The Legends of Christmas
The celebration of Christmas is a joyful mixture of customs that have developed in many different lands over thousands of years. Integrated into our customs are ancient Roman traditions, early Christian practices, medieval pagan rituals and Victorian nostalgia.

Christmas is richer in tradition than any other holiday celebrated in this country. These traditions have been adopted and changed by Americans over many years. In 1659 the Puritans declared the celebration of Christmas illegal. They said the holiday was just an excuse to drink too much and overeat. So for almost two centuries Christmas in America was virtually ignored.

In the 1800s, writers and artists began transforming Christmas into the celebration that we know today. Our very own version of Santa was created in the writings of Clement C. Moore, Washington Irving and the drawings of Thomas Nast.

Many customs – caroling, Santa, stockings, and gingerbread – originated in Europe. Americans have embraced these customs and added their own special traditions to them as they have been passed down through the generations.

The Germans introduced the Christmas tree to America. Many years before the celebration of Christmas began the Germans used evergreens to decorate their homes. They believed that these trees represented life and immortality and would protect their homes from evil during the coming year. There are many different stories about how the tree first appeared in America – but the result is the same – rare is the home that does not decorate a tree at Christmas.

Christmas is a time of joy and celebration – a time to share traditional rituals with family and friends. Gift-giving, caroling, tree decorating, hanging stockings and baking cookies are all traditions that have been passed down through the years. All these traditions begin with stories, some fact and some fiction. The decorated trees in this year’s exhibit tell these stories.


The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum's
temporary exhibits are funded by
The Roy J. Carver Trust, William B. Quarton and
the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association