Trivia ~ Christmas
Before settling on the name of Tiny Tim for his character in "A Christmas Carol," three other alliterative names were considered by Charles Dickens. They were Little Larry, Puny Pete, and Small Sam.
Where did the tradition of decorating Christmas Trees begin?
The first recorded documentation of decorating a Christmas tree was in 1604 in Strasburg, Germany. Decorating Christmas trees appeared as a tradition in the U.S in the mid-1800's and has evolved over the subsequent 150 year period to the production and distribution system we know today.
The National Christmas tree was not lit except for the top ornament in 1979 in honor of the American hostages in Iran. In 1963, the National Christmas tree was not lit until December 22nd because of a national 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President Kennedy.
The tallest living Christmas tree is believed to be the 122 foot, 91-year-old Douglas fir in the town of Woodinville, Washington.
Have Americans always celebrated Christmas?
Yes and no. The religious founders of the American nation, the Puritans, did not celebrate Christmas. Of course, the Puritans didn't "celebrate" much of anything, but they were particularly firm about Christmas. The Puritans once fined anyone caught observing Christmas in Massachusetts. In Connecticut, even baking a mincemeat pie was forbidden!
(By the way ... Did you know that the United States Congress did not declare Christmas a
federal holiday until June 26, 1870?)
Jesus' birthday appeared on Roman calendars after the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. But despite Constantine's conversion to Christianity the church was still embattled: There were plenty of pagans around. The December date wasn't the result of careful historical research; it was chosen because there was a pagan tradition of feasting and celebration around this time. The church fathers wanted to offer an alternative to it
The pagan celebration in question was Saturnalia, an ancient Roman holiday honoring Saturn, god of agriculture. You might wonder who would celebrate agriculture in the dead of winter when nothing is growing. The answer is--lots of people. Late December is the winter solstice, the time of year in the Northern Hemisphere when the night is longest and the day is shortest. It is therefore one of the year's pivotal points. From this moment, darkness and death begin to ebb; light and life begin to rise. No wonder most cultures celebrate the solstice in some way. To paraphrase Bette Midler, they are celebrating the seed that in the spring becomes the rose.
Saturnalia began on December 17 and ran for one week. During that festival, Romans decorated trees with bits of bright metal and then gave each other gifts for the new year. As Rome grew more corrupt, Saturnalia grew more debauched. Today, the word saturnalia means rowdy, out-of-control partying. That's probably a pretty good indication of what Saturnalia had come to in the 4th century. Perhaps there were anguished calls to "put the Saturn back in Saturnalia," but it was too late.
Quiet Christmas with its spiritual glow offered deeper satisfactions than getting blind drunk for Saturnalia.
Who put the "X" in Xmas?
That's an easy one. In Greek, the word for Christ in Greek is "Xristos". During the 16th century, Europeans began using the first initial of Christ's name, "X" in place of the word "Christ" in Christmas as a shorthand form of the word. Although the early Christians understood that "X" stood for Christ's name, later Christians who did not understand the Greek language mistook "Xmas" as a sign of disrespect.
Where did we get the tradition of the Christmas tree?
The Christmas tree tradition has many roots. The Romans contributed (see #6 from 12-21-2001), and the pagan Germans (who later became Christians) also had solstice celebrations honoring trees. They, however, left the trees in the woods.
According to legend, the Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first to decorate a tree indoors. One night, walking in the woods, he saw stars twinkling through evergreen branches. He brought a tree home and decorated it with candles to show his children the dazzling sight.
Incidentally, the Advent wreath has a similar story. The ancient Romans bestowed a "victory wreath" on athletes and warriors, and the Lutherans later absorbed this symbol into Christmas as a symbol of Christ's victory.
22% of U.S. families choose an artificial Christmas tree.
Eat, drink and be merry
Here it comes again: Christmas. Now this time, when we go caroling, can we please get it right? It's not, "God rest you,( or ye) merry gentlemen." That makes it sound like the gentlemen have been hitting the eggnog since Thanksgiving and are already lit up and merry without waiting for the tree to be trimmed.
The correct emphasis is, "God rest you merry, gentlemen." Note the punctuation. You are wishing the merriment on them. They haven't got it yet. ("Rest you merry" is a phrase that came into common usage in the fifteenth century.)
