Histories of Traditional Holiday Objects

Histories of Traditional Holiday Objects

For many cultures worldwide, December really is “the most wonderful time of the year”, no matter what holidays or traditions are being celebrated and observed. Whether they’re connecting with friends and family members at festive gatherings or exchanging gifts, people from all parts of the globe engage in activities that feel special and memorable – from cheerful soirees with indulgent food to other meaningful moments like lighting a menorah or decorating a Christmas tree.

How did these traditions come to be, and what’s the history behind the objects associated with those traditions? Continue reading this blog post for all the details. You may even be inspired to get in the holiday spirit and create a new tradition in your home.

Christmas

Christmas is a Christian holiday that’s observed annually on December 25th to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Not only is Christmas Day recognized as a sacred religious holiday for Christians, but it’s also a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon celebrated by billions of people, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular, traditional items used to celebrate Christmas and the origins behind these festive items.

Christmas Trees and Ornaments

Most people who celebrate Christmas would admit that the holiday doesn’t feel complete without a tree. You may be surprised to learn that the history of Christmas trees dates back to ancient Egypt and Rome, according to History.com.

The tradition began in America in the 1800s when the German settlers of Pennsylvania started decorating trees the way they would have done in their home country. By the 1890s, the popularity of Christmas trees started spreading throughout the United States, and by the early 20th century, Americans were decorating trees. In 1931, the first tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City was placed.

The early German tradition of decorating Christmas trees involved whatever families hand on hand – fruit, nuts, strings of popcorn, marzipan cookies, and even aluminum foil! Over time, Americans got more creative with their homemade ornaments, while the dawn of electricity allowed for the use of Christmas lights on trees. The traditional ball-shaped ornaments that we see on Christmas trees today also originated in Germany when Hans Greiner started making glass ball ornaments in the 1800s. F.W. Woolworth capitalized on this idea in the 19th century when he brought it to America and sold more than $25 million worth of these ball ornaments per year.

One of our favorite ways to decorate Christmas trees is with pearl garland, which you can either purchase from a craft or home decor store or make yourself from a strand of faux pearl beads. For a tutorial on how to make your own pearl garland, watch this instructional YouTube video. You can also check out our blog post about decorating with pearls for the holidays for additional tips and ideas.

Stockings

In your home, does your family hang stockings on the mantle above the fireplace? You may have never wondered how this commonplace Christmas tradition came to be, but it actually has an interesting history.

Some people believe that the tradition of hanging and stuffing stockings comes from a folkloric tale about Saint Nicholas, a Christian bishop who helped the needy in the third and fourth centuries. According to the tale, a nobleman lost his wife and was left to care for his three daughters with little money. After hearing of this dilemma, Saint Nicholas came to the family’s home and filled the daughters’ stockings with gold, so they would have dowries that would aid them in attracting suitors for marriage. The stockings just happened to be hanging above the fireplace to dry.

What types of stockings do you hang on your mantle? We love this customizable red knit stocking featuring pearl beads and starburst accents as well as this luxe, high-end Christmas stocking with hand-sewn acrylic pearls, golden berries, metallic beads, and glass stones. Customized cultured pearl necklaces also make great stocking stuffers for any little girl!

Hanukkah

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean revolt against their Syrian-Greek oppressors. Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration that takes place in November or December, depending on the Hebrew calendar. Below you’ll discover some of the traditional items used to celebrate Hanukkah and the unique history and symbolism behind them.

Menorah

One of the most iconic symbols of Hanukkah is the menorah, which is an eight-branched candelabra to correspond with the eight days of the celebration. First referenced in the biblical book of Exodus, the menorah in its original form was crafted according to a design revealed to Moses by God on Mount Sinai.

According to this article about the history of the menorah, “The original Hanukkah menorah dates to 164 B.C.E., when a band of Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated its Syrian oppressors in a hard-fought battle. As the Jews reclaimed their temple and lit its golden candelabrum, their only supply of oil, which should have run out after one day, miraculously lasted for eight.”

In the homes of people celebrating Hanukkah today, candles are inserted from right to left but are lit from left to right, and the candlelight serves as a reminder of the miraculous story. Menorahs are available in many sizes and designs – with or without embellishment. Some even feature pearls and mother-of-pearl details. For example, this elaborate menorah is covered with Swarovski crystals, garnets, and freshwater pearls. This silver-toned menorah features striking, mother-of-pearl inlay for an elegant finish. And for those who simply want to celebrate the meaning and symbolism of the menorah without actually lighting one, this Art Deco-style 14K yellow gold pendant features pearl details.

