By Sarah Crow for BestLife
Whether it’s setting out milk and cookies for Santa or hanging stockings above the fireplace, there are countless Christmas traditions that are integral to the celebrations of families across the United States. However, while some of these traditions may seem as American as apple pie, their origin stories are anything but. From Druid fertility practices to Roman rituals, keep reading to find out which countries are responsible for your favorite Christmas traditions.
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1. Leaving milk and cookies for Santa is rooted in Norse mythology.
According to History.com, the legend is that the Norse god Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir, who kids would leave treats for in hopes that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The tradition gained popularity in America during the Great Depression, when parents tried to make children understand the importance of being grateful for anything they might receive on Christmas.
2. The first Christmas card was sent in England by the founder of a British museum.
While holiday greetings have been around since time immemorial, the first Christmas card was British in origin. According to the Victoria & Albert Museum, the institution’s founding director, Henry Cole, sent the first known Christmas card, which included a drawing of a family gathering and the words “a merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you” in 1843.
3. Putting up and decorating Christmas trees started in Germany in the 16th century.
While using trees in holiday celebrations is believed to originally be a pagan tradition, more recognizable iterations of the Christmas tree hail from Germany, and date as far back as the 16th century. The modern Christmas tree, however, was popularized in the UK in the 1840s, when German-born Prince Albert displayed the first known British Christmas tree in Windsor Castle.
4. Christmas tree lights are a tradition from Germany that dates back to the 17th century.
While Thomas Edison‘s colleague Edward Hibberd Johnson is credited as the inventor of Christmas lights connected on strands, the tradition of illuminating Christmas trees comes from Germany, where it was being practiced as early as the 17th century, according to the Library of Congress. However, the lights back then were a lot less safe than the LED ones we string today—at the time, celebrants would simply attach candles to their trees and light them.
5. Legend says Christmas stockings originated in Turkey sometime in the 4th century.
The legend associated with the Christmas stocking is said to date back to the time of Saint Nicholas during the 3rd and 4th centuries in what is now Turkey. According to Smithsonian magazine, Saint Nicholas heard about the plight of a poor widower and his three daughters and wanted to help. He snuck into the house, saw the girls’ recently laundered stockings drying by the fire, and filled them with gold coins before going silently into the night
For more traditions that we Americans “borrowed” from other countries, click below.