A Christmas decoration is any of several types of decorations used at Christmas time. The traditional colours of Christmas are pine green (evergreen), snow white, and heart red. Blue and white are often used to represent winter, or sometimes Hanukkah, which occurs around the same time. Gold and silver are also very common, as are just about any other metallic colours. Typical images on Christmas decorations include Baby Jesus, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, and the star of Bethlehem. Typical winter icons include snowflakes, snowmen, icicles, and even penguins and polar bears.
In many countries, such as Sweden, people start to set up their Christmas decorations after the start of Advent. In the Western Christian world, the two traditional days when Christmas decorations are removed are Twelfth Night and Candlemas, the latter of which ends the Christmas-Epiphany season in some denominations. Leaving the decorations up beyond Candlemas is historically considered to be inauspicious.
In many countries, there are many different types of decorations used depending on the traditions and available resources.
The Christmas tree is sometimes explained as a Christianization of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the winter solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship. The English-language phrase "Christmas tree" is first recorded in 1835 and represents an importation from the German language. The modern Christmas tree tradition, though, is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century though many argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century. From Germany the custom was introduced to England, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the early reign of Queen Victoria. The influential 1840s image of the Queen's decorated evergreen was republished in the U.S, and as the first widely circulated picture of a decorated Christmas tree in America, the custom there spread. Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.
Since the 19th century, the poinsettia, a native plant from Mexico, has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, ivy, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage. Potted pines used to be popular, however these need direct sunlight, and do very poorly as a houseplant. These often come with very inexpensive small ornaments (as shown at upper right), tied to the delicate branches with soft pipecleaners, and sometimes with a small light set (which was often too hot for the tree).
Wreaths are made from real or artificial conifer branches, or sometimes other broadleaf evergreens like magnolia (especially in the American South) or holly. Several types of evergreen or even deciduous branches may be used in the same wreath, along with pinecones and sprays of berries, and Christmas ornaments including jingle bells. A bow is usually used at the top or bottom, and an electric or unlit candle may be placed in the middle. Christmas lights are often used, and they may be hung from door or windows, and sometimes walls, lampposts, and light fixtures, or even statuary.
In North and South America, Australia, and Europe, it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures. Municipalities often sponsor decorations as well. Christmas banners may be hung from street lights and Christmas trees placed in the town square.
In the Western world, rolls of brightly colored paper with secular or religious Christmas/winter/Hanukkah motifs are manufactured for the purpose of giftwrapping presents. The display of Christmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. Other traditional decorations include bells, candles, candy canes, garland, stockings, wreaths, and angels. Snow sheets are made specifically for simulating snow under a tree or village.
In many countries a representation of the Nativity scene is very popular, and people are encouraged to compete and create most original or realistic ones. Within some families, the pieces used to make the representation are considered a valuable family heirloom. Some churches also perform a live Nativity with volunteers and even live animals.
One of the most popular items of Christmas decorations are stockings. According to legend, Saint Nicolas would creep in through the chimney and slip gold into stockings hanging by the fireplace. Various forms of stockings are available; from simple velvet ones, to sock-shaped bags to animated ones.
Christmas decorations are typically put up in early December. In the UK, Christmas lights on the high street are generally switched on in November. In the U.S., the traditional start of Christmas time is Thanksgiving. Major retailers put their seasonal decorations out for sale after back to school sales, while smaller niche Christmas Stores sell Christmas decorations year round.
In some places Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down on Twelfth Night, the evening of January 5 or January 6. The difference in this date is due to the fact that some count Christmas Day as the first day of Christmas, whereas for others Christmas Day is a feast day in its own right, and the first full day of the Christmas Season is December 26. In Hispanic and other cultures, this is more like Christmas Eve, as the Three Wise Men bring gifts that night, and therefore decorations are left up longer. The same is true in Eastern Orthodoxy, where Christmas falls on January 7. In the United States, most stores immediately remove decorations the day after Christmas, as if the holiday season were over once the gifts are bought. Nearly all Americans leave their home decorations up and lit until at least New Year's Day, and inside decorations can often be seen in windows for several days afterward. In some parts of the world the Christmas season continues until the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, also known as Candlemas, which occurs on February 2.
- Michelin (10 October 2012). Germany Green Guide Michelin 2012-2013. Michelin. p. 73. ISBN 9782067182110. "Advent - The four weeks before Christmas are celebrated by counting down the days with an advent calendar, hanging up Christmas decorations and lightning an additional candle every Sunday on the four-candle advent wreath."
- Normark, Helena (1997). "Modern Christmas" (in English). Graphic Garden. Retrieved 9 April 2014. "Christmas in Sweden starts with Advent, which is the await for the arrival of Jesus. The symbol for it is the Advent candlestick with four candles in it, and we light one more candle for each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Most people start putting up the Christmas decorations on the first of Advent."
- "Candlemas" (in English). British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 April 2014. "Any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5th) should be left up until Candlemas Day and then taken down."
- Raedisch, Linda (1 October 2013). The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year. Llewellyn Publications. p. 161. ISBN 9780738734507. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
- van Renterghem, Tony. When Santa was a shaman. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1995. ISBN 1-56718-765-X
- Harper, Douglas, Christ, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001.
- "The Chronological History of the Christmas Tree". The Christmas Archives. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
- "Christmas Tradition – The Christmas Tree Custom". Fashion Era. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
- Shoemaker, Alfred Lewis. (1959) Christmas in Pennsylvania: a folk-cultural study. Edition 40. p.52,53. Stackpole Books 1999. ISBN 0-8117-0328-2
- Murray, Brian. "Christmas lights and community building in America," History Matters, Spring 2006.
- Deo, Ritwik. "Christmas decorations". My Family Club.
- BBC – London's Oxford Street and Regent Street Christmas lights have been switched on at precisely the same time.
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