The stories behind our Christmas traditions

Every holiday season, we drink eggnog, eat candy canes and hang wreaths on our doors. Here's why we do those things.

By Harmeet Kaur

Published December 17, 2020


The trees are decorated, the wreaths are hung and it's time to put out milk and cookies for Santa.

But ever wonder why?


No, Coca-Cola didn't invent the modern-day Santa.

Coca-Cola first used Santa in ads in the 1930s, but the company didn't come up with the image of a plump old man.

Santa was modeled after St. Nicholas, known for his secret gift-giving.


The iconic image of Santa we know today largely comes from this 1881 cartoon by Thomas Nast.

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Why we eat candy canes


One story claims that in 1670, a German choirmaster used candy to keep kids quiet in church.

The candy was cane-shaped to help them remember the shepherds who came to visit baby Jesus.


But that's all anecdotal, and there are no records to prove it's true.


Why we drink eggnog


Eggnog comes from a medieval British drink called posset, a thick ale-like concoction.

Typically a drink of the wealthy, it was used in toasts to prosperity and good health.


Eggnog became a holiday tradition when it was brought over to the Colonies, where cows, chickens and rum were much more accessible.


Where Christmas trees come from


One legend credits Protestant reformer Martin Luther for bringing the tree into homes.

When Luther saw stars shining through the trees on Christmas Eve, he was reminded of Jesus and purportedly put a tree up in his own home.

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But it wasn't until the mid-19th century that the tree became a custom.

After Queen Victoria urged Prince Albert to decorate a tree, the tradition caught on in the UK and the US.


Why we hang wreaths on our doors


Ancient Romans exchanged evergreen branches during the new year to wish each other good health.

Eventually, they shaped the branches into rings on their doorways to symbolize victory and eternal life.


The wreath later became a Christian symbol for the body of Christ.

For some Christians, hanging a wreath was an invitation for Christ to enter the home.


Today, people mostly hang wreaths on their doors because the arrangements are festive, pretty and, well, because they're a tradition.