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Christmas Firsts

As the saying goes, “There’s a first time for everything.” Before festive merrymaking, carolling, and food-bingeing became what is known today as Christmas, there were significant Christmas firsts that marked the joyful and holy occasion.

The word “Christmas.” “Christmas” came from the word “Christ’s mass,” which, in Old English, is Cristes Maesse. The word was first used in 1038. In Greek, X was the first letter of “Christ,” and it was also used as an abbreviation for the name. Thus, Christmas is abbreviated today as X-mas.

Poinsettia as a Christmas flower. According to stories, poinsettia became associated with Christmas through the Mexican tradition of bringing gifts to the child Jesus. Two poor children had nothing to give, so they resorted to bringing a plant to Jesus. As they placed the plant in Jesus’ manger, it transformed into a lovely red flower, now known as poinsettia. This Christmas flower is also believed to have been first used as a Christmas ornament by a Mexican priest.

The first Christmas tree. The Germans were the ones that brought the concept of Christmas tree to the world. Inspired by pagan traditions from which Christmas originated, Germans placed evergreen trees in front or inside their homes as a sign of hope for the coming spring season. This practice quickly spread to other countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia, and Paris. In 1841, the idea of Christmas tree was introduced to England. And in 1923, then-US President Calvin Coolidge began the National Christmas Tree tradition, where a Christmas tree was annually decorated and displayed in the White House.

The first Christmas greeting card. Before animated and musical e-cards were invented and sent online, there was the first Christmas greeting card, believed to have been designed by J.C. Horsley in England on 1843. The card said, “A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to You.” This simple message became the standard Christmas greeting in cards in various English-speaking countries.

The first Christmas lights. During ancient Christmases, Christmas trees were only lit up by small candles glued to tree branches with melted wax. But in 1882, Edward Johnson (who worked for Thomas Edison), created a string of 80 small electric bulbs for a Christmas tree in New York, which became known as the first Christmas lights. This was mass produced in 1890 and became widely used in the following years.

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