That box in your basement sits unopened for almost 11 months of the year. Every December, it's unpacked for just a few weeks to decorate your home in holiday lights and ornaments. No matter where you go, nearly every store, business and home will have some kind of holiday decoration on display.
Christmas: Trees and Fire Hazards
The Christmas tree is perhaps the most iconic decoration of the holiday season. There are many myths and legends associated with its origins, but the exact source of the tradition is unknown. One of the earliest known practices can be traced to the ancient Romans, who placed trees and vines in their houses as part of their holiday of Saturnalia around December 17. Though this tradition was originally pagan, it was later adopted by Christians. In many parts of northern Europe, the evergreen was a symbol of life; therefore, the tree was integrated into Christmas celebrations because of its link to the festival to life. Sweets, apples and small wooden ornaments were often hung from the trees, which became the basis for the ornaments commonly hung from Christmas trees today.
Lights are also an integral part of holiday decorating and perhaps the most spectacular. Though large-scale light arrangements can take hours of painstaking labor to assemble, the result is often breathtaking. Decorative lights were first seen as holiday decorations in France around the 18th century, when candles were glued by wax to evergreen branches. Due to the obvious fire hazards, beginning in the 1920's, electrical lights became popular replacements when the technology to make small light bulbs became widespread. Changing the color of the glass baubles around the light source first became a popular practice in the 1930's, leading to the birth of the colorful Christmas lights we are familiar with today.
Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights
Even if you aren’t Jewish, you’re probably familiar with the menorahs that are set up every year for Hanukkah. Menorahs consist of a metal candleholder with eight branches and a single central candle, the shamash. The tradition behind the menorah can be traced back to the ancient times, when 10 giant menorahs were said to have stood in the First Temple. Even a thousand years after the original menorahs were destroyed with the temple, it remains a symbol of both the Jewish religion and the holiday of Hanukkah, which is celebrated in honor of the 167 B.C. victory of Jerusalem against the invading Greek army.
These are only a few of the dozens of decorations that come to mind when one thinks of the holiday season. Decorating our homes for the holidays is both a fun and social event that we look forward to every year. Though the origins of these traditions date back thousands of years, their continued practice in the modern era is proof of their great endurance.