American Holidays and Traditions Have Immigrant Roots
Today, people in the United States celebrate holidays born outside of this country. Somehow, these traditions are now deeply woven into our landscape, yet few know the stories behind them.
Let’s start with the end-of-year celebrations we are currently enjoying.
Take Hanukkah. Known as the Festival of Lights, it is one of the most celebrated traditions for modern Jewish Americans. This was not always the case.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became an opportunity to celebrate religious freedom and a time to celebrate the American holiday while building strong Jewish communities and resisting assimilation. For ancient Jews, Hanukkah was a time to celebrate taking back their Temple in Jerusalem from Greek occupiers during the second century BC.
Speaking of American holiday traditions, Christmas in the United States is peppered with immigrant stories.
During the 1600s, Christmas traditions were religious in nature. Decorated trees, material gifts, Christmas cards and music, yule logs, poinsettias, and even Santa came much later as a result of European traditions that made their way across the Atlantic.
We owe Christmas trees to Germanic traditions beginning in the 1800s. Trees were followed by candles and ornaments, which were produced in Europe and imported into the United States.
Thanks to a Prussian refugee artist, Christmas cards flooded mailboxes in the United States. Louis Prang first sold his decorated cards in the United Kingdom as a way of celebrating art and the holiday, while replacing the time-consuming letter-writing customary at the time.
The classic “White Christmas” was written by a Russian lyricist who practiced Judaism. Irving Berlin’s song was popularized in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. It won an Academy award.
The popular Yule log came to the United States from Scandinavia. It was meant to inspire a streak of luck and safeguard families for the coming year.
The poinsettia tree can be traced to its native Mexico as the flower of Christmas Eve (la flor de la Noche Buena). It was Joel Roberts Poinsett, United States Ambassador to Mexico in the early 1900’s, who brought clippings back home.
Finally, though Dutch, German, Ukrainian, and Swiss immigrants celebrated the coming of Saint Nikolaus in early December, it was James Edgar, a Scottish-American business owner who popularized Santa at the mall. Edgar, also known as “Colonel Jim,” made children’s dreams come true when he took a train to Boston and returned home with a custom Santa suit made for him. That same year he made his first appearance throughout the store.
As we embark on a new year, let us all look back with gratitude and appreciation for the way that immigrants have enriched the holiday landscape for Americans as a whole. Let us remember that it is here in the United States that people from cultures wide and broad have made new homes without losing themselves.
Visa Business Plans is led by Marco Scanu, a certified coach from the University of Miami with a globally-based practice coaching Fortune 1000 company executives, entrepreneurs, as well as professionals in 4 different continents. Mr. Scanu advises clients on turnaround strategies and crisis management.
Mr. Scanu received a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Cum Laude) from The University of Florida and an MBA in Management from Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. Mr. Scanu was also a Visiting Scholar at Michigan State University under the prestigious H. Humphrey Fellowship (Fulbright program) with a focus on Entrepreneurship, Venture Capital, and high-growth enterprises.
At present, Mr. Scanu is the managing partner and CEO at Visa Business Plans, a Miami-based boutique consulting firm providing attorneys and investors with business planning services in the areas of U.S. and Canadian immigration, SBA loans, and others.