A Web of Christmas
By: John Shepler
Shinnen Omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto, Froehliche Weihnachten, Glaedelig Jul, Joyeux Noel, Nollaig Shona Dhuit, Srozhdestvom Kristovym, Gong Tsok Sing Dan, Bing Ho Sun Hei. No matter how you say it...Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I've been searching the web for the spirit of Christmas this year and found some very interesting things. For instance, would you like to know a hundred languages? How about just being able to send season's greetings in 100 languages? You'll find a page of greetings that will help you spread joy to your friends around the world. "Joy to the world" is something we can all participate in these days, thanks to web sites and electronic mail. To all of you in Finland, "Hyvaa joulua".
Do you know that there is another holiday celebrated the day after Christmas? Boxing Day is celebrated in Canada, Australia, Britain and New Zealand. No, it has nothing to do with prize fighting. Boxing Day originated in Medieval England at the castles and manor houses, where workers would gather for the Christmas holiday. The day after Christmas, also known as St. Stephen's day, the lord and lady of the estate would provide the workers with their annual distribution of cloth, tools, shoes, spices, meat and cereals. These would be loaded into barrels and boxes. As society changed, servants in Britain would carry small donation boxes to their masters, who would deposit coins in lieu of goods, although some employers observed the tradition by giving boxes of turkeys or beverages to their staff.
Do you know how the Christmas tree originated? During the time of Advent in the 11th century, scenes called mysteries were popular. A common theme included a tree decorated with red apples to symbolize the tree of Paradise. By the 15th century, people began putting trees in their houses on the feast day of Adam and Eve, December 24. The first modern decorated Christmas tree is said to have appeared in Alsace in 1521 and became popular in France, Germany and Austria. Prince Albert set one up at Windsor Castle in 1841, and the custom quickly spread in Victorian England. The trees included garlands, candies and paper flowers. Most ornaments were homemade, and candles were used to light the tree. They had to be careful to not really light the tree with those open flames.
Are you aware that it is unlucky to buy a Yule log? It has to be a very special log, as its mission is to keep the house safe from fire and lightning during the year. A lucky log must be brought in from your own land or that of a neighbor and put into the hearth on Christmas Eve. It better be a dry one, as it must catch fire on the first attempt or misfortune is sure to befall you during the next year. No touching with dirty hands. That would show disrespect for the log and no telling what the consequences could be. While the log burns for the requisite twelve hours, it is traditional to sip cider and tell ghost stories while shadows flicker on the wall. Woe unto you if you cast a headless shadow. You aren't likely to be around for the lighting of the next Yule log.
That's spookier than Marley's ghost banging around in those chains. The French started something more, shall we say, "tasteful"? It is the "buche de noel", a rolled sponge cake frosted in chocolate and decorated to look like a Yule log. It is served after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at a meal called reveillon. We Americans have taken this one step further and made the entire Yule log out of ice cream, just about as far as one can get from blazing wood.
How about candy canes? Do you know where they came from? After Christmas trees became popular in Europe, they were decorated with cookies and candies, including straight white sticks of sugar candy. A choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral decided to have some of these made with bent ends to represent shepherd's crooks. He passed them out to the boys and girls who came to the cathedral, mostly to keep them quiet during services. Later the canes were decorated with sugar roses, although it wasn't until the 20th century that they acquired the red stripes they have today.
One of our most beloved American short stories is O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi." With a deadline looming and no story forthcoming, his editor planted himself on O. Henry's couch while an illustrator pressed the author for something of an idea to draw. "Just draw a picture of a poorly furnished room...on the bed, a man and a girl are sitting side by side. They're talking about Christmas. The man has a watch fob in his hand,. The girl's principle feature is her long beautiful hair... That's all I can think of now, but the story is coming." It came, no doubt, from the recesses of the man who called himself O. Henry, William Sydney Porter's own life experiences. He was bank teller locked up for embezzlement, who rose to literary fame in just nine years but eventually died in a New York hospital with 23 cents in his pocket. His story that is so much a part of our Christmas tradition was written in 3 hours, while the illustrator drew and the editor waited on the couch... an O. Henry story in itself.
Best wishes to you and yours for the happiest of holidays. Selamat Hari Natal, Mele Kalikimaka, Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia, God Jul, Nadolig Llawen, Sarbatori vesele, Merry Keshmish and Feliz Navidad.
Also visit these related sites:
Merry Christmas in Many Languages - from Afrikaans to Yoruba, here's how we say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year around the world.
The Gift of the Magi - You're invited to read O. Henry's Christmas story, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.
Santa and his Reindeer - Track Santa and his famous reindeer as they fly around the world this Christmas Eve. Also get the inside scoop on the sleigh and Donner's real name.
NORAD Santa Tracking - The North American Air Defense Command will be tracking Santa's flight on Christmas Eve. Click on the flag appropriate to your language.
I Want a Baby Elephant for Christmas - I'll bet if you sing along to these lyrics you'll get an idea for last minute Christmas gifts!
Copyright 1998 - 2017 by John E. Shepler. Linking to this article is welcome, but no online republication is permitted. Print media republication rights are available at reasonable rates. Contact me at: John (at) JohnShepler.com
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First Published: December 13, 1998 as part of A Positive Light