13 Old-Fashioned Christmas Traditions We Should Revive
These Christmas traditions from decades past should make their way back into the rotation.
Christmas has evolved in many ways over the centuries, adjusting with the times and traditions of each era. These days, kids can email letters to Santa, and we do all our holiday shopping without setting foot inside a brick-and-mortar store. Some of these changes certainly make things more convenient, but they also may mean losing a little former magic in the process. Here are a number of old-fashioned Christmas traditions that have sadly gone out of style, but should be revived to bring a bit of added holiday cheer to your home this year!
Cutting down your own Christmas tree
Take a page from the book of Clark Griswold and cut down your own Christmas tree this year—it's not too late! Cutting down your own Christmas tree can not only be one of the most satisfying parts of a Christmas celebration, but it's ecologically beneficial, as well.
According to Sara McCarty of Run Wild My Child, cutting down your own tree "provides more room for remaining trees to grow, which are less stressed and better situated to cope with disease and insects. Reducing competition allows for easier access to water, nutrients, and sunlight, and reduces wildfire risk by providing less potential fuel for a fire."
The key is to not go too early in the season, to measure the space where the tree will be placed, and to take all other necessary precautions, from bringing a tape measure to wearing boots and gloves. If done right, you and your family will have a holiday experience to talk about for years to come!
Telling ghost stories
Turns out, there's a reason why A Christmas Carol is so packed with ghosts. Christmas wasn't always just about cheer and feasting—spooky tales and hauntings were also once a central part of the holiday. "Telling ghost stories during winter is a hallowed tradition," author Colin Dickey explained to Smithsonian magazine. He notes that the "custom stretches back centuries, when families would wile away the winter nights with tales of spooks and monsters."
Over time, these spirits were relegated to Halloween and their role in Christmas continued to diminish until they rarely made any appearances during the winter holiday, outside of the classic Charles Dickens tale. Instead of just roasting chestnuts on the open fire, maybe it's time we told scary stories beside it as well. As Dickey notes, "It's a refreshing alternative to the oft-forced yuletide joy and commercialization; resurrecting the dead tradition of ghost stories as another way to celebrate Christmas."
Eating a Christmas goose
Have you ever wondered why the classic children's nursery rhyme "Christmas Is Coming" opens with: "Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat"? Well, that's because a big goose used to be a main dish at Christmas, like turkey is during Thanksgiving. But times have changed, and now, families are more likely to opt for a ham, turkey, roast, or some other type of meat. The reason may again be due to Dickens and A Christmas Carol, according to Kelsey Mulvey of a Taste of Home.
"Dickens associated goose with the struggling Cratchit family, turning it into a poor man's supper," she notes. "Another hunch is the rise of agricultural technology in the 20th century made it easier and more affordable to buy other meats."
So, let's mix things up and bring the Christmas goose back to the center of the holiday table. There is no shortage of recipes to try out—there's even one from Gordon Ramsay!
Putting oranges in stockings
Oranges used to be standard stocking stuffers, a tradition that is believed to date back to the legend of St. Nicholas himself, or at least to the Great Depression, when the citrus was as extravagant a gift as most families could afford. While some people still practice the Christmas custom, it is less common than it once was. But it's an easy, inexpensive, and healthy tradition worth reviving.
Assigning a Lord of Misrule
A big part of early Christmas celebrations was what historians call "social inversion," in which the usual social hierarchy was flipped. The poor could demand figgy pudding from the rich and workers got to (playfully) put their bosses in their places.
Part of this tradition included assigning a "Lord of Misrule." This practice in Europe up until the 17th century put the "lord" in charge of making sure that fun reigned during the Christmas season, planning events or simply introducing a bit of anarchy to the proceedings. Traditions varied from one country to another, but the one consistent thing was that those who were usually in charge had to defer to an unusual master—and it typically led to some wild holiday fun.
Sipping on some Smoking Bishop
Speaking of British holiday traditions we should adopt here, it's time to add Smoking Bishops to that list. No, it's not a religious fellow with a pipe; it's the term used to describe a particular type of mulled wine. It combines port, red wine, and a whole ton of spices to create an intoxicating brew. It also has the distinction of getting a shoutout in A Christmas Carol. Sure, plenty of people make mulled wine this time of year—but how much cooler is it to tell your guests you're mixing up some Smoking Bishop?
