"Christmas Around the World" logoNovember 2003-January 2004
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United States 
US flag Merry Christmas
US tree
 
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Christmas in the United States is a holiday of reverence and gaiety. Customs and traditions of many nations are interwoven in the American Christmas celebration. From Germany we have the decorated Christmas tree, from Austria comes the carol "Silent Night," the poinsettia comes from Mexico and the English gave us stockings by the fireplace just to name a few.

Christmas in the United States hasn't always been a holiday. In 1870, rigid puritanical attitudes toward Christmas had softened, and the vast majority of the American people embraced the holiday as a permanent cultural tradition in this country. On June 26, 1870 for the first time in its history, the United States Congress declared Christmas a federal holiday.

Even though Santa Claus is distinctly American his origins are in Holland. The Dutch settlers in New York called Saint Nicholas by the name Sinter Klaas. The American children loved the kindly Sinter Klaas but pronounced the name Santa Claus. In 1882 the sleigh and reindeer were introduced as Santa's mode of transportation when Clement C. Moore wrote the poem "A Visit from Saint Nicolas" for his children. This poem later became known by the name "The Night Before Christmas" and the kindly saint in a bishop's robe and miter became a "right jolly old elf." In 1863 the widely known cartoonist, Thomas Nast, drew a picture of Santa Claus and the transformation was complete.

One area where the United States leads the world in Christmas showmanship is in outdoor lights and lawn ornaments. Americans decorate the outsides of their houses with the same exuberance that they use on the inside. We also anticipate and prepare for the holiday season longer than anywhere else in the world.