Introduction: In this article – the final one in a series of four – Jessica Edwards describes some more superstitions our ancestors had about Christmas, many concerning ways to ensure good luck. Jessica has had a lifelong interest in her family’s history – especially on her father’s side, which goes back to the first settlers in Pennsylvania, Jamestown and New England – and has documented and added more than 30,400 people to her family tree!
In this series of four articles, I’m describing some Christmas superstitions that may be mentioned by relatives in their diaries and journals – or that family members may still practice today – that have been handed down from their ancestors. Things changed over time and people began to see these beliefs as fallacies. However, some people still follow them either for fun or for tradition’s sake. Do you do any of these practices, or did your ancestors?
In this final part, let’s look at some miscellaneous superstitions involving Christmas.
Mistletoe has long been seen as a symbol of fertility. This belief was very prominent during the 19th century. It was kept intact and hanging, and remained all year long until the next festive season. It needed to be replaced with fresh mistletoe on the next Christmas Eve. Some regions said that mistletoe should not be brought inside the house before the eve of New Year, as that would lead to major financial problems in the coming year.
Children accompanied elders while they removed all the Yuletide decorations, to ensure good luck. Another belief said that the house would be haunted by one goblin for each pine needle found dropped in the house. According to some people, the person who picked up a pine needle inside the church or the house was destined to die within the next year (any volunteers for pine needle picking up?).
In ancient Russia, girls would peel an onion and leave it under their pillows at night. They would chant a silent prayer, and if they dreamt about a man at night, that man would become their future mate – even if they had never met him before. This sort of tradition was followed for Saint Thomas’ Eve, and young girls would eagerly wait to dream about their future partner.
People kept their doors opened on Christmas Eve to chase away evil spirits, and one was supposed to leave a Christmas candle burning all through the night to light the path of good luck in the coming year.
The first person who woke up on Christmas day shouted “Welcome Old Father Christmas” to ensure good luck for them.
On the day of Christmas, someone had to sweep the doorstep to “clear out the trouble for the next year.”
The first person who visited neighbors’ houses on Christmas day had to bring coal or evergreen boughs with them, and in doing so earned the right to kiss all the women in the household (of course, if it was a woman visitor, she won the right to kiss all of the men in the household). They were served with a drink, and kids were given lucky coins.
Having a loud cheer party on the day of Christmas was said to remove all the evil spirits. Singing Christmas carols at any time other than Christmas season was regarded as unlucky.
In earlier times in Germany, women and girls followed a custom of tossing shoes over their shoulders. If the toes pointed toward the door, it indicated that a happy change was about to take place and the woman would get married within a year. If they pointed any other way it was considered bad luck and no marriage should be planned.
Another belief dealing with Christmas and a single woman said that if she shook an elder tree on Christmas Eve and a dog barked, she would find her suitor in the direction of the dog’s bark.
One final superstition done in many cultures was that members put their shoes together on Christmas night, because it was believed that it would bring peace and harmony to the family.
If your family has a Christmas tradition or belief that you can explain where it came from, feel free to write in and share it with me and my readers. Also, if any of these things appealed to you, feel free to start doing them as a tradition in your family.
Happy Holidays to all, and Happy Hunting with your genealogy!
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Note on the header image: “The Christmas Tree” by Albert Chevallier Tayler, 1911. Source: Wikimedia Commons.