Day Sixteen of Breezemas: History of Christmas Traditions

Rachel Uon

As each hour slowly ticks on by, Christmas Day is rapidly approaching. With it comes spending time with our loved ones, anticipation for all of the gifts we’ll receive, and the annual traditions that we’ve come to know and love. Many of these traditions have become a vital part of the yearly festivities. We’ve grown up believing that they’re just normal components of our holiday celebrations, but doesn’t everything originate from somewhere?

For this Breezemas season, I’ve researched the backgrounds of multiple Christmas traditions. Some come from centuries ago, while others began within the last twenty years. Without traditions such as these, our holiday wouldn’t be nearly as loved as it is.


Leaving Out Cookies and Milk

The idea of Santa’s long journey is enough to render anyone sympathetic- seemingly endless traveling in which he has the task of bringing presents throughout the entire world within a singular night. Perhaps to ease the man’s stress, most families leave out a plate of freshly baked cookies and a refreshing glass of milk. The provisions are always gone in the morning, replaced by a few crumbs and an empty cup. Historians have been unable to pinpoint exactly where this tradition emerged from, but many popular theories have roots in different branches of mythology.

This tradition really started to gain traction during the Great Depression. The Great Depression is a time period notorious for its widespread financial struggles and, as a result of those economic issues, starvation. It was a time in our country’s history where it was hard to afford spending the energy and resources to help out those around you; You had to put all of that effort into supporting your own family.

However, many parents didn’t want their children only growing up with the knowledge of how to be selfish and independent, no matter how necessary it may be to their survival. To teach them how to share and give to others, they had them leave cookies for Santa. They explained to them that it was an act of gratitude in response to the few gifts that they’d receive in these difficult times, and that no matter how small someone’s act of kindness may be, you should be thankful for it nevertheless.


Ugly Christmas Sweaters

In the 1950s, people everywhere began wearing what were called “Jingle Bell Sweaters”, cheerful pieces of apparel that had yet to become the infamously tacky style of the modern world. In the 1980s, they became much more popular with the common incorporation of them in comedic pop culture. Their popularity fluctuated, mainly heading downward, over the next few years but eventually began a steady increase in the early 2000s.

Part of what makes these garments so lovable is how shamelessly garish and obnoxious they can be. People love to hold “Ugly Sweater Parties” and guests will enjoy getting their hands on the most unattractive, ghastly clothing that they can. There’s an ugly sweater competition coming up soon at SBRHS, so be on the lookout for those who may be planning to participate! Some of the sweaters that are stylistically called “ugly” are actually rather cute, even if only during the Christmas season. If you’ve never had an ugly sweater of your own, you’re seriously missing out.


Meeting Santa In The Mall

If you’ve ever been to the mall during the month of December, I’m sure you’ve seen the cheerful decor and sectioned off areas, all intended for scheduled meet-and-greets with none other than Santa Claus himself! Perhaps you’ve even had a chance to talk to him as a young child, answering with something utterly ridiculous and unattainable when he asks you what gifts you desire most.

The first in-store meeting with Santa occurred in 1890. James Edgar ran a dry goods store in Brockton and had the idea of dressing up in a Santa costume to attract little children (and, accompanying them, their potential customer parents) who would want to meet the infamous man behind the name. 

It worked, and it worked well. Children and their families came by train from numerous cities around New England, and Santas began popping up at many other department stores, too. James Edgar was both able to increase his own profits and solidify one of the most magical parts of any child’s Christmas. 


Elf On The Shelf

I’m sure that by now you’ve seen our own elf here at SBRHS, whether it be by one of the numerous staircases or within the school’s central lobby. Many of you may also have a similar elf in your homes that mysteriously ends up in a different, occasionally comical location each and every day leading up to December 25th. Having to find the elf each morning is like playing a lower effort, one-sided game of hide and seek.

The tradition of “Elf On The Shelf” comes from a book by the same name, written by Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda A. Bell. It was published in 2005, making it more recent than anything else on this list. Initially, the story was intended as a fun little mother-daughter project and was self-published after too many rejections from official publishers. It grew in popularity in 2007 with help from actress Jennifer Garner and the Today Show, and now a multitude of families have a little elf dressed in bright red sitting somewhere in their house.

Despite backlash from people calling it creepy and the commercialization of Christmas, it doesn’t seem like these elves will be leaving the shelves any time soon.


Hanging Stockings

As I write this, six stockings hang by the staircase behind me- two for my parents, three for my siblings and I, and one for my cat. On Christmas day, I’ll wake up to them being full of all kinds of treats and goods.

This component of many families’ holiday celebrations is a result of a legend about none other than Saint Nicholas. He’s said to have dropped gold coins down the chimney of a house that belonged to three sisters living in terrible poverty. The sisters had been hanging their socks and placing their shoes by the fire to dry, and they woke up the next morning to those pieces of attire being filled with the golden currency. With that money, they were able to improve their unfortunate situation and receive their picturesque happy ending.

Due to this tale, children began leaving out their stockings and shoes. If they were lucky, they would find treats inside, and if they weren’t, they’d face a lump of coal and imminent disappointment.