The Meaning Behind Classic Holiday Traditions

During the holidays, we spend time with family and friends, and celebrate with timeless traditions. These traditions can look different for each household, but let’s take a look at where they first originated. 

Kissing Under the Mistletoe

We hang mistletoe under a doorway or a mantle and if two people are standing under it, the pair will share a kiss.

Mistletoe grows on many species of trees and shrubs around the world, and is used for different purposes. Historically, mistletoe was viewed as a symbol of fertility, but some cultures, like the Greeks, have used it for healing and medicinal purposes.

The earliest signs of mistletoe dates back to the Celtic Druids, approximately 1 A.D. Mistletoe was able to grow during the harsh winter months, and the Druid’s would hand it out to help increase fertility for both animals and humans.

During the Roman era, enemies would meet under the mistletoe to restore peace. Romans would also use mistletoe around their houses and temples to please the gods.

Mistletoe became widely popular during the Middle Ages and by the 18th Century it was considered a holiday decoration staple. The kissing tradition is said to have started in England, where if a girl refused a kiss, she would have bad luck.

Cookies for Santa

Today children might prepare a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Mr. Clause. Did you know that one theory behind this tradition is that families used to leave little gifts in a stocking under the chimney for Santa? Since chimneys were his ideal choice for his entrance, the stockings served as a welcoming gift.

The tradition of leaving out a welcome, or thank you, for Santa comes from Ancient Norse mythology. The Norse idolized the god, Odin. He had a horse named Sleipner, and during Yule season children left food out for the eight-legged steed, with the goal of Odin leaving a gift or two for the children. This tradition is still practiced in the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark.

This took off in America during the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Parents wanted to teach their children a lesson about giving back and being thankful for the gifts they received. 

Hanukkah Gelt

In the Jewish religion, Hanukkah is celebrated in the wintertime and is the “Festival of Light.”  Hanukkah lasts for eight days and starts in the month of Kislev. In the English calendar this is generally in late November or December.

One Hanukkah tradition is giving out gelt, which is Yiddish for money. This started back in the 18th century when Jewish parents would give their children money, gelt, to give to their judaic studies teachers as a token of gratitude. 

Today it is still common to give money for Hanukkah but you can also find chocolate gelt at most grocery stores around Hanukkah time. 


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Written by Kendall Beebe

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