Friday, December 21, 2007

The Christmas Spirit

Not long ago, I stumbled across a website devoted to Christmas and the reasons thought to be behind many of our modern traditions.

A Pagan Holiday?

Christmas was once a movable feast celebrated at many different times during the year. The choice of December 25, was made by Pope Julius I, in the 4th century A.D., because this coincided with the pagan rituals of Winter Solstice, or Return of the Sun. The intent was to replace the pagan celebration with the Christian one.

From what I gather Christmas still is...a movable feast. Since so many families no longer live close to each other they choose a weekend before or after to share the time. In my own extended family, 'tis a rare year when all can gather on the designated day on the calendar, thus the feast/celebration/gift exchange is moved to a time when as many as possible can attend.

Historians have traced some of the current traditions surrounding Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, back to ancient Celtic roots. Father Christmas's elves are the modernization of the "Nature folk" of the Pagan religions; his reindeer are associated with the "Horned God," which was one of the Pagan deities.

This seems rather fitting, considering the ultra-commercialization of Christmas, and all that entails. The modern day deity could well be viewed as the Shopping Mall Santa, with the long lines of parents with small children in tow standing on line to have their photograph taken with the White-bearded, red-suited Mall Santa, and his Elfphettes.

Christmas Foods Around the World:

Animal Crackers are not really crackers, but cookies that were imported to the United States from England in the late 1800s. Barnum's circus-like boxes were designed with a string handle so that they could be hung on a Christmas tree. (My English blogging friends do keep telling me the British love their biscuits!)

If traveling in France during the Christmas season, it is interesting to note that different dishes and dining traditions reign in popularity in different parts of the country. In south France, for instance, a Christmas loaf (pain calendeau) is cut crosswise and is eaten only after the first part has been given to a poor person. In Brittany, buckwheat cakes and sour cream is the most popular main dish. In Alsace, a roasted goose is the preferred entrée. In Burgundy, turkey and chestnuts are favored. In the Paris region, oysters are the favorite holiday dish, followed by a cake shaped like a Yule log. (I need to research the regional differences in the basic American Christmas feast, I am sure there are notable differences aside from the traditional ham or turkey)

At Christmas, Ukrainians prepare a traditional twelve-course meal. A family's youngest child watches through the window for the evening star to appear, a signal that the feast can begin.

In Armenia, the traditional Christmas Eve meal consists of fried fish, lettuce, and spinach. The meal is traditionally eaten after the Christmas Eve service, in commemoration of the supper eaten by Mary on the evening before Christ's birth.

In Portugal, the traditional Christmas meal (consoada) is eaten in the early hours of Christmas Day.

It is my hope that since the United State's was once called "the melting pot" that many family's Christmas traditions are filled with special recipes and activities that incorporate traditions from their ancestor's immigrant backgrounds. Sadly, I fear that for the majority this has all but disappeared, or if any...most of the family members have no idea why they eat the things they do. We have become a country that seems to despise any but the so-called "American Way".

A Multilingual Christmas Greeting For Those of Us Who Revere Our Differences.

Afrikaner (Afrikaans) ~ "Een Plesierige Kerfees"
Argentine ~ "Felices Pascuas"
Bohemian ~ "Vesele Vanoce"
Brazilian ~ "Boas Festas"
Chinese (Cantonese) ~ "Saint Dan Fai Lok"
Danish ~ "Glædelig Jul"
Dutch ~ "Vrolijk Kerstfeest"
English ~ "Merry Christmas"
Filipino ~ "Maligayang Pasko"
Finnish ~ "Hyvaa Joulua"
French ~ "Joyeux Noël"
German ~ "Froehliche Weihnachten"
Greek ~ "Kala Christouyenna"
Hawaiian ~ "Mele Kalikimaka"
Hebrew ~ "Mo'adim Lesimkha"
Icelandic ~ "Gledileg Jol"
Indonesian ~ "Selamat Hari Natal"
Irish ~ "Nollaig Shona Dhuit"
Italian ~ "Buone Feste Natalizie"
Japanese ~ "Kurisumasu Omedeto"
Korean ~ "Sung Tan Chuk Ha"
Lithuanian ~ "Linksmu Kaledu"
Malay ~ "Selamat Hari Natal"
Maori ~ "Meri Kirihimete"
Norwegian ~ "God Jul"
Romanian ~ "Craciun Fericit"
Peruvian ~ "Felices Fiestas"
Portugese ~ "Boas Festas"
Slovakian ~ "Vesele Vianoce"
Spanish ~ "Feliz Navidad"
Swedish ~ "God Jul"
Welsh ~ "Nadolig Llawen"

Christmas Gifts:

In 1947, Toys for Tots started making the holidays a little happier for children by organizing its first Christmas toy drive for needy youngsters.

In an effort to solicit cash to pay for a charity Christmas dinner in 1891, a large crab pot was set down on a San Francisco street, becoming the first Salvation Army collection kettle.

The first charity Christmas card was produced by UNICEF in 1949. The picture chosen for the card was painted not by a professional artist but by a seven-year-old girl. The girl was Jitka Samkova of Rudolfo, a small town in the former nation of Czechoslovakia. The town received UNICEF assistance after World War II, inspiring Jitka to paint some children dancing around a maypole. She said her picture represented "joy going round and round."

All Christmas traditions I whole-heartedly embrace. Hearing what I hear from the many callers needing assistance each year at this time, I am very happy these charities are still around...Sigh...the problem is...they do not even come close to giving all the aid that is needed.

