The fascinating origins of Christmas customs

The fascinating origins of Christmas customs may be an unusual topic for a natural health site, but a departure from the usual once in awhile is good for the soul—and for our health.


The nativity scene as part of our Christmas observance is a mainstay for millions of Christians.

You may be surprised to know that the first known depiction of the nativity scene, found in the catacombs of Rome, dates from A.D.380.

The manger display as part of the Christmas celebration is attributed to St. Francis, an Italian monk. The custom spread throughout Italy, then Europe and the world.


The custom of exchanging gifts at Christmas is linked to the Magi’s visit to the infant Jesus and their gifts to him of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

However, gift-giving at the time of the winter solstice was a Roman custom before Jesus’ time.

The American version of this custom is only conceptually related to Rome, and is a relatively recent innovation. They began with Santa in the nineteenth century commercialization of the holiday.


The American Santa is a version adapted from St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra of the fourteenth century in Asia Minor, who was universally loved for his generosity and today remains a principal saint in the Eastern Church.

The seagoing Dutch latched on to St. Nicholas and called him Sinterklaas, which is how he entered the New World.

Santa Claus as we know him today was the offspring of a theologian and cartoonist, Dr. Clement C. Moore.

Moore was the author of the 1822 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas ,’ also known as “the Night Before Christmas.”

The cartoonist was Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly, who after the Civil War, introduced the reindeer-drawn sled and Santa’s descent through chimneys.

(Nast also gave us the Democrat donkey and the Republican elephant.)


The fascinating origins of Christmas customs extend to the Christmas tree, which started in pre-Christian Europe.

The northern peoples believed that trees, particularly evergreens were embodiments of powerful beings.

By the seventeenth century the Christbaum or Christ Tree remained mostly a German custom. But in the nineteenth century the custom was taken to England, then established in America by German immigrants in the 1820s.


Christmas cards did not become popular in America until the 1870s, when the German lithographer Louis Prang began producing Christmas cards in Boston. They were beautiful works of art.

Before Prang, there was John Calcott Horsley, an English artist who is generally considered the creator of the first Christmas card, but absolutely the one who spurred commercial consumption.

His first card sold a thousand copies at a shilling each in 1843.

There are many more of the fascinating origins of Christmas customs, borrowed from ancient cultures and continents, but today, Christmas in the U.S., 2016, we wish you a healthy Christmas and New Year and an appreciation and recognition of what the past and their peoples have given us.

Whatever they ate for the holidays, no matter how little, it was real whole food, far from the Standard American Diet of processed and additive-loaded food of today.

Primary Source: the book Curious Customs, by Tad Tuleja