Christmas traditions & customs in USA
Contemporary ‘Santa Claus’ was born in the United States – thanks to a myriad of artists, writers, legends and the evolving nature of our country at the time. ‘Santa Claus’ is claimed to have been the Dutch word for St Nicholas, Sinterklaas. Although the Dutch had brought him with them in the 17th century, he did not become an important person at Christmas until the Novelist Washington Irving put him in a novel that he wrote in 1809. This first Santa Claus was still known as St. Nicholas, he did smoke a pipe, and fly around in a wagon without any reindeer, but he did not have his red suit or live at the North Pole, he did however bring presents to children every year.
In 1863 He was given the name Santa Claus and bore the red suit, pipe, and his reindeer and sleigh.
Now Christmas celebrations vary greatly between regions of the United States, because of the variety of nationalities which have settled in it.
In Pennsylvania, the Moravians build a landscape, called a putz – under the Christmas tree, while in the same state the Germans are given gifts by Belsnickle, who taps them with his switch if they have misbehaved.
Early European settlers who brought many traditions to the United States. Many settled in the early days in the South, these settlers would send Christmas greetings to their distant neighbors by shooting firearms and letting off fireworks. In Hawaii this practice is still in use as under the sunny skies, Santa Claus arrives by boat and Christmas dinner is eaten outdoors.
In Alaska, a star on a pole is taken from door to door, followed by Herod’s Men, who try to capture the star. Colonial doorways are often decorated with pineapple, a symbol of hospitality.
In Alaska, boys and girls with lanterns on poles carry a large figure of a star from door to door. They sing carols and are invited in for supper.
In Washington D.C., a huge, spectacular tree is lit ceremoniously when the President presses a button and turns on the tree’s lights.
In Boston, carol singing festivities are famous. The singers are accompanied by hand bells.
In New Orleans, a huge ox is paraded around the streets decorated with holly and with ribbons tied to its horns.
In Arizona, the Mexican ritual called Las Posadas is kept up. This is a ritual procession and play representing the search of Mary and Joseph for a room at the inn. Families play the parts and visit each other’s houses enacting and re-enacting the drama and, at the same time, having a look at each family’s crib.
In Hawaii, Christmas starts with the coming of the Christmas Tree Ship, a ship bringing a great load of Christmas fare. Santa Claus also arrives by boat.
In California, Santa Claus has been known to ride in on a surf board.
In America the traditional Christmas dinner is roast turkey with vegetables and sauces. For dessert it is rich, fruity Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. Mince pies, pastry cases filled with a mixture of chopped dried fruit.
The majority of Americans celebrate Christmas with the exchange of gifts and greetings and with family visits. For many, the day begins on Christmas Eve with the Midnight Mass. At Christmas it snows in many states, so dinner is usually eaten indoors. Dinner usually is roast turkey, goose, duck or ham served with cranberry sauce, then plum pudding or pumpkin pie followed by nuts and fruit.
American homes are decorated with holly, mistletoe and branches of trees, most have a Christmas tree hung with electric lights, tinsel, baubles, strings of popcorn and candy canes.
In Colorado, an enormous star is placed on the mountain, it can be seen for many kilometers around, while in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a star is lit in early December.
Polish Americans on Christmas Eve spread hay on their kitchen floor and under the tablecloth to remind them of a stable and a manger. When they make up the table for dinner two extra places are set up for Mary and the Christ Child in case they should knock at the door to ask for shelter.
In Philadelphia, a procession called a mummers parade runs for a whole day with bands, dancers and people in fancy dress.
There are two homes for Santa Claus in the United States one is in Tirrington, Connecticut, where Santa and his helpers give out presents. The other home is in Wilmington, New York, where a village for Santa and his reindeer is located.
In Arizona they follow the Mexican traditions called Las Posadas. Families play out the parts of Mary and Joseph searching for somewhere to stay. They form a procession and visit their friends’ and neighbors’ homes where they admire each family’s Nativity crib. In parts of New Mexico, people place lighted candles in paper bags filled with sand on streets and rooftops to light the way for the Christ Child.
[Text source: thehistoryofchristmas.com]