Christmas Music

The custom of singing Christmas carols is very old - the earliest English collection was published in 1521.
Christmas caroling began as an old English custom called Wassailing - toasting neighbors to a long and healthy life.

The "Twelve Days of Christmas" was originally written to help Catholic children, in England, remember different articles of faith during the persecution by Protestant Monarchs.
The "true love" represented God, and the gifts all different ideas:

The "Partridge in a pear tree" was Christ
2 Turtle Doves = The Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity-- the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists

5 Golden Rings = The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which relays the history of man's fall from grace
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of Creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments

8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes

9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments

11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles

12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

Silent Night was written in 1818, by an Austrian priest Joseph Mohr. He was told the day before Christmas that the church organ was broken and would not be prepared in time for Christmas Eve. He was saddened by this and could not think of Christmas without music, so he wanted to write a carol that could be sung by choir to guitar music. He sat down and wrote three stanzas. Later that night the people in the little Austrian Church sang "Stille Nacht" for the first time.

The popular Christmas song "Jingle Bells" was composed in 1857 by James Pierpont, and was originally called "One-Horse Open Sleigh."

The morning after he wrote the song, "White Christmas" — Berlin usually stayed up all night writing — the songwriter went to his office and told his musical secretary, "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — hell, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"

When I examine many of my favorite Christmas memories, all are filled with these sounds of the season. Singing Christmas hymns at Christmas Eve Services, caroling with family members, the church youth group or scout groups, attending Christmas Concerts, singing Christmas songs in the car as we traveled to a relative''s home for the family gathering, watching the old Christmas musicals from the 40's and 50's. I find it rather interesting that there are so very few new Christmas songs written and recorded.

Mistletoe Kisses

Long before it was used as a "kiss encourager" during the Christmas season, mistletoe had long been considered to have magic powers by Celtic and Teutonic peoples. It was said to have the ability to heal wounds and increase fertility. Celts hung mistletoe in their homes in order to bring themselves good luck and ward off evil spirits.

I really like mistletoe. My parents always had mistletoe hanging in the house. Thinking about it, why shouldn't it be considered to have healing (magical) powers? Kissing is touch, touch is healing, which in turn leaves us feeling warm and loved thus not filled with evil spirits. In addition kisses often lead to more intimacy...thus an increase in fertility...makes sense to me.

Christmas Wishes:

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. "
~Hamilton Wright Mabi~

"Let Us Keep Christmas
Whatever else be lost among the years,

Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing;
Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears,
Let us hold close one day, remembering

It's poignant meaning for the hearts of men.
Let us get back our childlike faith again. "
~ Grace Noll Crowell~

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home

"May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas which is peace;
The heart of Christmas which is love."
Ada V. Hendricks~

Something that is renewed each year...these feelings of hope, and faith in the basic goodness of our fellow man...even the most cynical of us...seem to feel it.

Or, maybe not...

Christmas Cynicism

"I hear that in many places something has happened to Christmas; that it is changing from a time of merriment and carefree gaiety to a holiday which is filled with tedium; that many people dread the day and the obligation to give Christmas presents is a nightmare to weary, bored souls; that the children of enlightened parents no longer believe in Santa Claus; that all in all, the effort to be happy and have pleasure makes many honest hearts grow dark with despair instead of beaming with good will and cheerfulness.
Julia Peterkin "A Plantation Christmas" (1934)~

In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it 'Christmas' and went to church; the Jews called it 'Hanukkah' and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say 'Merry Christmas!' or 'Happy Hanukkah!' or (to the atheists) 'Look out for the wall!"
Dave Barry "Christmas Shopping: A Survivor's Guide"~

"Christmas begins about the first of December with an office party and ends when you finally realize what you spent, around April fifteenth of the next year."
P. J. O'Rourke~

In the United States Christmas has become the rape of an idea."
Richard Bach~

Christmas Quiz

Can you name Santa's Eight Tiny Reindeer?

Which reindeer is not mentioned in the poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas?

Who were the four ghosts in Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol"?

It is estimated that 400,000 people become sick each year from eating ____ _________?

Christmas links: (Merry Christmas in different languages)

Quiz answers:
Santa's Reindeers are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen
Reindeer not mentioned was Rudolph.
Ghosts: Jacob Marley, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Sick: Tainted leftovers


Maddy said...

You have been busy researching. WE since the 12 days of Christmas every night in December just before bed.
BEst wishes

This is my calling card or link"Whittereronautism"which takes you straight to my new blog.

S'mee said...

How do you do it Sunny? It must have taken ages.

We don't give many presents, only to immediate family, but we do give a something to charity. This year it's to a little charity that goes out to Chernigov, near Chernobyl, each year and organises a children's party for their Christmas Jan 7th. Most of the kids are still suffering from the after effects of what happened there in 1986.

X. Dell said...

Wow. You know how I love trivia. Thanks for the early Christmas present.

A friend of mine (a witch) has put up an audio post about the pagan roots of the Christmas holiday. I knew vaguely that some traditions were pagan in origin, but didn't realize how many.

As for your quiz, I know the first three answers. My first guess for the fourth one would have been chitlins, but I don't think you could get 400,000 people to eat them.

X. Dell said...

Wow. You know how I love trivia. Thanks for the early Christmas present.

A friend of mine (a witch) has put up an audio post about the pagan roots of the Christmas holiday. I knew vaguely that some traditions were pagan in origin, but didn't realize how many.

As for your quiz, I know the first three answers. My first guess for the fourth one would have been chitlins, but I don't think you could get 400,000 people to eat them.