I have loved dolls, history, and the Victorian Era since I was little and can credit my grandmother for that. As a young girl she gave me a Godey’s Fashion print for August 1870 from my great, great Aunt Flossie. I was captivated by the dresses and became hooked. I just love to research everything and anything about the Victorian Era. I also love to design Victorian dolls. I hope you enjoy my Victorian Dolls, Victorian Traditions,The Victorian Era, and Me blog.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Yes, Linda, There Really Is a Santa Claus!

I can remember my Mother telling me that, as I'm sure most of you can too. We all know Santa as the familiar image with his red suit, sled or sleigh, reindeer's, and sacks of toys delivering packages to "all the good girls and boys!" I love the Christmas season and I always have. It is by far one of my favorite times of the year.

The familiar image of Santa Claus is an American invention that first appeared in a drawing by Thomas Nast in Harper's Magazine in 1868 (see picture on the right). Thomas Nast helped create the kinder, more fatherly, plumper Santa as we know him today. But, Thomas Nast wasn't the only person to contribute to this legend. Clement Clarke Moore was a huge contributor as in 1822 he published his poem "A visit From St. Nicholas," bittern known as "The Night Before Christmas." His poem is the first mention of a sleigh powered by "eight tiny reindeer" and mentioning their names.

The legend of Father Christmas, however, is ancient and far more complex. Part of the legend is attributed to St. Nicholas and part to a jovial medieval figure in the "Spirit of Christmas." In Russia, Father Christmas carries a piglet under one arm. St. Nicholas is also know as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Heilige Nikolaus, and Pere Noel.

In the early part of the 19Th century there was a revival of a Viking tradition of a jovial, winter figure who was associated with the winter festival. He was referred to as the "Spirit of Christmas." It was believed that by inviting him in through the "front door" to join in your holiday feasting, that the winter would be kind. The "Spirit of Christmas" was subsequently renamed "Father Christmas". Instead of him visiting through the front door, his visits were to be a surprise, with him arriving during the night and down the chimney. Victorian children would write letters to him and then throw them into the fireplace. Why burn the letters? Because, my dear, Father Christmas can read smoke.

But, where did St. Nicholas really come from? It is said that St. Nicholas was born in 245 A.D. in Patara near Fethiye and died in 326 A.D. having spent his life in Anatolia (which I believe is in Turkey.) St. Nicholas was the son of a wealthy family and had a good education. He became the Bishop of Demur, trying to solve the problems of his people in a most humane way. He devoted himself to mankind. He was known as the protector of children and sailors. In a number of countries the death of St. Nicholas is commemorated by the giving of presents to children.

But, how did the legend really begin? Well, it is said that St. Nicholas heard of a family with three daughters who were unable to wed as they had no dowry. St. Nicholas had come from a wealthy family and had given up all his worldly possessions to become a bishop. He took 3 bags of gold coins and dropped them down the family's chimney. The coins landed in the girls stockings that had been hung to dry on the fireplace (ah, that's where stockings come from!) St. Nicholas was caught in the act by the girls father, but he begged him to keep his secret. Two days later, however the entire village heard of his gift and so the tradition of stockings and St. Nicholas began.

In 1951-1955 St. Nicholas became synonymous with Santa Claus and in 1955 a Father Christmas stamp was issued. St. Nicholas devoted his life to his love of humanity, love for people of all different religions and beliefs. Most of all, his love for peace, friendship, and brotherhood.

Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or St. Nicholas is also a favorite of all crafters and doll makers. Why? Because we can make him anything we want him to be. Jovial, fat, skinny, Victorian, woodland, primitive, ugly. It doesn't matter. We love them all. Well, at least I do.

But, no matter what Santa Claus looks like the message is always the same. "Ho!Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!"

So, this Christmas season when you are hurrying around to get everything done and are fighting the crowd of shoppers just remember that St. Nicholas's message is one of peace, love, and humanity. Slow down, take a breath, and enjoy the season. And, remember these words from a very old, wise, good man: "Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Our Christmas Pin Tradition

If you're a reader of my Linda's Blog then you know that I've been writing a series of Christmas Tradition articles. In light of that I just wanted to share with you a wonderful, sentimental Christmas tradition that my Dad started a long time ago. My Dad wanted to give "his girls" meaning my Mother, myself, and my sister something special for Christmas. Back then the term "his girls" did not imply the possessive chauvinistic implications that it does today. To my Dad it was nothing more then a term of endearment. One that separated us from "his boys", my brothers.

So my Dad decided to buy each of "his girls" a special Christmas pin to wear during the holidays. He bought us pins the first year, and then the second, and so on and so on and so on. My wonderful husband decided to carry my Dad's tradition on after he passed away. So, every year he gives me a Christmas pin. Sometimes he can't decide which one he likes best so I get two special Christmas pins. That's okay with me as I cherish each and every one of them.

