Christmas traditions in the United States

When the Christmas lights are switched on in New York the City suddenly becomes even brighter than it is at night around the year. In the capital, Washington DC, it is actually the President who switches on the lights on a huge decorated tree. Neon advertising is a feature of most modern cities but Christmas brings a different feel. Even in a harsh winter the mood of people changes because it is the season of celebration. Christmas follows Thanksgiving fairly quickly so the last few weeks of the calendar year is a time in America that defies feelings of wishing for the spring to arrive bringing warmer weather.


The USA is such a multi-cultural society that the traditions of Christmas originating in many different parts of the world all have a place in the celebrations. As Christmas approaches the media mentions it more and more. It is holiday-time everywhere and each family is encouraged to decorate their homes with mistletoe and holly and have a tree in their windows. Some even decorate the trees they have outside with lights that everyone in the road can see.


The origins of Santa Claus date back to the Ancient Lycian city of Myra on the south coast of what is now Turkey. St. Nicholas lived there and is widely thought to have been the inspiration for Santa Claus even though some countries celebrate his day separately; early December.

It was only in the 1860s that he appeared in American life sporting a white beard and red suit and subsequently was believed to be the person bringing presents for the children each year. The USA climate varies tremendously. In Hawaii for example Christmas is on the beach and Santa Claus will have arrived by boat, not reindeer; images of snow aren’t really relevant and dinner is outdoors. Perhaps Florida is the same? In contrast in many States Christmas Day can be very cold and heating is turned up.

A Few Variations

In some States children with lanterns walk around their neighborhood singing carols. They are often invited into homes in Alaska. In Boston the carol singing mixes with bells.

Mexicans celebrate Christmas with a procession involving Mary and Joseph. That has inevitably led to similar procession in the South West of the USA such as Arizona.

Americans like turkey; they eat it for Thanksgiving and a month later for Christmas Dinner. Who would be a turkey; escape in November only to be on the dinner table a month later? Polish Americans often set space for two extra people just in case Mary and Christ knock on the door seeking shelter.

Christmas is a celebration that is eagerly awaited, roughly in the mid-point between the start of winter and the arrival of spring. People have their own memories of Christmas and while there are differences in detail about how it is celebrated. However one thing is standard throughout the whole of the country; lights and decorations in homes everywhere.