At The History Factory, exploring holiday traditions is becoming a tradition of its own. This year, we took a closer look at some of our favorite (and not so favorite) holiday traditions to find out the story behind them. The result? Holiday HistorEcards! Enjoy and share.
Before Netflix, there was yule log and chill.
In 1966, WPIX-NY televised a burning yule log for three hours on Christmas Eve. The station’s so-called 15 minutes of flame went on to become a mainstay in many homes without fireplaces of their own. In 1989, WPIX cancelled its yule log, but the faux fire found new life in the internet age. After 9/11, WPIX rekindled the annual tradition—the “comfort food” of television. Today, the famous tinder has its own three-episode series on Netflix.
The holidays can feel like one big GoFundMe campaign.
In U.S. offices, we call it Secret Santa. The seasonal fad reached peak popularity after cable TV guru Larry Dean Stewart admitted to secretly donating $100 bills to individuals in need. In 2006 he revealed himself as the “Secret Santa”—making everyone else look bad. Thanks, Larry.
We have the Great Depression to thank for the “voluntary” attendance at the office holiday party each year.
Companies hosted holiday parties for employees because many families couldn’t afford to host their own. After World War II, embarrassing dance moves and awkward fraternization peaked in popularity. By the mid-1950s and ‘60s, many companies opted for family-friendly picnics instead. Today, the event rests somewhere in the middle—probably for the best.
Cheers to surviving the holidays.
Everyone’s favorite Parliamentary lush, Winston Churchill, famously said, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire,” and history tends to agree with him. In colonial India, British soldiers added tonic water containing quinine, an antimalarial medicine, to their daily ration of gin. A scurvy-preventing lime garnish paired nicely with the piney taste. The G&T later became a holiday favorite. God save the queen!
Tinsel? My kids call it glitter spaghetti.
Monarch and holiday influencer Queen Victoria popularized the use of tinsel after a drawing of her Christmas tree went 19th-century viral. By 1904, mass-produced tinsel was available—usually as tin-plated lead. #Yikes. In the 1970s, new safer materials were introduced into the production and “Tinseltown” was used to describe Hollywood, or any showy locale with little substance. Haters.