The Oldest (and Best) Christmas Traditions

Did you ever wonder what the oldest Christmas tradition is? Some of our most beloved traditions are relatively recent in origin. Take Christmas lights, for example. I remember screwing in bulbs into sockets on strings as a boy with my father but that tradition began by one of Thomas Edison’s engineers in 1882. Edward Johnson, looking for a way to sell Edison’s newly manufactured electric bulbs decorated a tree in a window with a string of eighty red, white, and blue lights and called a newspaper reporter to spread the word. Then there is the Christmas tree itself—a tradition that isn’t very old either. Hans Hillerbrand, professor emeritus of history and religion at Duke University tells us, “Fir trees decorated with apples were first known in Strasbourg in 1605. The first use of candles on such trees is recorded by a Silesian duchess in 1611.”

The Oldest Traditions

The first Christmas took place a little over two thousand years ago and there are two traditions that date back to that very first Christmas. Can you guess what they are?

Now if you guessed “a baby in a manger” I’ll give you half-credit, because you can’t really count the original birth of Jesus as a tradition. But there is a part of the original Christmas story that happened immediately after the birth of Jesus that began the oldest Christmas tradition.

Shortly after the birth of our Savior, an angel appeared to a group of shepherds and inaugurated the oldest and greatest Christmas tradition of all—telling the story of Jesus’s birth. It goes like this:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:10–12

The words of the angel and the Christmas story have been repeated and shared again and again every year, though not always on the traditional Christmas date. Celebrating Christmas on December 25th didn’t start until the reign of Constantine, three hundred years later. But no matter the date of the celebration, remembering the Christmas story goes all the way back to the beginning.

There is another tradition that is just as old. It too dates back to that very same Christmas night. Just after telling the story to the shepherds on a hillside, the sky broke open, revealing an whole host of angels singing the very first Christmas carol. This is what they told the shepherds:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:14

These two traditions, telling the story, and singing praises to God with a Christmas hymn are the oldest Christmas tradition and the best Christmas traditions and they are both preserved in Luke’s Gospel for us to read to our families this Christmas.

Keeping Our Hearts Attuned

While stringing electric Christmas lights and decorating fir trees is a lot of fun for the family, Christmas would not be Christmas without the good news story.

This Christmas, plan to read the story to your family and join with the angels who remain in the heavens praising God by singing a Christmas hymn together. One of my favorites, a great song for families, is “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” and it pairs great with a rereading of the Christmas story. The chorus is also easy for young kids to remember.  Here are the lyrics:

Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born!

While shepherds kept their watching
O’er silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light

Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born!

The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo! Above the Earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our Savior’s birth

Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born!

Down in a lowly manger
Our humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That blessed Christmas morn

This Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, take some time to join with the traditions of the angels; the oldest and best Christmas traditions there are. Read the first twenty verses of Luke 2 and then shout and sing, “Jesus Christ is Born!” Practices like these keep our hearts attuned to the real meaning of our festivities and reignite in our hearts the wonder of what God did for us by sending us Son down to earth.

Prepare Him Room


Guide kids and their families into the heart of Christmas with this gospel-focused, four-week Advent curriculum. Prepare Him Room by children’s best-selling author Marty Machowski takes a biblical, theological approach to the Old Testament promises and New Testament fulfillment in Christ in a way kids can understand.

About the author

Marty Machowski

Marty Machowski is a Family Life Pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, PA, where he has served on the pastoral staff for over thirty years. He is the author of a number of family devotionals, curricula (including the Gospel Story for Kids), children’s books, and parenting titles. He and his wife, Lois, have six children and several grandchildren, and reside in West Chester, PA.

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