters are similarly didactic, usually coming from St. Nicholas, rather than written to him. When postal workers began hand-delivering mail to urban centers during the Civil War, the shift made Americans view the mail as a pleasant surprise rather than a burdensome errand. As the postal system became more formalized and efficient, the cost of postage began dropping in the mid-1860s. The price drop made parents more comfortable with paying for stamps, and children began to view the postman as an actual conduit to the Jolly Old St. Nick.
- St. Nicklaus’ arrival down chimneys to fill stockings hails from the Netherlands. In 1823, this tradition went mainstream with publication of what has now become a children’s classic, The Night Before Christmas.
- The idea of Santa’s sleigh being drawn by reindeer was first made popular in Switzerland.
- The first documented Christmas parade was reportedly held in Peoria, Illinois in 1888. Decorated with garland and red ribbons and pulled by a team of horses, a covered wagon rolls along Main Street in Peoria, Ill each November heralding Santa Claus’ arrival. For nearly 125 years, the parade has kicked off the start of the Christmas season, persevering through the 1929 stock market crash, blizzards and rainstorms. Even during World War II, when New York City’s famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was sidelined for three years, Peoria’s Thanksgiving weekend spectacle continued to bring holiday cheer.
- Elf on a Shelf began as a book penned by a mother/daughter team over a cup of tea. The pair decided to write a book about their personal tradition of writing notes to an elf sent by Santa, who came to watch over them at Christmas time. A companion toy was created in 2005 and has already found his way into 17 percent of all American homes over the past 10 Christmas seasons.
- Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts. While most Jewish feasts and festivals can be traced to the New Testament, relatively new retail takes on Jewish holiday traditions are owed entirely to entrepreneurial ingenuity.
- Mensch on a Bench was the brainchild of a rabbi who recently appeared on Shark Tank. During its first year in production in broad 2014, the product caught on with Jewish families, with $900,000 in sales.
- Dreidels are traditional, but one company has is re-introduced them as spinning tops. Based on what they refer to as an “American vintage game,” the tops boast all new spinners made from “the finest quality aircraft grade stainless steel which is machined using state of the art CNC turning centers and precision balanced for a piece that will spin perfectly and last forever.”
- Food Network has reinvented potato latkes to take them mainstream. Thanks to the popular network, people of all faiths and ethnicities are enjoying potato-pancake based recipes all year long.
A seven-day festival that celebrates African and African American culture and history, Kwanzaa is celebrated from 26 December to January 1.
- Seven days of candles point to the principles of the holiday, which was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.
- At the first Kwanzaa Holiday Expo, held in 1993, ice cream magnates Ben and Jerry introduced sweet potato ice cream, while other exhibitors showcased dark-complexioned dolls, African art, Jamaican root tonic, Kente cloth neckties, handcrafted African roses and an odd contraption that gives a passable back massage.
- Today, Kwanzaa is observed with African-centered books, cards and art objects and coloring contests for children.
Make the most of holiday traditions in 2016 by ordering promotional products for your clients, prospects, vendors and employees. Start your own Holiday Traditions with one of these suggestions for gift giving this Holiday Season:
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