Every year I take them all out and look at them. What always amazes me is how they have changed in design from the first pin I received (the little Bambi deer above) to my latest (the candy canes above). And, believe it or not, I don't have any duplicates. Also (and I know this will be hard to believe), I don't have any "dollies." So, a heartfelt thanks to you Dad for starting this tradition and a heartfelt and sentimental thanks to my husband for continuing his pin tradition.

If you don't have your own special tradition, perhaps this little article will inspire you to start one. May each and every one of you have a wonderful holiday season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Caroling, Caroling, Now We Go Christmas Bells Are Ringing.....

Caroling & carolers - another long lost tradition. Unfortunately, I think the lovely Christmas tradition of caroling for your neighbors has been replaced with collecting caroling dolls. Not that I think collecting any kind of doll is bad. It's just that caroling and singing holiday songs is such a lovely way to wish your neighbors a wonderful, holiday season. So, before we lose the tradition I think we need to understand why the tradition began.

Well, what exactly is a "carol." For most, a carol is a song of rejoicing associated with festive occasions and religious celebrations. The word "caroling" originally meant a circle dance accompanied by a song and carols have carried on the glad tidings of Christmas since medieval times. Unlike hymns, carols are often light and gay.

According to one religious legend, the very first carol was sung by the angels announcing Christ's birth to the shepherds. Some say the tradition of caroling began as early as the 1400s when wandering minstrels performed songs in exchange for donations to be given to the needy. Later, the English night watchmen would sing while making their rounds at holiday times. In the United States, until about 100 years ago carols were limited to only being sung in church. At that time, the practice of singing door to door became a popular and joyous Christmas event.

In the mid 17th century when the celebration of Christmas was banned, the carols might have been lost forever. But, the carols were kept alive for almost 200 years by people singing them in private. With the invention of inexpensive printing processes in the 1800s, traditional carols were published in book form.

The origins of many popular carols, including "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "The First Noel," are unknown. However, one of the most famous carols, "Silent Night," was written in Austria by Josef Mohr and church organist, Franz Gruber when the church organ malfunctioned on Christmas Eve. Hurriedly Mohr wrote the song and asked Gruber to pick out a guitar accompaniment. The rest is history.

I can remember caroling as a child. We'd go out on a cold, windy night with our little caroling books and would stop at each of our neighbors houses. I couldn't sing worth beans, but that didn't seem to matter to me. Maybe that's why some of the neighbors never came out. Sometimes our neighbors would offer us hot cocoa, sometimes candy. Most of our neighbors would come outside while we were singing. Some didn't. In any event, it was a joyous event and one that I've never forgotten.

Well, you might not like caroling, but who doesn't love a Christmas Caroler doll. I've never seen one I didn't want (of course, I've never seen a doll I didn't want either.) That's beside the point. Anyways, I've made many caroler dolls myself either out of wood, cloth, terra cotta, pinecones, etc.

When I was a child every Christmas we'd have a family Christmas craft project. One year my Father and I made a white styrofoam church which housed a lighted angel. Outside it was decorated with wax candles (you remember those, don't you?) of lots and lots of carolers. The light from the angel lit up the church's steeple and was such a beautiful sight for many years. Styrofoam, however, doesn't last forever and neither do wax candles. In any event, the tradition of a family Christmas crafting event can be so much fun for the whole family and provide everyone with a lifetime of memories.

If you decide to get the whole family involved in a Christmas crafting project please make sure that while you're crafting that you're singing Christmas carols and have the hot cocoa waiting.

"Caroling, caroling, now we go Christmas Bells are ringing.................." Linda, when are you going to learn how to sing?

Come on everyone, sing along!

Caroling, caroling, now we go
Christmas bells are ringing
Caroling, caroling thru the snow
Christmas bells are ringing
Joyous voices sweet and clear
Sing the sad of heart to cheer
Ding dong, ding dong
Christmas bells are ringing!

Caroling, caroling thru the town
Christmas bells are ringing
Caroling, caroling up and down
Christmas bells are ringing
Mark ye well the song we sing
Gladsome tidings now we bring
Ding dong, ding dong
Christmas bells are ringing!

Caroling, caroling, near and far
Christmas bells are ringing
Following, following yonder star
Christmas bells are ringing
Sing we all this happy morn
"Lo, the King of heaven is born!"
Ding dong, ding dong
Christmas bells are ringing!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Who Doesn't Love Christmas Presents!

Who doesn't love Christmas presents? I know I do. I love to receive them, but the best part is in giving a present and watching the delight on the face of the recipient, especially if it is the face of a child. When I was a child, I could hardly wait for Christmas. I used to save my allowance all year so that I could buy Christmas presents for my family. If I didn't have the money to buy presents then I made them.

