The holiday season is full of traditions and symbolism. But why do we care about our traditions and symbols? We care because these traditions and symbols represent and remind us of our history. Stories are what tie history and tradition together. Without the stories, holiday celebrations would be a series of repeated meaningless actions. Stories give our traditions significance.
The Story Behind the Christmas Tree
For many people, it’s not Christmas until they have their Christmas tree, strung with lights and covered in decorations. Just the smell of pine trees can make people think of Christmas. But why does this tradition exist?
For centuries European pagans used evergreen tree branches to enliven their homes during the winter solstice. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, evergreens were incorporated into Christian traditions. Medieval Germans decorated evergreen trees with apples and called them Paradise trees. These trees were meant to represent the Garden of Eden on Adam and Eve’s day, which was celebrated on December 24th.
Martin Luther is credited with adding light to Christmas trees in the 16th century. The story goes that one Christmas Eve, Luther was walking home through the woods after night had fallen. He was mesmerized by the stars twinkling through the trees and the moonlight shimmering on the snow that had fallen on their branches. He wanted to recreate the moment for his children, so he attached lit candles to their Christmas tree. In modern day, we recreate this effect with much safer strings of Christmas lights.
The Christmas tree tradition, however, did not spread to the United States until the 19th century. In 1848, Queen Victoria encouraged her husband, Prince Albert, to decorate a Christmas tree at Buckingham Palace the way he would have as a child back in Germany. An illustration of the popular royal family and their Christmas tree was published in the Illustrated London News and then republished in American publications. By 1900 one in five American families had a Christmas tree. While most families no longer use apples to decorate their tree, we now decorate the tops of Christmas trees with either an angel (who told the shepherds Jesus was born) or a star (which guided the wise men to find Jesus).
The Story Behind Hanukkah
For many Gentiles, Hanukkah is a Jewish Holiday that falls near Christmas during which Jewish families exchange presents over multiple nights. But the story behind the holiday is miraculous, quite literally. One of the main plot points is a Miracle.
In 168 BCE the Syrian King sent soldiers into Jerusalem. The soldiers desecrated the Jewish Temple and massacred thousands of people. The King abolished Judaism and outlawed all Jewish customs and rituals. A Jewish resistance movement was led by a Jewish priest named Mattathias and his five sons. When Mattathias died two years later, his son, Judah Maccabee, stepped into his place to lead. The resistance fought the Syrian army and successfully drove them out of Jerusalem.
With the soldiers gone, Judah called on the Jewish people to reclaim the Temple. They rebuilt the altar, cleansed the Temple, and prepared it for rededication. Hannukah actually means “dedication.” Part of this preparation involved lighting the Temple’s menorah, which was to be kept burning every night. However, the Syrian soldiers had only left one jar of oil untainted. This was enough to keep the light burning for one night. Despite this, the light burned for seven additional nights until more oil could be found and brought to the temple.
So, Hanukkah is more than just a Festival of Lights when people exchange gifts. It is also a reminder of those who fought for their faith in the face of persecution and whose faith was repaid with a miracle.
The Story Behind Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa was created relatively recently in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, The holiday was created to preserve and celebrate African culture and promote unity during a time of great socio-political upheaval in the United States.
One great story is about how the holiday came to be called Kwanzaa. The name of the holiday stems from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits.” However, at an inaugural ceremony, seven children volunteered to carry the six letters in the word Kwanza. In the spirit of inclusion, a second A was added to the end and the name became Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa is observed from December 26th to January 1st. Although Kwanzaa is intended to be a social holiday and not a religious one, its proximity to Christmas was no accident on the part of Dr. Karenga. The timing leverages the fact that families already tend to be together at that time of year and increases the likelihood that families will continue to celebrate it. Celebrations often include African stories, songs, dance, and drums. Without Kwanzaa, some of those traditional songs, dances, and stories may have been forgotten and lost forever. Although Kwanzaa was first celebrated in the United States just over 50 years ago, it is now celebrated by millions of people worldwide.
The Story Behind Boxing Day
While Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are the two big days for Christmas in the United States, in Britain, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are the two days that people get off to spend with their families. But what is Boxing Day, and why do the Brits take the day after Christmas off and not the day before?
We should start by saying that Boxing Day has nothing to do with getting in a fist fight. For centuries, servants had to work on Christmas day to serve the Christmas meal to the Lords of the manor, their families and their guests. The next day servants had the day off and were given a “Christmas Box,” which included money, small gifts, and leftovers from the Christmas meal the day before. The servants were able to go home to share the Christmas Boxes with their families and enjoy the day before returning to work the next day.
So, Boxing Day had to be the day after Christmas in order to have Christmas leftovers to share with the servants. Almost everyone in Britain now gets both Christmas Day and Boxing Day off. Christmas Day has the priority of the two days, as well as most of the traditions, but Boxing Day still remains an important day to spend time with loved ones. Brits typically spend the day visiting with friends and family, watching professional football (soccer) matches that are televised throughout the day. Boxing day does maintain another historical tradition … eating Christmas leftovers.
The Importance of Stories During the Holidays
So, why do stories matter during the holiday season? Stories are important because they give greater meaning to our traditions. If Queen Victoria and Albert hadn’t popularized the Christmas Tree, who knows where presents would be left on Christmas night. The lighting of the Menorah on its own would just be a holiday decoration. The story of the rededication of the temple and the miracle of 8 nights of light remind the Jewish people of struggle, triumph and God’s blessings. In the case of Kwanzaa, stories help preserve culture and history. Knowing the story of Boxing Day reminds people to be generous to those less fortunate and to value time with friends and family that you may not get to see as often as you would like. Stories help us to remember history and to explain why our traditions exist.
Stories in Business
Just as stories can give significance to holiday traditions, stories can also have an impact on business. By telling stories, you provide greater meaning and significance to your products or services. Stories make your message more memorable and shareable. Using stories paints a picture for your customers and gives greater sticking power to your marketing message.
If you would like to learn more about how to use stories to give your marketing more meaning and make your customers remember your message, please reach out to us here.