Once upon a time Christmas was celebrated with tinsel on trees. Tinsel is an ancient product with roots more than 400 years old where it was crafted to represent ice. Originally placed on statues and made from actual silver, tinsel has morphed over the ages to be made from other, cheaper materials.
Once quite popular during the 20th century it hasn’t found a lot of love in the 21st century.
In fact, it is a Christmas tradition that is dying. And the reason seems to be nothing more or less than convenience. There are so many other choices in Christmas decorating that tinsel to some seems messy – and mostly too cheap.
But not all Christmas traditions are forsaken for such simple reasons.
In a modern world growing more secular and politically correct several Christmas traditions are on the verge of disappearing altogether.
Here are the top five dying Christmas traditions:
1. Black Peter
For more than 200 years the Netherlands has kicked off their Christmas season with the festive arrival of St. Nicholas and his jovial companion, Black Peter. But in 2014 a U.N. observer declared Black Pete a racist symbol.
You might as well have shot old Pete dead in the street right there.
Since then, despite overwhelming outcry from traditionalists who claim Black Peter is all in good fun, authorities in the Netherlands have paraded out a plan to phase out Pete forever, starting last year with Black Pete’s of several colors – red, purple, blue, etc.
Depending upon who you talk to Black Pete is either representative of an ancient Father Christmas tradition who doled out switches to naughty children – or merely an elf-like helper who looked suspiciously like a Spanish slave.
No matter. For generations the annual parade that used to delight children and families as a launch to the season is now a thing of the past. Soon, Pete, no matter what his color, will not show up at all.
2. The Town Nativity
Some think the tradition of having a town nativity scene is something of an American pastime. But the truth is that countries around the world have many cities, towns and villages represent the Christ Child in some way.
But that tradition in dying – just faster in America than anywhere else.
It has nothing to do with the growing ranks of atheism in America. It has more to do with debates over “separation of Church and State”. Those words don’t actually appear in the U.S. Constitution but that does little to stop opponents from arguing that a Baby Jesus on a Courthouse lawn somehow proves the government is endorsing Christianity over other religions. So Baby Jesus takes a hike – one village, town and city at a time.
3. Christmas Caroling
Music of the Christmas season is more popular than ever. But the ancient practice of groups of singers walking the streets together harmonizing the carols of the season is dying. Few do it any more.
The practice was started from older traditions more associated with the New Year, when folks would gather and share wassail as they greeted each other door-to-door, toasting and well-wishing for the New Year.
Folk tunes were repurposed with seasonal and often religious messaging and called “carols”, because they frequently were accompanied by a dance. These impromptu and mobile parties were the highlight of a holiday season for many in the 15th and 16th centuries.
But in the 21st century – a time when individuals are more self-absorbed with cell phones and social media – the art of song and dance together seems to be losing ground. Carolers these days are limited to Church groups, school choirs and community organizations who struggle to find participants. And gone are the days of neighbors spontaneously bursting into song together.
It is not quite yet dead – but caroling is on life support.
4. Roasting Chestnuts
To be fair, the tradition of roasting chestnuts is more of a localized tradition. But if you lived in a cold climate and the area could easily grow chestnuts it was quite a Christmas tradition to enjoy the warm treat during the bitter cold of winter.
For many roasted chestnuts were a Christmas treat akin to eggnog or mince pies – and traditionalists would tell you that fire roasted over oven roasted are better.
In an age where microwaves and convenience foods reign supreme the art of roasting chestnuts is quickly falling out of favor.
5. Sending Christmas Cards
The tradition of sending Christmas cards just is not that old. Born in the mid-19th century as both modern printing technology and mail services rapidly advanced the tradition of sending cards exploded around the world.
As the decades passed it grew year to year as families became more separated by distance.
But since the early 1990s – and a time most associated with the growth of the Internet – the world has seemingly become smaller and the expense of buying cards, writing them out and paying to send them seems outdated to a world used to instant communication.
The U.S. Post Office knows this better than anyone. They say that in 2012, people under 35 years old sent an average of 13 holiday greeting cards per household, down from 19 as recently as 2010 — and fewer than 35- to 54-year-olds, who sent an average of 20 per household in 2012. The average number of cards sent by 55-and-older households dropped from an average of 20 cards in 2011 to 15 cards in 2012. This data is now old – and the numbers have only declined further since.
It is far from dead though.
But the billions once sent every holiday season is measured in the millions. And soon the sending of cards will seem the most quaint of old Christmas traditions.