American Christmas traditions have altered in the course of time, though some have remained constant.
I know a lot of people write about past holiday traditions, but I thought I would still throw my pen scratches onto the published pile.
I was telling someone the other day how just a handful of decades ago it was common to wait until Christmas Eve to put up the Christmas tree. Compare that with today’s “day after Thanksgiving” trend, or even before Thanksgiving now.
In our house, we don’t put up the tree until mid-December, but I have always ignored trends and fads. In fact, I’d say I am anti-trendy.
Of course, before the 1900s most people’s Christmas tree was small enough to place on a table. Toys were often hung on the tree, as well as placed in the stockings, which gives one an idea of common gift size. Fruit was also a common item found drooping from the holiday branches.
Today, many people still put fruit in stockings at least, though I don’t think the kids get as excited about it anymore. Sometimes lighted candles were strung with wire around the tree. Makes me thankful for LED electric lights.
Gifts were often simple and homemade. Baked goods made with sugar were a special treat. An extra treat was sugar candy. Many presents were practical as well, such as hand-knitted mittens. We still give practical gifts today, like socks, but that usually isn’t all we receive.
Gift-giving, by the way, didn’t become popular until the mid-1800s, and for some time it was mostly children who were the recipients.
Needless to say, the Christmas trees weren’t artificial. Cedar trees are “the” traditional Christmas tree of the Ozarks, according to everything I have read, and by my own experience.
Growing up in the hills of McDonald County, Mo., we always had a cedar tree for Christmas, cut from our own land, every year. No exception. For a long time I wasn’t aware there was any other kind of Christmas tree (except for the odd relative or two who put up a “fake” tree, as we called them).
Today, my wife and I alternate years. On my years, it is Ozark Christmas, which means a live cedar Christmas tree, of course. On her year, we get a live fir or spruce.
Homes were also decorated with live greenery from outdoors, adding to the Christmas experience. Our sense of smell can be just as important as sight and sound when it comes to awakening the holiday spirit.