A Brief History of Holiday Decorations

Holiday decorations. We put them up in our homes with them, stores are filled with them, kids make them in school and the streets are lined with them. But what is their history? Where do they come from? Here are some facts you might find surprising.

Christmas Lights

Everyone knows Thomas Edison’s greatest invention was the light bulb. But did you know he also invented Christmas lights? It’s true (and seems fitting). The story goes that Edward Johnson, vice president of Edison’s company, wanted to decorate his Christmas tree with eighty red, white, and blue bulbs. Edison obliged and, presto, a holiday tradition was born.

Dreidels

They serve as holiday decorations and toys for kids all over the world, but their history is far more complex. During periods of persecution, Jewish men would have to gather in secret to study the Torah. These men kept dreidels close by so that when soldiers passed, they could pull them out and appear as if they were gathered simply to play a game. In that sense, this simple toy is actually responsible for saving many lives.

The Christmas Tree

Germans get credit for popularizing the Christmas tree in the 1500s, but many believe it was St. Boniface, born in 680 A.D., who first made the association of the fir tree with the birth of Christ. Legend has it that he happened upon a human sacrifice that was taking place at the foot of an oak tree. In anger, he felled the tree with an axe. Behind the oak stood a fir tree. Boniface pointed to it and told the pagans to give up their wicked ways and seek salvation in Christ, the bringer of life “ever green.”

Ornaments

These days, ornaments come in all shapes and sizes. You can get Santas, cats, dogs, Star Wars characters and just about any other type of ornament you can imagine. The first ornaments, however, were actually props from religious plays about Adam and Eve— apples hung on the Paradise Tree to represent our first parents’ expulsion from the Garden of Eden. As time went on, other cultures started adding to and expanding on this tradition of hanging things in trees at Christmas time. The Germans put cookies in their Christmas trees, for example, but it wasn’t until F.W. Woolworth reluctantly began selling modern ornaments in his store that the tradition really caught on. He sold them all in just two days. From then on he travelled to Germany every year to buy ornaments and bring them back to the states to sell in his stores.

 

The origins of Christmas stockings

Christmastime is celebrated with all sorts of tradition. From holiday meals and decorations to putting up outside lights and buying a Christmas tree, Americans love to celebrate the yuletide. Hanging Christmas stockings and filling them with extra goodies is a ritual for many families. But when did the tradition begin?

Curiously enough, there aren’t any definitive answers to when people started hanging Christmas stockings. It is widely believed that the tradition got its start in Europe, when children would hang one of their “everyday” socks (ew) at the end of their bed, with the hopes that Santa Claus would fill it with a gift on Christmas Day.

The tradition of Christmas stockings made its way over to the United States, where it became an annual tradition. Family members often put their names on their respective stockings and hang them above the fireplace or from a mantelpiece, often designating a stocking for the family pet. Smaller Christmas stockings are sometimes hung from Christmas Trees or filled by Santa himself (wink, wink), then placed underneath the tree for Christmas morning.

The story behind the tradition of Christmas stockings varies from country to country and dates back to the 1600s, but the general concept is: leave a stocking out for Santa and he will fill it up for you! Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!

Who is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? And what does he want?!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a pretty important fixture in this whole Christmas celebration. But who exactly is Rudolph and why is he so special that there was a song that was written about him. We sent our investigative journalists out on the trail of Rudolph and here is what they found.

Who: Well, wouldn’t you know it that Rudolph has his origins in corporate America?! He made his debut in a 1939 advertisement in the form of a coloring book with a poem, published by the American department store chain, Montgomery Ward. He’s known as Santa’s ninth reindeer, although he really deserves top billing since his nose is so bright, he can provide enough lighting for Santa to navigate.

What: Rudolph has become a franchise of sorts, since his creation some 70+ years ago. Rudolph has earned his place in American Christmas tradition with his own song, television special and cinematic film.

Where: The red-nosed reindeer makes his home with Santa Claus and the other reindeer at the North Pole. There’s no word on if the other reindeer have a problem tolerating Rudolph’s celebrity, although the chance that there are some jealous reindeer on Santa’s crew is highly likely.

How: In the real world, reindeer cannot fly. But Rudolph along with Santa’s other reindeer have been blessed with the ability to fly. And of course, Rudolph’s nose is red and gives off such a bright beacon of light that Santa is able to see where he’s goling as he delivers presents on Christmas Eve. The doubting Thomas in the crowd might raise an eyebrow at Rudolph’s skills and talents.

Why: Why Rudolph?! Why not?! Can you even name the other eight reindeer? Maybe you know a few of their names, but Rudolph might be the most popular reindeer in the world. Plus he’s Santa Claus’ right-hand man. How could you not love Rudolph?!

Buying a gift for someone you know little or nothing about

Sometimes the situation arises in which you’re tasked with getting a gift for someone that you know next to nothing about. Hopefully it’s not your significant other, but it could be a mother- or father-in-law or just a new acquaintance that you’re hoping to woo. Here are some tips to picking out the right gift when you’ve got little idea of what to actually get the recipient.

If you’re looking for the easiest solution, you cannot go wrong with a gift card. Some people think that gift cards are a cop-out. They’re not. Giving a gift card says that you’re thoughtful enough to not make assumptions about what the person may or may not like. The end result is that you’re not sticking the recipient with a gift they don’t want or need. Gift cards are fun to redeem and often times help defray or cover the costs of something the recipient would actually like to have.

Your other option is to do some investigation about the person you’re buying the gift for. Think of yourself as a detective of sorts and your job is to listen for little clues and hints about the person’s personality and what type of things they’re interested in.

Asking around can go a long way. Friends and co-workers know these people the best. Try to find out what their interests are and base your gift selection on that information. You can also observe their environment as well as engage them in conversation. You can glean a lot from casually asking questions without the recipient even knowing you’re sizing them up for a gift.

Social media often is a good source of gift ideas. Check Twitter and Facebook as well as public wish lists on sites such as Amazon.com. Chances are you can find some good gift ideas or gift-giving intelligence there. If worse comes to worse, you can always whip out your wallet and pull out some old-fashioned dollar bills to plunk down. Cash is king after all. And who doesn’t love the gift of money?!

Happy holidays and happy gift hunting!

Tracking Santa on Christmas Eve

For children, there may be no more exciting time than Christmas Eve and, of course, Christmas Day. Part of the Christmas tradition includes leaving Santa a glass of milk and plate of cookies. And tracking Santa’s journey on Christmas Eve as he delivers presents all over the world is also part of the excitement. Here are some of the easiest ways to track Santa on Christmas Eve.

The granddaddy of all Santa trackers is the NORAD Tracks Santa website. It provides a Santa Cam and up-to-the-hour updates of Santa’s whereabouts. Would you believe that there is also a NORAD Santa Tracker podcast? Ho, ho, ho, you better believe it! Download it for free from iTunes.

For a fully immersed Santa Claus experience, point your web browser to santaclaus.net and track Santa as well as play games, get the weather at the North Pole or get to know Santa’s reindeer.

The Santa-T website  is a little more basic and might be suited for the younger Christmas crowd. You can track Santa, play with the reindeer and even send Santa wish list suggestions. There’s also a countdown clock that tells you the precise moment Santa will arrive at your house.

And it wouldn’t be Christmas without iPhone and iPad apps. This Santa Tracker has 7-in-1 features for the iPhone. And for those with the iPad, the Santa GPS app looks like it is a fun way to keep tabs on old St. Nick.

You might have luck trying Google’s homepage on Christmas Eve as the elves over there usually seem to get in the holiday spirit and serve up a Santa tracker of their own.

Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!