Putting up edible, natural decorations
In the early days of Christmas trees, people used nuts, berries, and fruits as edible ornaments. However, these DIY decorations lost favor when plastic and glass baubles took over in the late 1800s. But it might be time to bring back these decorative and delicious options that can be treats for our eyes and mouths—such as star-shaped nut ornaments or strings of popcorn.
Actually, many early Christmas decorations came from nature, whether creating a wreath from evergreen trimmings or using sprigs of holly to add festive color to a room. While artificial decorations are much more common these days, it's easy enough to ask your Christmas tree seller for some spare cuttings and turn them into something reminiscent of holidays past.
Celebrating Twelfth Night
In early January, many Christians around the world celebrate Epiphany, the day when Christians believe the Three Wise Men realized that Jesus was the son of God. But Twelfth Night, held on Epiphany Eve, was a particularly English tradition, and one that isn't practiced much anymore even in the U.K. The festivities generally include drinking a form of warm cider, singing, and feasting. It all culminates with cutting the Twelfth Night cake, a big ring-shaped fruitcake in which a bean is baked inside (considered to be good luck for whoever finds it).
"These days, not many Brits know much about Twelfth Night, but in the medieval and Tudor periods, it was more important than Christmas Day," writes Johanna Derry for The Telegraph. "And there are plenty of Epiphany rituals—especially regarding food—which are well worth passing onto the next generation."
Although Americans have never really had a Twelfth Night tradition, doesn't a big party the first week of January, just as we're getting back into the swing of the new year, sound like a pretty good idea? We certainly think so!
Dressing up for Christmas dinner
In this era, when CEOs wear hoodies and celebrities rock the red carpet in tracksuits, it can seem downright uncool to dress up, no matter the occasion. But maybe it's time to put a bit more effort into our Christmas Day outfits, taking a page from the Victorians and wearing our Sunday best when we come down for dinner.
As Grazia Daily social media editor Phoebe Parke puts in her case for dressing up on Christmas: "If we're going to be overindulgent with our food, decorations, drinks, and gifts… why not our clothes? If the turkey (or chicken in my case) takes say two to three hours to cook, why can't I take half that time to get ready? If you can't dress up on Christmas Day, when can you?"
Roasting chestnuts on an open fire
If you've got an open fire, you might as well roast chestnuts over it. Seriously, when was the last time you did that? Sadly, the answer may be never. But it's time to change that! While Jiffy Pop or marshmallows might be the more likely go-to options these days, roasting chestnuts is not as complicated as you might think. (And if you don't have a fireplace handy, consider roasting them in the oven instead.) You'll practically hear Nat King Cole crooning about "chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose" as you do.
Sitting by real fireplaces
The Netflix fireplace not only saves you the effort of getting firewood, but it also brings you choices regarding your soundtrack, type of wood, and level of crackling. But while this makes it easy for anyone to create a cozy atmosphere, nothing can replace a real fire. Even if you don't have a fireplace to build one in—or don't want to deal with the hassle if you do—consider going to a restaurant, hotel, or friend's house that does. This Christmas, try soaking in the feeling of real heat from a real fire, no subscription required.
Sure, it's not like Christmas carols don't happen at all anymore, but door-to-door singing is certainly not as common as it once was. In The Morning Call, writer Daniel Patrick Sheehan remembered his early caroling days. "As a boy, I knew all the families on our block, and can name them still," he said. They started a neighborhood tradition of caroling and Sheehan recalled that "people stood in their doorways, smiling and sometimes joining in."
Of course, going door-to-door might not be advisable for every neighborhood, but many people will no doubt find unexpected singing outside their homes to be a pleasant surprise. Maybe just start with some friends or neighbors you know and expand your visits from there!
Making homemade gifts
It wasn't until later in the 1800s that retail and mass production led to more store-bought presents for Christmas. Prior to that, gifts were homemade. As The Week points out: "When Christmas celebrations became legal in the 1680s, gift-giving boomed. Rural Americans carved wooden toys and made pieces of needlework in the agricultural offseason to give to family members and neighbors."
But in the Industrial Revolution, "those handmade items were replaced with mass-manufactured trinkets and toys." And with the convenience of these store-bought products in the century that followed, we've lost some of that homespun charm. There's nothing more heartfelt than a personalized present that took time and thought to craft, so why not give it a go this holiday season?