History, Just for Fun

The History of Christmas Traditions and Symbols- Part 2

Here’s some more history behind our favorite Christmas symbols to put you in the holiday mood!

Santa Claus

The story of Santa beings in the 3rd century AD when a monk helped the poor and sick and became St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. His veneration spread throughout Europe over the centuries where his story started to take on aspects of Germanic folktales such as elves and sky-chariots. The Dutch started to call him Sinterklaas and depicted him with a white beard and red robes. Dutch settlers brought the tradition of Sinterklaas with them to the New York area during the colonial period. Clement Clarke Moore penned a poem in 1822 known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in which he popularized the image of a portly Santa with his eight reindeer leaving children presents and going down chimneys. In 1881, Thomas Nast drew a jolly Santa Claus with toys and gave him Mrs. Claus and a home in the North Pole.  Soon stores began to use the image of Santa Claus during the holidays to entice customers and the Salvation Army dressed men up as the jolly fellow in the 1890s to gain donations. Since then, St. Nick has become a staple of Christmas time, making his appearance in movies and songs and at holiday themed events.

Candy Canes

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

These red and white stripped treats first came about in Germany in 1670 where the story goes that a choirmaster bent sugar sticks to resemble a shepherd’s crook during a service celebrating the nativity to quiet the choirboys. Others think the Germans made the hooked candy to hang on Christmas trees.  By 1847, all white candy canes had come to the United States when German-Swedish immigrant August Imgard used them to decorate his tree. By the 20th century, marketing practices had made peppermint flavored red and white candy canes popular.  Although there is no historical evidence for it, some claim that the “J” shape was made in honor of Jesus and the red and white stripes represent his blood and purity.


The origins of this drink lay in medieval England where they drank posset, a drink of curdled milk and ale and wine. Monks eventually added eggs to the mixture and the drink was used to toast to prosperity and good health. The English colonists made it popular in the United States and added rum to the mixture. Even the Founding Fathers indulged in the drink. The word “nog” is believed to come from a wooden cup called a “noggin.” The term “eggnog” came into popular used by the late 18th century.


The origins of stockings are debated, but many point to the tale of St. Nicholas leaving gold in the stockings of three daughters of a poor man to serve as their dowries so they could marry well and would not have to be sold off as the source. Soon, others left their stockings out too with hopes of them being filled by the saint. By the 19th century, the tradition of stockings came to the United States when Clement Clarke Moore referenced stockings being hung by the chimney in his famous poem. Perhaps because they are left by the chimney, the belief that St. Nick will leave coal in stockings for bad children became popular too.  


Photo by Becerra Govea Photo on Pexels.com

These bright red flowers are native to Mexico and Central America and get their name from Joel R. Poinsett. Poinsett served as the US ambassador to Mexico and brought the plant back from there to the States in the 1820s. They became commercialized by the Ecke family in the early 20th century. The family bred hardier poinsettia plants and helped them to become a holiday staple by getting them featured in magazines and television shows during the winter season.


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