Christmas in the United States of America

The United States of America has many different traditions and ways that people celebrate Christmas, because of its multi-cultural nature. Many customs are similar to ones in the UK, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland and Mexico.

The traditional meal for Western European families is turkey or ham with cranberry sauce. Families from Eastern European origins favour turkey with trimmings, kielbasa/kielbasi (a Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups; and some Italian families prefer lasagne!

For many Italian-American families a big Christmas Eve meal of different fish dishes is now a very popular tradition! It's known as The Feast of the Seven Fishes ('Festa dei sette pesci' in Italian). The feast seems to have its root in southern Italy and was bought over to the USA by Italian immigrants in the 1800s. It now seems more popular in American than it is in Italy!

Some Americans use pop-corn threaded on string to help decorate their Christmas Tree. Making gingerbread houses is also popular to make and eat at Christmas! Eggnog is a 'traditional' Christmas drink in the USA.

A Christmas Gingerbread House

Many Americans, especially Christians will go to Church to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Many churches have special Christmas Carol services and events where the story of Christmas is told.

In New England (the American States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine), there are shops called 'Christmas Shops' that only sell Christmas decorations and toys all the year round!

Americans also send out Christmas Cards, like Carol singing and there's the unusual custom of the Christmas Pickle!

People in America like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even statues of Santa Claus, Snowmen and Reindeer. Some cookies and glass of milk are often left out as a snack for Santa on Christmas Eve!

A Decorated Christmas/Holiday House

Towns and cities often decorate the streets with lights to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps the most famous Christmas street lights in the USA are at the Rockefeller Center in New York where there is a huge Christmas Tree with a public ice skating rink in front of it over Christmas and the New Year.

Rockefeller Christmas Tree

Christmas Trees were first put up in the USA by German immigrants in Pennsylvania. There were some community trees as early as the 1750s. But outside of these communities, trees would have been thought of as very odd!

The Puritans, who founded much of New England the eastern USA only thought of Christmas as a religious festival. In 1659 a court in Massachusetts made a law that to do anything to mark December 25th, apart from going to Church, illegal!

The first recorded tree in a home in the USA was set-up in 1832 by Charles Follen of Boston - who was a German political refugee. We know about it because of his wife's memoirs written 10 years later. There are more records of early American trees in diaries and letters from 1842 in Virginia, 1847 in Ohio and 1851 in South Carolina and Mississippi.

A drawing of Queen Victoria and her family around the tree in Windsor Castle from 1848 was republished in Godey's Lady's Book, Philadelphia in December 1850 (but they removed the Queen's crown and Prince Albert's moustache to make it look 'American'!).

The first recorded Christmas Tree lot selling trees in the USA was in New York in 1851 when a Mark Carr loaded two sleds with trees from the Catskill Mountains and sold them in the city. By the 1890s the Catskills were providing over 200,000 trees a year to the New York area!

The first US president recorded with a tree at Christmas is Andrew Jackson in 1835. However, this tree was a small sugar frosted pine tree.

The first Christmas Tree in the White House was set-up in 1856 when Franklin Pierce was president. The first electric lights on a tree at the White House was in 1895 when Grover Cleveland used them. The tradition of having a tree on the lawn of the White House was started in 1923 by Calvin Coolidge.

Trees became more popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s when more people had them in their houses and cities started having communal lighted trees. There was a tree in San Diego in 1904, in Pasadena in 1909, in New York, Boston and Cleveland in 1912 and in Philadelphia in 1914.

Frank Woolworth started selling glass ornaments in his stores in 1880. In 1910 the Sears catalogue started selling ornaments by mail order.

According to The Guinness World Records, the tallest cut Christmas tree was a 67.36m (221 ft) Douglas fir setup at the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, Washington, USA, in December 1950.

In Hawaii, Santa is called Kanakaloka!

Customs such as Mumming take place in some communities. On New Year's Day in Philadelphia there is a Mummer's Day parade which lasts over six hours! Clubs called "New Years Associations" perform in amazing costumes which take months to make. There are four categories (Comics, Fancies, String Bands, and Fancy Brigades) which are judged.

In the Southwest USA, there are some special customs which have some similarities to those in parts of Mexico. These include 'luminarias' or 'farolitos'. These are paper sacks, with shapes cut into them, which are partly filled with sand and then have a candle put in them. They are lit on Christmas Eve and are put the edges of paths. They represent 'lighting the way' for somewhere for Mary and Joseph to stay.

A popular food at Christmas in the Southwest USA are tamales. You can find out more about Christmas traditions in the Southwest USA on www.lonestarwesterndecor.com/vibrant-christmas-traditions-of-the-southwest.html (goes to another site).

In the south of Louisiana, on Christmas Eve, families in small communities along the Mississippi River light bonfires along the levees (the high river banks) to help 'Papa Noel' (the name for Santa in French as Louisiana has a strong historical connection with France) find his way to the children's homes!