Christmas In America
Santa Claus as we know him, more or less, today — was born in the U.S. in the 1860s. He traditionally has a white beard and a big belly because he’s known as the Jolly Old Elf, and his name came from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas, Sintaklaas. He actually came over from Europe (the tradition that is) with the Dutch in the 1600s. Washington Irving included Santa Claus in a novel in 1809 and this is how he became known in the U.S.
When he was still called St. Nick, he smoked a pipe, flew around in reindeer-less wagon and brought presents to children at Christmas. Renamed Santa Claus in 1863, he gained his famous red outfit, and his reindeer-pulled sleigh. Many different variations of Christmas are celebrated in the U.S. because of the different ethnicities in areas of the country. Moravians in Pennsylvania build a Christmas scene called a putz, which is place under the tree. Also on Pennsylvania, Germans are gifted with goodies by Belsncikle, who can also dispense punishment if they’ve been naughty.
Southerners in the early days of Christmas traditions, shot off their guns and set off fireworks at Christmas. In Hawaii, Santa arrives by boat and families eat Christmas dinner outdoors in the gorgeous Hawaiian climate. A lesser known tradition is practiced in Alaska. Herod’s men follow someone carrying a star on a pole from door to door, and they try and snatch it away. At Christmas, Colonial homes in the South can be decorated with pineapples. In D.C. in the U.S., the president lights up a huge Christmas tree placed at the White House.
Boston loves a lot of carol singing events at Christmas. Hand bells are used with groups of singers and in New Orleans, a large ox is taken around and it’s decorated with ribbons and holly on its horns. Los Posadas is practiced in Arizona, due to Mexican traditions. A passion play of sorts showcases the Mary and Joseph search for a room at the inn. Families take on the roles and visit their neighborhood houses. They also look at what kind of crib each family has on display, with a baby Jesus in it.
The Christmas tree ship arrives in Hawaii, along with Santa Claus. It carries a lot of presents and other holiday goodies. Santa arrives in California on a surfboard. A traditional Christmas dinner in the U.S. is turkey and vegetables and sauces. There are still some wild turkeys running around, but these Christmas ones are usually the large, white kind raised on farms. American desserts may include Christmas pudding, fruit tarts, or mince pies. Also on the scene are pumpkin pies (as at Thanksgiving), along with apple and other kinds.
Most people in the U.S. exchange gifts and cards and visit with family at Christmas time. Midnight mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve by Catholics and the next day, Christmas dinner is eaten, usually indoors. It can consist of a meat, such as goose, turkey, ham or a duck, or even roast beef. In California, it may even be tri-tip (a type of beef roast which is often barbecued). The meats can be served with cranberry sauce or horseradish and even salsa, if it’s tri-tip. For dessert, there are many traditions, such as pumpkin pie, plum pudding, as well as fruit and nuts.
American homes are decorated (some quite lavishly) with garlands and branches of trees (called swags), holly, and mistletoe. Trees are commonplace and they may have tinsel, candy canes, ornaments, and any number of other things on them, including small presents. A lot have strings of lights, popcorn garlands (traditional) and large tree-toppers. Buildings under construction can be topped with a small tree and prominent city landmarks, such as city halls, are often draped with lights.
Hay is spread on the floor of Polish Americans so they are reminded of the Christmas manger and stable. Two extra plates are always set at the table in case Joseph and Mary stop by. There’s a mummers’ parade in Philadelphia. In New Mexico, lighted candles are placed in paper bags, weighted with sand. These line rooftops and streets so that the Christ child may find his way. In large and small cities in the U.S., retail stores decorate their window displays lavishly and some even have animated figures and elaborate scenes.
In California and Florida at major themes parks, such as Disneyworld and Disneyland, all parts of the parks show a Christmas theme and characters wear red Santa hats. Even lampposts are swagged with garlands and candy canes and ornaments and there are many Christmas parades. Often, in neighborhoods far and wide, whole blocks put up elaborate Christmas lights and they sometimes have a prize for the best display each year. People see these displays listed in the local newspaper, and streets at night are crowded with families driving by. Christmas music is played on loudspeakers within stores and malls.