I know it seems like a mere grammatical technicality, but misplacing the punctuation mark leaves the gentlemen already, uh, comma-tose with Christmas cheer.
What are "The 12 Days of Christmas," and what about that song?
"Two turtle doves, three French hens," what is this, some kind of exotic birdhouse? And when the heck are they going to get that damned partridge out of that pear tree?
Well, "lords-a-leaping," we sure do like to sing this nonsense. Some people even think that it's a secret code devised to teach English Catholic kids about their religion when Catholics were persecuted there centuries ago. No external evidence has ever surfaced to prove this, nor do the lyrics support the claim. We do know that the song first surfaced in an English children's book in the 18th century and may have originated in France.
As for the "12 Days" themselves, in the 6th Century A. D. The Second Council of Tours proclaimed the sanctity of the period from Christmas to the Epiphany, the January 6th feast day celebrating the visit of the Magi. That's 12 days - count 'em.
Where did the Customs of Mistletoe and Holly at Christmas come from?
Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. They would gather this evergreen plant that is parasitic upon other trees and used it to decorate their homes. They believed the plant had special healing powers for everything from female infertility to poison ingestion.
Scandinavians also thought of mistletoe as a plant of peace and harmony. They associated mistletoe with their goddess of love, Frigga. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe probably derived from this belief.
The early church banned the use of mistletoe in Christmas celebrations because of its pagan origins. Instead, church fathers suggested the use of holly as an appropriate substitute for Christmas greenery.
In the late 1800's a candy maker in Indiana wanted to express the meaning of Christmas through a symbol made of candy. He used a plain white peppermint stick (white to symbolize the purity and sinless nature of Jesus). Next, he added three stripes to represent the Holy Trinity. Then a bold stripe was added represent the blood Jesus shed for mankind. When looked at with the crook on top, the candy cane looks like a shepherd's staff. Turned upside down, it becomes the letter "J" for "Jesus".
You know that guy in the red suit who squeezes down your chimney on Christmas, tracking soot on your beige carpeting? He has a brother named Bells Nichols who visits on New Year's Eve. Bells doesn't bring toys, but will leave pastry for you if you put out a plate. At least that's what the French and the Pennsylvania Dutch believe.
This bakery elf has eluded me so far. Maybe he's really Escape Claus. Or a long-lost Keebler elf...?
Poinsettias are native to Mexico, and they were named after America's first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett. He brought the plants to America in 1828. The Mexicans in the eighteenth century thought the plants were symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem. Thus the Poinsettia became associated with the Christmas season. The actual flower of the poinsettia is small and yellow. But surrounding the flower are large, bright red leaves, often mistaken for petals.
Armenians Celebrate Christmas on January 6th
"Armenian Christmas," as it is popularly called, is a culmination of celebrations of events related to Christ's Incarnation. Theophany or Epiphany (or Astvadz-a-haytnootyoon in Armenian) means "revelation of God," which is the central theme of the Christmas Season in the Armenian Church. During the "Armenian Christmas" season, the major events that are celebrated are the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem and His Baptism in the River Jordan. The day of this major feast in the Armenian Church is January 6th. A ceremony called "Blessing of Water" is conducted in the Armenian Church to commemorate Christ’s Baptism. It is frequently asked as to why Armenians do not celebrate Christmas on December 25th with the rest of the world. Obviously, the exact date of Christ's birth has not been historically established—it is neither recorded in the Gospels. However, historically, all Christian churches celebrated Christ's birth on January 6th until the fourth century. According to Roman Catholic sources, the date was changed from January 6th to December 25th in order to override a pagan feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun which was celebrated on December 25th. At the time Christians used to continue their observance of these pagan festivities. In order to undermine and subdue this pagan practice, the church hierarchy designated December 25th as the official date of Christmas and January 6th as the feast of Epiphany. However, Armenia was not effected by this change for the simple fact that there were no such pagan practices in Armenia, on that date, and the fact that the Armenian Church was not a satellite of the Roman Church. Thus, remaining faithful to the traditions of their forefathers, Armenians have continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6th until today.
The modern Christmas custom of displaying a wreath on the front door of one's house, is borrowed from ancient Rome's New Year's celebrations. Romans wished each other "good health" by exchanging branches of evergreens. They called these gifts strenae after Strenia, the goddess of health. It became the custom to bend these branches into a ring and display them on doorways.
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