Christmas traditions: Why do we do that?

Traditional Christmas Wreath

Traditional Christmas Wreath - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A brief history of some of the best known Christmas traditions

The very notion of Christmas conjures up varied images and ideas to different people, with the tree, crackers and advent wreaths having all become so synonymous with the festive season that the times and places of origin of these intricate traditions are often forgotten. The beginnings and significance of our tending towards these traditions is, however, a very interesting Christmas conundrum...

The Christmas Wreath

One of the first hints of Christmas is given by the tradition of adorning one’s front door with a decorative advent wreath. The modern wreath comes in countless different versions, covered in everything from berries to bows. They date back to as early as Roman times, when they were used to denote a person’s importance. First used by German Christians to show their faith in Christ, they took hold of Christians all around the world as a means of commemorating advent. They have become, in all their holly and ivy wrapped glory, as much of a Christmas tradition as the presents.


The well known Christmas tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is thought to date back to ancient Greece, and since then the tradition has moved all over the globe and become a part of Christian folklore. It has always been a symbol of romance and goodwill, but since the 18th century the British picked up on the custom and made it part of a “kissing ball”, wherein any girl standing under mistletoe at Christmas could not refuse to be kissed. This Christmas theme has stuck with the plant, and the act of kissing under it, to this day.


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Christmas crackers were invented by the bakerand confectioner Thomas Smith in 1846. They were inspired by his visit to Paris, when he discovered the “bon-bon”, which was a sugar coated almond, wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. Smith brought the idea back to London with him, but found sales slumped around all times other than Christmas. To remedy this, he included love poems in the wrappers, and then, on hearing the crackle of a log as it was thrown onto the fire, he decided to introduce the cracker sound effect we know today, along with a small gift in place of the sweet. Sales apparently remained highest around Christmas, and this is partly why we attribute the pulling of crackers with Christmas to this day.

The Christmas tree

Germany is often pointed to as the home of theChristmas tree. The legend goes that the GermanSaint Boniface chopped down a huge oak tree,under which a boy was about to sacrificed by agroup of rowdy pagans, in the year 722. In its placegrew a small fir tree, Boniface proclaiming it to bethe “Tree of the Christ Child”. Germans beganerecting such trees in their homes at Christmas the 18th and 19th centuries, with the convention becoming a fashionable part of British culture in the year 1841, when Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, brought a tree over from Germany, and placed it in Windsor Castle. The tree has become part of Christmas all over the world.