The holidays are here! ‘Tis the time of year when people across the country are partaking in time-honored Christmas traditions such as sipping a cup or two of eggnog, donning an ugly Christmas sweater and fighting crowds to score that last minute gift.
As we gather together with friends and loved ones to make merry this month, here at the New Berlin Public Library, we wanted to share the origins of a few Christmas traditions that Wisconsinites can proudly call our very own.
Not to be confused with the Festivus Pole from Seinfeld, aluminum Christmas trees have been a state and national tradition for decades. They were popularized in the 1960s, thanks to the Aluminum Specialty Company in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. In 1959, the Aluminum Specialty Company debuted their “Evergleam” aluminum tree, which became a massive success throughout Wisconsin as well as nationally. Selling for around $25 each (approximately $200 by today’s standard), the company sold over a million trees nationally between 1959 - 1969. However, by the end of the 1960s the trees fell out of style and production ultimately halted in 1971. “Evergleams on Eighth” is still annually celebrated in Downtown Manitowoc, where aluminum trees are displayed throughout the city, with the focal point at the Manitowoc Public Library.
If you buy a Kringle for the holiday season, you are sharing in an important Wisconsin cultural tradition. Like so many cherished Wisconsin customs, this one stems from early German and Scandinavian immigration into our state. In fact, this beloved pastry is tied to old world Danish history and was made as early as the 13th century by Roman Catholic monks in Europe. The name “kringle” comes from the Old Norse word “kringla,” which translates to ring or circle, and references a pretzel-like shape. In the 19th century, when Danish immigrants settled in Racine County, they brought this recipe with them. Because of this influx, Racine became the epicenter of Danish-American traditions, including kringle-making. Racine became nationally famous for its Kringle and gained the nicknames “Kringleville” and “The Kringle Capital of the World.” On June 30, 2013, Wisconsin legislature officially designated Kringle as Wisconsin’s state pastry.
St. Nick’s Day (Saint Nicholas Day)
Celebrated on December 6, St. Nick’s Day is a favorite Milwaukee-area tradition among children and families. Widely observed in Europe, St. Nicholas Day festivals, feasts, and holidays have been practiced since the Middle Ages in honor of Saint Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of children and sailors. As a young Bishop, St. Nicholas was known for his unmatched generosity to the poor and his great love of children. In the United States, St. Nick’s Day is primarily celebrated in areas with German or Dutch influence, including Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburg and Evansville. On the evening of December 5, children leave their shoes or stockings out for Saint Nicholas, who fills them with gifts and treats that night. No doubt many Milwaukee-area residents have very fond memories from their childhood of celebrating St. Nick’s Day, in addition to Christmas Day, and have continued the tradition today.