Saturday, December 31, 2016

Book Review: The Christmas Book: How to Have the Best Christmas Ever

The Christmas Book: How to Have the Best Christmas Ever, Juliana Foster, Scholastic, Inc., New York, 2007.
This book is filled with ideas for a good Christmas, some of which I found helpful but most not.  However the part I liked is the little blurbs about where different Christmas traditions come from.
Santa Clause: Santa evolves from Saint Nicholas, and early Christian priest who was known for giving to others.  It was said he threw money down a chimney which landed in stockings of three young women who did not have money for a dowry.  Santa began to spread as resistance to puritanical movements which wanted to do away with Christmas.  Santa represented the spirit of Christmas.  Washing Irving coined the term Santa Clause as a translation of Sinterklaas.  The poem "A Visit from Saint Nickolas" (now known as "The Night Before Christmas." embedded to definition of Santa Clause in the American character.  Santa has been wearing red since 1885, before Coca Cola's commercials.
Christmas Cards: There are rare wood engravings with Christmas messages from the middle ages; but the extensive use of Christmas cards started in England in 1840.  From there the tradition was introduced to America in 1843, and became very popular by the 1860s.
Christmas Stockings:  Christmas stocking may predate Christmas when German children left hay in their shoes for the god Odin and his hunting party.  As a Christmas tradition it is attributed to Saint Nicholas leaving gifts in stockings hung by the fire to dry.
Christmas Tree:  Here is another tradition that predates Christianity.  In Pagan times evergreens were symbolic of new life.  The first mention of the Christmas Tree is when Saint Boniface cut down an oak tree where a group of pagans were worshipping Thor.  A fir tree grew in its place, and this was proclaimed the symbol of Christianity.  It wasn't until Martin Luther however that the tree was brought indoors.  He was walking through a grove of pines, and observed the starts through the branches, and determined to bring this beauty into his home.  From Germany the tradition spread to England and then the United States.
Caroling: Originally the word caroling meant to dance in a circle with flute music being played.  The were introduced into church services in the 13th century by Saint Francis de Assisi.  The practice of going door to door singing began in Rome.  Wassailing was a practice by which peasants visited feudal lords in exchange for hot punch (wassail) or other favors.
The Yule Log: This tradition is traced to Norsemen.  It coincided with the winter solstice.  A log was cut form an oak.  when the fire was extinguished a small piece of wood was saved to light next year's log.  Ashes were spread on the ground for fertility.
Mistletoe:  Mistletoe again predates Christianity.  It was hung over doorways to ward off evil spirits.  Its evergreen nature is a symbol of prosperity and fertility.  The tradition of kissing is less clear.  However, any young woman under the mistletoe cannot refuse a kiss.  However if unkissed under the mistletoe she will not marry within the year.
Holly and Ivy:  Again these plant predate Christianity in traditions.  The holly (masculine) and ivy )feminine) were used in fertility rites.  Holly was associated with the Roman holiday Saturnalia, which is very similar to Christmas.  Holly is associated with Christ because of the red berries, and sharp edged leaves representing the crown of thorns placed on Christ's head.
There is also a section on traditions from around the world.    Some are quite strange.  In Wales the carry a horse's skull on a stick, and those it touches must pay a fine.

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