History of the Holidays

The holiday season is filled with symbols and traditions. But what’s the history behind traditions like kissing under the mistletoe or leaving out milk and cookies come from? Here’s the history behind some of the most popular holiday symbols and traditions.  

Gingerbread Men 

Ginger made its way to Europe during the Middle Ages, and was incorporated into cookies, Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I was the first to have ginger cookies shaped into the iconic gingerbread man shape to represent foreign dignitaries. 


This symbol goes all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome when athletes would adorn a crown of leafy branches to celebrate their victories. Wreaths were also a symbol of spring’s rebirth that pagans would put out in honor of the winter solstice. The wreath was later adapted by Christians to count down the weeks leading up to the birth of Jesus.  


A dreidel is a spinning top that has a long history in the Jewish culture and the holiday of Hanukkah. This four-sided top has a different Hebrew letter on each side. The legend behind the dreidel goes all the way back to the time of the Maccabees (167-160 BCE), when Jewish children were forbidden from studying the Torah. The children defied this degree and studied the Torah anyway. When the Greek oppressors would come close to the praying children, the kids would put down their prayer books and start playing with the spinning dreidel, claiming they were just playing a game. Today, children play the dreidel game during Hanukkah as a reminder of their past. This tradition is made extra sweet by the candy children can win during the game. 


The tradition of hanging stockings can be attributed to a story about Saint Nicholas. It’s believed that the real Saint Nick snuck down the chimney of a poor widower who didn’t have enough money to pay dowries for his three daughters to get married. After coming down the chimney, Saint Nicholas saw the women’s socks drying on the mantel; he filled them with gold coins and left. The next morning the widower and his daughters were delighted to find the gold that would make it possible for the women to get married. 


The official Christmas flower originated in Mexico. Legend has it that a poor girl left a bundle of weeds at a nativity scene as an offering to baby Jesus , and the weeds miraculously transformed into a bright red flower.