The Meaning Behind Household Holiday Traditions

  • Ryan Tollefsen
  • December 16th, 2014

household holiday traditionsWe can all fondly remember growing up with our own set of household holiday traditions and rituals during the holiday season. Chances are they all evolved by borrowing from other religious or cultural traditions, or were products and byproducts of geographical and historical context. But too often the meaning behind these familiar, festive traditions have become lost over the generations.

Maybe some of us can remember our dads chopping down that pine, fir or spruce tree at the farm or forest and dragging it into the living room for us to help decorate. Maybe some of us can recall the distinct scent of fresh (or plastic) wreaths and garlands and holly that our mothers expertly put together for the family. But do we know why our parents and their parents before them did what they did in preparation for the holidays?

Holiday Lights

The tradition of hanging colorful lights in and around the house goes beyond ornamental function. Long before electricity was commonplace for households, people would always light up candles in their homes to add a bit of light and cheer during days when natural light was at its minimum in the winter. People would also leave candles by the windowsill as guides for travelers and passersby. It’s possible that this concept was adopted on Christmas eve when St. Nick was believed to have gone from house to house.

Holiday Greenery

Evergreen trees, wreaths, garlands and boughs of holly—these holiday staples were historically important to cultures around the world. They were especially important to those who lived through winters in the Northern Hemisphere. Their ability to retain their green color was symbolic of life persisting even in the “deadest” time of the year and for the life that was to come in the season ahead.

The Christmas tree as we know it today is said to have been started and popularized in Germany during the 18th century, whilst having early Pagan roots. Decorative wreaths, garlands and boughs are said to take root in ancient Egypt and Hebrew traditions.

Now it’s our turn uphold the traditions we grew up with, with our own families. In doing so, it’s good to know the reasons behind them, as a way of adding (or rather, re-injecting) meaning to these time-tested traditions. Which traditions did you grow up with but are unable to explain the reasoning behind? Let us know!

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