Holiday Traditions, Explained

The holidays are full of beautiful, fun, symbolic and sometimes wacky traditions. Where else can you find a military Santa tracking operation and an elf hidden on a shelf? Read on for the origins of these traditions, and more.


What’s with that Elf on the Shelf? It seems like it’s been around forever, doesn’t it? That little elf, sitting on the shelf, watching (and taking notes on) your behavior so he or she can report back to Santa. But Elf on the Shelf sprang into this world in 2005, when Christa Pitts and twin sister, Chanda Bell, joined forces with their mom, Carol Aebersold, to market their own childhood tradition: Elf on the Shelf. It was a hit, to put it mildly. Today, the incarnations of elf include multiple elf dolls, figurines, elf clothing and accessories, books, a DVD and more.  It’s become a multi-million dollar franchise, wowing people as much as—if not more than—a certain flying reindeer with a glowing nose.


When did NORAD start tracking Santa? Nothing says Christmas like watching the military track Santa. The origins of the NORAD Santa tracker are actually quite sweet. In 1955, a Sears Roebuck ad inviting kids to call Santa Claus had a typo in the phone number. Rather than routing them to a man with a belly like a bowl full of jelly, they routed them to a top-secret air defense emergency phone at The North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs (at the time it was called CONAD). After a few disarming calls from earnest children wishing to speak with Santa, the guys in uniform decided to create a Santa tracker, showing Santa’s path across the world. Follow on Twitter at @NoradSanta.


Why is this the season of eggnog? This drink of merriment and richness dates back to the 14th century. Back then, it didn’t contain eggs. Rather, “hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or the like, often sweeten and spiced,” according to Mental Floss. In the 17th century, “nogs” were a drink for celebrations, hence, the ties to the holidays. The recipe morphed through the years, making its way over to the American Colonies, and eggs were added for that drink-able custard goodness we know today.