Exploring holiday traditions

With so much tradition surrounding the holidays, have you ever wondered where it all began? Why are Christmas colors red and green? Why do we eat turkey on Thanksgiving? What is a Christmas pickle? Why do we decorate Christmas trees? All of these traditions and more we just know belong to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but how about we take a look at how they all came about.

Let’s begin with an appropriate tradition for Thanksgiving Day — the turkey.

Turkey on Thanksgiving

According to history.com, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation on Oct. 3, 1863 to make the last Thursday in November a national day of thanks, but credit also should go to another — Sarah Josepha Hale, author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and also known as “the godmother of Thanksgiving.”

Hale has been credited for getting Thanksgiving recognized as a national holiday and making the turkey the main course for the now traditional holiday meal. In 1827, she published the novel, “Northwood: A Tale of New England,” in which she devoted an entire chapter to Thanksgiving. She also had recipes for a turkey roast and pumpkin pie in Godey’s Lady Book, a women’s magazine in which she edited, according to greatist.com. All of this before Thanksgiving was made a national holiday.

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Christmas

For just about every other holiday or event throughout the year, we tend to greet each other with a “Happy birthday,” “Happy Easter,” “Happy Halloween,” “Happy Thanksgiving” — even “Happy holidays.” Then, why do most people in the U.S. say “Merry Christmas?”

The reasoning behind why we use it may remain unknown, but according to www.allthingschristmas.com, Merry Christmas was first used in 1699 by an English admiral in a letter. Also, in 1843, Sir Henry Cole was said to have sent the first Christmas Card, which read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.” In the same year, Charles Dickens used Merry Christmas multiple times in his book, “A Christmas Carol,” according to www.whyc ­hristmas.com.

Turkey pardoning

Each year, the president pardons a turkey, making sure that the turkey will not find its way to the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day.

President John F. Kennedy was the first president on record to spare a turkey in 1963, sending one back that was mailed to him by the National Turkey Federation, saying “We’ll just let this one grow.” But, President George H. W. Bush was the first to officially pardon a turkey in 1989, according to www.livescience.com.

Christmas colors — red and green

Like many traditions that have been celebrated for centuries, red and green as Christmas colors is another that can’t be pinned down for certain how it came about.

Most Christians believe green represents the eternal life of Jesus, and it also represents the evergreen trees, which remain green throughout winter. Red represents the blood of Christ during his crucifixion, according to wonderopolis.org.

Holly, ivy, mistletoe and Christmas trees have been used for many years as decorations during the holidays — all green and-or red. Paradise plays were performed on Christmas Eve in Europe during the middle ages and had the “Paradise Tree” in the Garden of Eden in the play, which was a green pine tree with red apples, according to www.whychristmas.com.

Macy’s parade

The viewing of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade has become a tradition for many families to watch as they gather for Thanksgiving dinner. Some even brave the crowds to attend the parade each year.

The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was held in 1924. It attracted 250,000 viewers, which helped with the decision by the store to hold it every year after that. The first balloon in the parade was Felix the Cat in 1927, according to www.livescience.com.

Christmas pickle

Another tradition with an uncertain origin is the tradition of the Christmas pickle. Many believe it to be a German tradition, but  it could just be a myth. The tradition, no matter where it originated, seems always to be that the pickle is the last ornament to be hung on the Christmas tree, and the first child to spot it got an extra present, according to www.whychristmas.com.

Pigskin holiday

The tradition of football on Thanksgiving Day dates back a bit further than most people probably would have thought — back to the Great Depression. According to www.livescience.com, in 1930, the Portsmouth Spartans moved to Detroit and the team’s owner wanted to draw in more fans. In 1934 the Spartans (renamed the Lions) played the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving Day, starting the tradition of the “pigskin holiday.”

Christmas trees

One of the most well-known and widely celebrated Christmas tradition is the Christmas tree. Many families who celebrate the holiday, between 25 and 30 million Americans, according to www.allthingschristmas.com, put up and decorate their Christmas tree, traditionally any time between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve.

Christmas trees became popular in the U.S. around the mid-18th century. In 1850, an image of the English royal family standing in front of a Christmas tree was brought to the U.S., and in the following decades, Christmas trees in living rooms became the tradition it is today, according to www.allthingschristmas.com.

Many towns each year have their own traditions involving ceremonial Christmas tree lightings during holiday parades and events.

These are only a few of the possibly hundreds of Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday traditions celebrated by many every year. But some of the the best holiday traditions probably are the ones you make and celebrate with your own family and friends.