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Christmas Traditions: A Few Things You Might Not Know

Looking for something to talk about over Christmas dinner? Here are a few things most people don't know about our yuletide traditions.

There are so many holiday traditions that we do without thinking much about how or why they started. Allow us to shed some light on a few:

1. Candy Canes. They're believed to have made their debut in the mid-1600s, when a German choirmaster made white sugar sticks shaped like shepherd’s staffs in the mid-1600s to keep fidgety kids occupied during live Nativity scenes, according to www.christianitytoday.com. The idea caught on, and became common at Nativity scenes all over Europe. The idea of using them as tree decorations began in about 1847, and red stripes and peppermint flavor were added around the turn of the century, the Web site says. Christian sources say the candy has many symbolic qualities – the white representing the virgin birth, the red for the blood of Christ, the three stripes for the Trinity, and the shape representing “J” for Jesus, the site says.

2. Christmas Lights. Edward Johnson, vice president of Thomas Edison’s electric company, was the first to decorate a Christmas tree with red-, white- and blue-colored bulbs the size of walnuts in 1883, according to www.oldchristmaslights.com, an online museum of Christmas light history. In 1897, President Grover Cleveland put up the first White House Christmas tree decorated with lights, and three years later Edison was making light sets available to the public, the Web site says. The lights were expensive – about $300 (the equivalent of $2,000 today), but mass production caused prices to fall, the site said. Bulb production was temporarily stopped during World War II.

3. Christmas Cards. Credit Henry Cole with starting the tradition when he hired a London artist in 1843 to produce a card he could send in place of a holiday letter, according to www.holidays.net. The scene was of a family raising wine glasses in a toast and read, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” The idea caught on because they were inexpensive to send, but there also was controversy over the first one because the picture depicted children consuming alcohol, according to Victoriana magazine’s www.victoriana.com. Americans began sending cards around 1845, but they had to import them from Europe until 1875, according to Ball State University professor B.K. Swartz Jr.

Compiled by Local Editor Karen Sorensen

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