Many families pass down cherished Christmas ornaments and paraphernalia as part of their holiday traditions. If you don’t have treasured Christmas possessions tucked away, you can start the tradition now by collecting Christmas decorations with old country connections.
Advent Calendars — Germany
Advent calendars originated in Germany where people marked the days of Advent by burning a candle each day or by marking walls or doors with a line of chalk. The calendars traditionally start on December 1 and count the 24 days until Christmas. Today, most advent calendars are made of paper and feature small doors that open to reveal an image, a quote, or a piece of chocolate. In 2007 Harrods offered a 4-foot, Christmas-tree shaped calendar carved from burr elm and walnut wood. Cost of the calendar: $50,000. Proceeds supported cocoa farmers in Belize. Without spending at that level, you can start your family Advent tradition by purchasing a new or vintage calendar.
Nativity Scenes — Italy
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223. The original was a living nativity consisting of a manger, an ox, and a donkey. The scene was part of a Christmas Eve Mass. Eventually, statues replaced living people and animals; nativity scenes now grace homes around the world during the holiday season. The Art Institute of Chicago annually displays an 18th-century Neapolitan nativity, with more than 200 figures. Whether you are using one with a long family history or adding a new one to your home, a nativity scene is the center of many family holiday traditions.
The Wanderers Candle — Ireland
In Ireland, families place a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve. Known as The Wanderers Candle, the light welcomes people in need of shelter echoing an ancient belief that a stranger on the threshold seeking shelter might be a god in disguise. Christian tradition honors Mary and Joseph as the wanderers seeking shelter on Christmas Eve. An antique candlestick holder for your home will add beauty and meaning to this tradition.
Wassail Bowls — Britain
Wassailing has been practiced in Britain for centuries. The word ‘wassail’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘waes hael,” which means “good health.” A typical celebration involves songs, noise, and the sharing of a warm beverage. Wassail bowls range from plain to ornate and from conservative to costly. Bowls, serving cups, and ladles, whether vintage or modern, add a festive and memorable touch to family gatherings.
Santa’s Sleigh and Reindeer — America
American author Washington Irving is the first known writer to refer to Santa’s “wagon” filled with yearly presents. No mention of reindeer was made at that point but in 1821 New Yorker William Gilley published a booklet that introduced reindeer as pulling Santa’s sleigh. Since 1924, Santa and his sleigh have provided a colorful finale to the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Decorative sleighs and reindeer for the home can be found in ceramic, brass, wood, and a variety of other materials.
Christmas Tree Lights — Germany and America
One legend credits Martin Luther with being the first to add lighted candles to a tree. Walking home one winter evening, Luther noticed stars twinkling through the branches of evergreens. In order to recreate that beauty, he wired lighted candles to the branches of the family Christmas tree. We can thank Edward Johnson—a friend of Thomas Edison—for reducing the risk of Christmas tree fires. He displayed the first electrically illuminated Christmas tree in the parlor of his home in 1882). The tree was powered by an Edison generator.
Christmas Stars — Sweden
In Swedish tradition, stjärngossar or star boys went from farm to farm singing songs and carrying paper stars. The stars represented the star followed by the three Wise Men. Consider ornamental stars for the Christmas tree or for decorating your home as essential additions to your growing collection of Christmas paraphernalia.