When my parents were getting ready to celebrate Christmas in their new home in Denver after moving from Seattle several years ago, they tried to make a list of all our family's Christmas traditions. They wanted to make sure Christmas, even though it was in a new place, still felt exactly like Christmas. So my whole family sat down to share Christmas memories and discuss customs we carried out year after year, knowingly and unknowingly. It took a long time, especially since many of our traditions were detailed: how many presents to open on Christmas Eve (one), what to eat on Christmas morning (scrambled eggs, bacon, and Pillsbury orange rolls), etc.

It was a fascinating experience, because we all had "traditions" that were obvious to us, but which other family members had never even considered. Even more surprising, my brothers and I had considered some practices "traditions" when in reality we had only done them once or twice.

As I've been reading about Christmas traditions this week, I've wondered how many of them have such dubious backgrounds. I can't recount all the histories here, but several books available at your library have already done so. The stories are fascinating. Christmas cards began instead as New Year's greetings. The Christmas tree was associated with the Edenic Tree of Knowledge and decorated with apples—forbidden fruit. Holly was thought to be the tree from which the cross was made. Hanging mistletoe comes from an old Scandinavian military custom: enemies encountering each other under the plant laid down their arms in truce until the next day.

What has also surprised me is how many times Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226) has come up in these traditions. Apparently, ...

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