Historian Unwraps Origins of Christmas Traditions

It’s Christmas in America. Time to deck the halls, trim the tree, hang the stockings and take the kids on an annual pilgrimage to see Santa Claus.

Most of us accept these traditions without a second thought, but each of these beloved, yet peculiar rituals are rooted in the past, and most have evolved over time.

From the early Pagan winter festivals to the birth of Santa Claus, Penne Restad, senior lecturer of history, chronicles the origins of America’s time-honored yuletide customs in “Christmas in America: A History” (Oxford University Press, 1995).

Christmas cards, candy canes, even Santa Claus seem to have been around forever, but according to Restad, many of these holiday traditions didn’t take shape until the 19th century. Drawing from hundreds of journal entries, newspaper articles and books, she reveals the rise and transformation of Christmas, from colonial times to present day.

Watch Restad discuss the evolution of Santa Claus in this History Channel video clip.

Watch Restad discuss the evolution of Santa Claus in this video clip from the History Channel.

In addition to a historical record of Christmas traditions, Restad offers insight into how modern-day Santa Claus characterizations, as well as Hollywood film depictions, influence a commercialized perception of the Christmas spirit.

Although it was published more than ten years ago, “Christmas in America” remains timely due to Restad’s incisive observations about our changing culture, through the lens of holiday pastimes.

What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?

2 thoughts on “Historian Unwraps Origins of Christmas Traditions

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