Understanding the “whys” of the season

Published 12:38 pm Thursday, December 7, 2017

It’s easy to get into a routine and then stop thinking about what you’re actually doing. For example, I have a habit of putting socks on my left foot first. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Most of the time, I don’t even think about it. But sometimes I ask myself “why?”

I share with you all this random example because, with the Christmas season here, I look at the variety of holiday traditions and also ask myself “why?”

Why do we put up Christmas trees? Why do we cover our houses with lights? Why are red and green the colors of the season? Why do we say “merry” instead of “happy” when wishing someone a nice Christmas?

Though I have yet to figure out the “why?” behind my silly personal tradition about socks, I can at least try to track down the answers to the Christmas questions. It’s always a good idea to know more about why we do what we do, instead of just blindly going with the flow.

The History Channel’s website explains the origins of bringing a tree (real or artificial) into our homes each year. The tradition dates back before Christianity to many different cultures who put up evergreen trees as a symbol of life in contrast with the dead-looking trees which lost all their leaves in winter. The more modern Christmas tree is credited to Germany in the 16th century when Christians started decorating trees to display in their houses, and then that tradition was popularized more widely in the 19th century by England’s Queen Victoria and her husband (from Germany) Prince Albert. Since Victoria was considered fashionable, everyone followed suit, including America.

The string of colored lights people like to hang on their houses around Christmas, or sometimes all year long, obviously doesn’t date back as far as the tree tradition. The website Gizmodo explains that Thomas Edison put together the first Christmas light display in order to show off (and advertise) his incandescent lightbulb invention. Around the beginning of the 1900’s, lights on display were popular among rich folks who could afford them. Over time, the lights became less pricey and more weatherproof for the outdoors, so the trend caught on.

When you think of Christmas, red and green are the main colors associated with the holiday. According to an article from NPR, the main reasons for this are holly (the plant, not me) and Coca-Cola. The red and green of the holly tree have been a part of Winter solstice celebrations of the Romans long before Christmas was a holiday. And then in 1931, an artist hired by Coca-Cola designed an advertisement of Santa wearing a red robe, and the ad campaign’s popularity cemented the image in the minds of Americans. Santa’s red robes and the red Coke logo paired with the green of holly, fir trees, and other green winter plants came to be the color palette of the season.

The reason why we use the phrase “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Christmas” is a little more difficult to track down. According to allthingschristmas.com, historians traced the merry phrase back to England in the late 1600’s and Charles Dickens helped make its use more widespread when he used it in his story “A Christmas Carol.” From there, it caught on as the popular way to wish someone a good holiday all throughout the world. Though it’s ironic, however, that “Happy Christmas” is used today more often in England because Queen Elizabeth II prefers it.

I think it’s fun to learn the stories behind what we do at Christmas time. Though in the end, Christmas is simply a religious holiday, and the traditions we’ve added to it along the way are merely like decorations draped onto the celebration of Jesus’ birth. That’s the important part.

And if, perhaps, you ask “why” is Jesus the most important part of Christmas, I urge you to go seek out the answer. But you don’t need to search the internet for it. You can find that in the Bible.


Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.