Christmas – the history of decorations and traditions

Happy small girl in santa hat have a christmas

With Advent now in full swing, you’re probably thinking about hanging a wreath, getting a tree and putting up the Christmas decorations. But how and where did all those rituals and traditions begin?

From the relatively recent Blue Peter Advent Crown – to the origins of the Crimble Tree and the man in the red suit, we take a look at some of most recognisable Christmas traditions and decorations and examine how they all started…

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree is the hub of a family Christmas. It’s the focus of family events for a whole month – we decorate it, stack the presents under it and congregate round it on Christmas Day when it’s time to open them.

The origin of the Christmas Tree as a seasonal symbol is about as hazy as an Uncle that’s consumed 3/4 bottle of Port with Christmas lunch. Whilst Christmas Trees were a firm feature in the 18th Century German Renaissance, the tree as a symbol is not just restricted to Christianity. Here in the UK Evergreens have been used around the winter solstice to denote long-life.

The Blue Peter Advent Crown

It’s always good to mark a landmark anniversary and if you’ve watched children’s telly at some point over the east 50 years, you’ll be all too familiar with BBC Blue Peter. Well, coincidentally, their annual ‘make-at-home’ Christmas decoration – the Advent Crown – is 50 years young  in 2014 – as current presenters Radzi and Lindsey explain…

Essentially the Advent Crown is a couple of wire coat hangers, some tinsel, baubles and candles put together to make a decoration that is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Former presenter Janet Ellis has put together this handy how-to so we thought we’d share that with you as well..

OK, so the Advent Crown is a relatively recent addition to the household decs – but what of Tinsel and Baubles? How and When did all that familiar Christmas deoration begin?

Shimmer, Sparkle and Twinkle

Tinsel has been around as a Christmas decoration for about 400 years. It is thought it was invented in Hamburg around 1610, when it was made from very thin extruded silver – but was quickly replaced by other metals that were cheaper and tarnish less quickly. Tinsel was designed to look like ice or icicles.

Also produced in Germany, at a similar time, the decorative Bauble was created by a glass maker called Hans Greiner. Prior to the manufactured glass bauble, families adorned their tree with pastries or biscuits they made themselves, usually in the shape of stars and flowers. They also used apples (which may have inspired the bauble) as well as Candy canes.

Father Christmas

St. Nicholas, Father Christmas and Santa Claus – these days they’re all names for the same magical person who heads round the world dishing out presents to children on Christmas eve. But has he always made his way in through the chimney and what are his origins?

The original St Nicholas was a philanthropic asian, who lived in what is now Turkey in the 4th Century. Having inherited considerable money from his parents who died when he was very young, he put it to good use, helping the poor and needy. In one such event he dropped a bag of money down the chimney of a family – where a father could not afford to pay for his daughter to get married. That kicked off the tradition of putting stockings up by the fire… For his good deeds Nicholas was made a saint.

Santa Claus was a version of St Nicholas merged by Norwegians (who had emigrated ) with the early USA ‘s name ‘Kris Kringle’ – originally Sinterklaas.

One urban myth that sprung up about his trademark red and white suit is that Coca Cola changed his colour scheme – but in older stories he had a whole wardrobe – including Green and Blue suits – it’s just red was his favourite. Of course, no one really knows, but if you stay up late on Christmas eve – and if you’re very very lucky – you might just be able to ask him yourself.

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