Dreidel

Toys and games are something that makes celebrating Hanukkah so fun and special. The dreidel is a favorite Hanukkah toy and traditional game that’s played in Jewish homes all over the world. A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top, with each side inscribed with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: Nun, Gimel, Hey, and Shin. The letters form an acronym for a Hebrew phrase that means, “A Great Miracle Happened There.”

To play the game, each player starts with an equal amount of tokens, which are typically gold chocolate coins, to start. Then each player places one token in a pot in the middle of the circle. Players will take turns spinning the dreidel and completing the action determined by the word upon which the dreidel lands. If the dreidel lands on “nun”, it means the player does nothing. If it lands on “gimmel,” the player takes all the tokens in the pot. When the dreidel lands on “hey,” the player gets half the pot, and when it lands on “shin” the player adds a token to the pot.The winner of the game is the person who collects all the gold chocolate coins.

Many learned that the tradition of playing dreidel on Hanukkah comes from the old legend, that Jewish children used the dreidel game as a way for them to conceal Torah study from the Greeks. However, you’d be surprised to find that the dreidel game originally had nothing to do with Hanukkah and had actually been played by people in different languages for centuries. The dreidel actually evolved from a gambling game known as “teetotum” that was played around Christmas time in bars and inns in Ireland and England around the 16th century. The letters inscribed on this spinning top corresponded to the first letters of the Latin words for nothing, half, everything, and put in.

The game was later brought to Germany and the teetotum evolved into the trendel, which featured German letters that corresponded to the game’s rules. Then when the Jewish people adopted the trendel, they transliterated the letters into the Hebrew alphabet as a mnemonic device to help players remember the rules. Over time, the game eventually became associated with Hanukkah.

Most dreidels are relatively simple objects made from wood. However, a few collectible dreidels are more elaborate than the kid-friendly version. This handcrafted dreidel, for example, is made of olive wood and features hand-painted details as well as sparkling crystal beads, pearl beads, and flowers. This amazing pink pewter dreidel looks more like a decoration than a toy with its pearl accents and ornate styling.

Kwanzaa

Unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is not rooted in any specific religion. Instead, this holiday is an annual celebration of African-American culture that was established as a way to help African-Americans reconnect with their African roots and heritage.

The celebration of culture, community, and family lasts for seven days, beginning December 26th and ending January 1st. Many people who celebrate Kwanzaa also celebrate Christmas. Let’s take a look at some of the traditional items unique to Kwanzaa.

Kinara and Mishumaa Saba

The kinara is a candle holder similar to the Jewish menorah. The kinara holds a group of seven candles, known as Mishumaa Saba, which are placed in a specific order and represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

There’s one black candle, three red candles, and three green candles. The black candle is held in the center of the kinara, the three red candles are placed on the left side of the kinara, and the three green candles are placed on the right side. During the week of Kwanzaa, a new candle is lit each day.

The black candle at the center of the kinara represents unity and is always lit on the first day of Kwanzaa. On days two through four, the red candles are lit. Day two’s red candle represents the principle of determination, day three’s candle is lit to represent collective work and responsibility, and day four’s candle represents the principle of cooperative economics. The last three days of Kwanzaa are represented by the green candles. These three green candles are lit to represent the principle of purpose, the principle of creativity, and the principle of faith.

Kikombe cha Umoja or Unity Cup

The kikombe cha umoja is a foundational symbol of a Kwanzaa celebration and is used to perform the libation ritual to honor ancestors and represent unity. The libation ritual is performed during the special feast held on the sixth day of Kwanzaa. This special unity cup is traditionally made from wood but can be decorated in any way that feels personal to the celebration.

Some unity cups are carved in beautiful patterns or embellished with colorful beads that represent and celebrate their culture and ancestors. During the feast on the sixth day, the kikombe cha umoja is filled with water, wine, or juice and is passed around for family members and friends to drink from as a way to celebrate the unity of family and community.

While each of these holidays is made special through unique traditions, they all share a common theme of love and togetherness. At Add-A-Pearl, we love the tradition of gifting pearls to show the people in our lives just how much we appreciate them. This holiday, make your loved ones feel extra special by gifting them something memorable from Add-A-Pearl – like a personalized cultured pearl necklace.

We’ve seen firsthand how adding a pearl can positively impact someone’s life, and our customer stories are constant reminders of that. The holidays are celebrated in so many fascinating ways that make the winter season feel so incredibly warm and special. What’s your favorite way to celebrate the holidays?

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