The Origen of Some Christmas Customs


Every December, stories are written about the origin of Christmas traditions. Writers tell how the hanging of wreaths began, who hung the first stockings by the fireplace, why we decorate evergreen trees and who wrote the Christmas carols.


But many things that people do at Christmas time have never been traced back to their beginnings. Here is the result of some depth research into Yuletide history: the origin of some well-known Christmas customs.


Getting a Tree Too Tall for the Living Room


This custom, practiced in many homes, was started by Han Grosserbaum, a German, about 1580. Grosserbaum, the legend says, insisted that the tree would fit, and bought it over his wife’s objections.


When he got the tree home and it wouldn’t stand upright without scraping the celling, Grosserbsaum’s wife began saying that she had told him so, and that he was a dumbhead, etc. He left his wife holding the tree and went to get his axe. Old accounts vary as to what he did then.


The Unassembled Bicycle


The bicycle that arrives on Christmas Eve in 127 pieces and has to be put together by a mechanically inept father was the creation of two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Tantrum, who were unsuccessful airplane manufacturers. They hit on the idea after a triplane that wouldn’t get off the ground ran over a neighbor’s velocipede and smashed it to bits.


Their first successful Unassembled Bicycle was delivered to Charles J. Doppelfinger on Christmas Eve, 1908. While the Tantrum Brothers stood proudly watching, Doppelfinger worked for an hour without being able to put the bike together. Finally, he threw a Tantrum down the front steps.


The brothers made later improvements to the Unassembled Bicycle by creating the Unintelligible Instruction Sheet to go with it, and in 1911, perfected it when they conceived the idea of omitting one small but essential bolt.


Throwing Out the $5 Bill from Aunt Emma with the Wrappings


This is a peculiarly American contribution, and is observed, with variations, in hundreds of homes. The initiator of this quaint custom is said to be Martha Louise Crumple, of Sawbuck, W. Va. It was Christmas night of 1886 that Miss Crumple, then 12 years old, realized that the $5 bill sent to her by her Aunt Emma had vanished.


Frantic and tearful searching of the waste can in the coal bin finally turned up the greenback, squashed in with the poinsettia-printed tissue paper that had been wrapped around the cast-iron apple corer from Cousin Winesap.


The Breaking of the Toys


Time has hidden the name of the first child who succeeded in wrecking all the new toys by sundown on Christmas Day. But who is not acquainted with the sound of gleeful laughter around the Christmas tree as the children take part in this holiday ritual?


And who is not familiar with the sharp smack of parental palm on childish epidermis that is the traditional ending to this Yuletide activity?