Many Americans have Christmas traditions including the annual decorating their Christmas tree and sending holiday greeting cards.
Germany is credited for the Christmas tree tradition. The tradition started with what Germans called a paradise tree. These were branches or wooden frames decorated with apples. These types of trees were used in German mystery or miracle plays. The plays were acted out during Advent and Christmas eve services.
It was in the 16th century that Martin Luther, a protestant reformer, added lighted candles to the tree because he was awed by the twinkling stars among the evergreens when he was walking home one night.
People brought Christmas trees into their homes in the 16th century, but it wasn’t till around 1830 that trees were brought into homes in America, by German settlers in Pennsylvania.
In the early 1840s, Christmas trees were thought of as pagan symbols. People were even fined if they brought a tree into their home. However, in 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were pictured with their children around a Christmas tree and Christmas trees became acceptable in America.
In the 20th century, Americans began decorating their Christmas trees with homemade decorations. German-Americans continued to use nuts, apples and marzipan cookies to decorate. Popcorn strands were added also. They used lightly dyed popcorn interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought Christmas lights. Christmas trees then begin appearing in town squares and having a tree in the home became a tradition.
The first use of “Merry Christmas” recorded in a letter was in 1534, and the first Christmas card was in 1611. The first Christmas card was more like a manuscript and was carried form place to place. The card had four poems and a song written on it.
The custom of sending Christmas cards, as they are known today, was started in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. Cole and his friend, John Horsley, an artist, designed the first Christmas card. The card was trifold and sold for one shilling, or about 4 cents. Only 1,000 cards were sold.
Some of the first Christmas cards sold were black and white and then colored in by hand. As printing methods improved, cards became more popular. In 1860, cards were produced in large numbers. The cards that were popular had bird, nativity and snow scenes.
Christmas cards first appeared in the United States in 1840. Most people couldn’t afford them until mass producing them started in 1875 by Louis Prang, a printer from the United Kingdom who had migrated to the United States.
In 1910 and 1920, homemade Christmas cards were popular. They were usually unusual shapes and decorated with foil and ribbons. These cards were fragile and were often delivered by hand.
Today, many cards have winter pictures, Santa Claus or romantic scenes. Some charities sell Christmas cards to raise funds for their organization. Most cards are folded, but family post card type cards are becoming popular.
Sources for this story included greetingcardpoet.com, Why Christmas and history.com.
Jackie Wolgamott is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.