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Hanging Garland

“Why are you hanging that stuff on the stairs?” my then curious fourth grader asked.

Kitty plots and wonders at the green stuff everywhere.

The stuff was garland and I’d never really considered the why. My grandmother wrapped it around the small pillars in her dining room. My mother hung evergreen wreaths on every door. We always had a nativity arranged on the side table. It’s just something mom did.
His question nudged at my brain, and I kept wondering why. So why do we hang fake evergreen garlands everywhere?

A Melting Pot of Tradition

History records that mankind has always had some type of celebration during the winter solstice. Christian missionaries realized they could never compete with the popular celebration of the masses during the midwinter celebrations, so rather than turning followers of the old religions against their teachings, these clever missionaries claimed the feast to be for the Lord and his twelve apostles. As Christianity spread, so did the popularity of feasting and celebrating in December of every year as the customs of the old religions begin to fade away. You have heard our country referred to as a melting pot of customs and people.  People who immigrated to the United States also brought their traditions, which have blended into the celebration we have today.


As an image of eternal life, evergreens have been used for decorations among many cultures. The Vikings from Northern Europe believed evergreens to symbolize that the cold winter would soon end and the green of spring was on the way. As the other crops died during the cold months, spruce, cedar and pine boughs were brought inside and placed upon the mantel to remind everyone of the spring yet to come.

The Tree

The Christmas tree has been traced to the Germans, who brought the practice of bringing an evergreen indoors with them when they immigrated to America. Even though the Puritans tried to outlaw the Christmas celebration because of its basis in some pagan rituals, the Germans continued their December merriment and feasting in the new world. Earlier versions of holiday trees were suspened upside down from the ceiling.


F.W. Woolworth was the first to import colored-glass ornaments in 1880 for his store in Lancaster, Pa. Victorian homes were elaborately decorated with holly and greenery boughs and their trees were small, table top versions with ornaments of ribbons, popcorn, cranberries, pine cones, cookies, fancy needlework and delicate glass.

Singing Carols

Songs of the season can be traced to early England, France, Germany, Russia, and Poland. Minstrels and musicians would carol through the streets of sixteenth century England. In the late nineteenth century, the peasantry in Russia and Poland would visit landowners for several weeks beginning on Christmas Eve and sing carols.

Saint Francis of Assissi

The Nativity

Saint Francis of Assissi instructed the first Nativity in Greccio, Italy on Christmas Eve in 1223 to ‘move the people to greater devotion’. The art of the presepio, or the Christmas crib, became a popular hobby for families and members of the court as they crafted figures from wood or clay. Nativity displays evolved into elaborate dioramas for public enjoyment throughout Europe. In France the Nativity was called the Creche (cradle), in Spain the Nacimiento (nativity scene) and in Germany the Krippe (crib).

Greeting Cards

Cards were used to advertise products and stores in the late nineteenth century. Artwork appeared on the front with space for the business’ name. An assortment of products could be advertised on the back and were available for customers to pick up from store counters. Victorian families saved them for scrapbooks. A polish immigrant, Louis Prang, came to America in 1850 and began selling Christmas cards in 1875. He hosted art contests resulting in Christmas greetings which were considered as fine works of art. By 1881, he produced over five million cards a year.


Perhaps the retail explosion of today is a product of a modern America, but the gift giving can be traced back to ancient Rome where gifts were exchanged at New Year celebrations. Emperors and early Church leaders through the ages tried their best to stop the practice. It was Victorian England that revived it again. With a renewed warmth and joyous spirit in the season, they made it a family celebration with merriment, friendliness, charity and gift giving.

Holiday Season of Today

As history tells us, every culture has adapted and changed and made the holiday their own. Whatever the meanings were, long ago holiday rituals have since faded. Today, the holiday spirit can be whatever you and your family or friends make it.
This year, I broke from the traditions of my mom and grandmother. Instead of green garland, I hung red and white tinsel everywhere, which the cat promptly felt a need to shred, stretch, and tear the pieces within reach. When I got home, our family room looked like a candy cane land apocalypse. I kinda like it. Even cats are entitled to a little merriment.

Reference: “Christmas Past” by Barbara Hallman Kissinger and “Christmas the World Over” by Daniel J. Foley.