Many of the Christmas traditions celebrated in the United States and Canada, such as sharing Christmas cards, hanging mistletoe and stockings and going to different houses to sing Christmas carols, began in England. On Christmas day, the monarch of England gives a special holiday message.
Just before Christmas, French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel or Father Christmas. Many families in France put little Nativity scenes with clay figures in their homes.
On Christmas Eve in Spain, many people sing and dance in the streets after attending midnight Mass. Like people in France, many people in Spain display small Nativity scenes in their homes. On January 5, the day before the Epiphany (last day of the Christmas season), Spanish children put their shoes near a window. Legend says that the Three Wise Men will fill the children's shoes with gifts.
In Italy, many homes and churches also have Nativity scenes. Many families eat eel on Christmas Eve. On the evening of the Epiphany, Italian children receive gifts from a kind witch named Befana.
In the "Land Down Under, " Christmas occurs during the summer! Many Australians celebrate the holiday by going to the beach or by having a picnic. At Christmas, Australian children have a six-week summer vacation!
Over the years, a number of customs have become part of the Christmas celebration.
Christmas Trees. This is a tradition that started in Germany as early as the eight century. In the 1600s, trees were decorated with thin strips of tinsel made of silver. In the early 1800s, German settlers introduced the Christmas tree to America. In 1830, the first known display of a Christmas tree in the United States was held in York, Pennsylvania.
Christmas Cards. In 1843, the first commercially printed Christmas cards originated in London, England. A wealthy businessman commissioned named Sir Henry Cole an artist to make a greeting card that he could send to his friends and associates for Christmas. Cole sent out 1,000 cards. Soon, the idea of printing cards for Christmas spread. Today, Christmas is the most popular holiday for sending cards in the United States.
Candy Canes. The candy cane began in the late 1600s when a choir director in Germany bent sticks of white sugar candy into canes. The canes represented the staffs of the shepherds who were in the fields near Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Years later, red and white stripes and peppermint flavors were added. The red stripe represents Christ's sacrifice for humankind. The white body of the cane represents purity. In the Bible, peppermint was a medicinal herb used for cleansing.
Christmas Carols. In the fifth century, religious composers began writing solemn hymns for Christmas in Latin. Around the 13th century, Saint Francis and his followers introduced a happy feeling into the songs. In the 14th and 15th centuries, German and English Christmas carols were written, respectively. These songs were suppressed when the celebration of Christmas was outlawed as a result of the Reformation movement. After Christmas was restored in England, the songs reappeared and more holiday songs were written. Centuries ago, the word "carol" was a group dance accompanied by joyful songs. Over time, meaning changed to just the song.