Global Traditions Shape Christmas

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Global Traditions Shape Christmas

By Muriel Fayemi

There are many traditions like sparkling lights and reindeer included in the American Christmas season, but some American traditions originated in other countries.

Every year, the warm smell of gingerbread men and butter cookies drifts through the air as people bake delicious treats. But when did this sweet tradition of making Christmas cookies begin? We can look to one of the brightest and happiest times in history to find the origin of gingerbread, the Crusades. Gingerbread cookies were first made with breadcrumbs, honey, and spices, like cinnamon. The mixture was pressed onto pieces of wood with religious carvings and dried. Soon, the cookie became a beloved treat at fairs and festivals across Europe. Even Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed gingerbread and pioneered their signature shape when she had cookies made in the shape of her royal advisors.

Decorating evergreen trees was always a way to celebrate the winter solstice in Germany. Soon, people started using this tradition for Christmas. The first decorated tree dedicated to Christmas was found in Strasbourg. The tradition moved to Pennsylvania when German immigrants decorated Christmas trees in the 1820s. This has become the most prominent symbol of Christmas. People anticipate seeing famous Christmas trees like those in the White House and Rockefeller Center every year.

Over 34 million poinsettias are sold in the United States every year. They were brought to America by the first American minister to Mexico in 1828. They are named after the minister, Joel R. Poinsett. Stores in New York began selling them at Christmas in 1870 and people marveled at the beautiful red plant. Poinsettias have been part of holiday traditions since then.