I can remember one Christmas when I was looking around our house to see if I could find the Christmas presents my Mother had hidden all over the house. In particular, I was looking under the bed in my parents room when my Mother caught me with bedspread in hand. YIKES! Caught red-handed. Well, my Mother decided to teach me a lesson. She opened all the presents and showed me every one of them. She said that my presents would all be wrapped and under the tree on Christmas Day, but the fun would be gone as I would already know what I was getting. That way, she surmised I'd learn my lesson. Well, she was right. I never looked again.

However,my knowing what my presents were that year didn't diminish the enjoyment that I got from the presents that I gave to others. I still love Christmas and it is still a HUGE holiday in my family. My husband and I spend days wrapping presents. He wraps the presents. I decorate them (for a crafter, so much fun). I'm always trying to come up with new ways to decorate them. Sometimes my recipients don't want to open them. They just look too darn pretty.

In any event, where did the idea of giving Christmas presents come from? Well, we have to credit St. Nicholas (you remember my previous post, don't you?) for this. St. Nicholas who was a bishop in Turkey heard of a family with three daughters who were unable to wed as they had no dowry. St. Nicholas had come from a wealthy family and had given up all his worldly possessions to become a bishop. He took 3 bags of gold coins and dropped them down the chimney. The coins landed in the girls stockings that had been hung to dry on the fireplace. St. Nicholas was caught in the act by the girls father, but he begged him to keep his secret. Two days later, however the entire village heard of his gift and so the tradition of stockings and St. Nicholas began.

For me, there is no better present then a "hug!" Especially if it comes from one of my grandchildren. Second to that, however, is a "handmade" present. This tradition we have to credit to the Victorians, once again, as the making of Christmas presents was seen as a way to enliven the long winter evenings leading up to Christmas. The planning and making of gifts started months in advance. Daughters would help their Mothers with sewing and needlework. Family members spent a lot of time designing personal gifts for each other. Long hours were spent together planning and creating their special gifts.

For the Victorians the notion of a homemade gift was more sentimentally appealing then a gift bought at a store. I, for one, couldn't agree with them more.

Images - http://www.ccdsvictoriantubeheaven.com

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Just Hang Us Anywhere!

Why do crafters love wreaths? Because wreaths are inviting and they convey warmth and warm welcomes. Wreaths can be made of real evergreens or made of fabric, wire, bamboo, pinecones, dried florals, wood, grapevine, straw, combination wood and grapevine, etc. They can be created in any shape and can fit any season. Therefore, the possibilities for decorations are endless.

I'm made numerous kinds of wreaths and have them up all year long varying them by the holiday or season. For me, I like the combination of wood, grapevine, floral, and fabric used in one way or another on one wreath. Kind of combines everything I like to do. I've even found ways to combine my love of dolls with my wreaths.

But, my favorite wreath is a Christmas wreath. Why? I'm not sure. There's just something about the Christmas holidays and the bright red and green colors that draws me to it. Something about the endless possibilities for placement. A Christmas wreath can look good just about anywhere.

So, as usual, I got to thinking about the origins of the Christmas wreath and wanted to find out about this tradition.

When you think about Christmas wreaths the Advent Wreath with all its religious significances may come to mind. Or, just a plain evergreen wreath with a red velvet bow hung on a door might be what you think of.

The Christmas Wreath is usually a circle which symbolizes continuance - and is never ending. Christmas wreaths are traditionally made with evergreens, which symbolize life. They are often decorated with other natural plant parts, such as pine cones, red ribbons and holly berries. But, they can be as varied as any other type of wreath.

As with a lot of traditions, the wreath creation and use dates back to a time when warding off evil spirits was paramount. The idea of the wreath dates back to the ancient Germanic custom of a wreath made of straw and/or evergreen boughs, tied with colorful ribbons (but mostly red and gold) which would be hung on doors to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the occupants.

So, if you're looking for something to ward off evil spirits, to convey a warm welcome to your guests, or just for a lovely decoration, then wreaths fit the bill.

"Wreaths can hang inside or outside."
"They don't care."
"They just want to be hung, anywhere."

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Oh, Don't Stand Under The Mistletoe!

I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the long lost Christmas celebration traditions, like mistletoe, to see when and where they started. So, let's begin with bells:

Bells - The ringing of bells originated from pagan mid-winter festivities. They believed that the cold, sunless winters made the evil spirits more powerful. One way to drive the evil spirits away was to make a lot of noise. The bells suited this purpose as you could ring a bell while at the same time you were singing or shouting above it. Believe me, if there were evil spirits near me I'd drop the bells and go running for the hills, yelling at the top of my lungs!
Candles - The Christmas Candle is another tradition which evolved from the pagan mid-winter festivities. It was believed that light was also a way to keep evil spirits away. Those evil spirits just won't go away, will they? It was customary in Victorian England to place lighted candles in the windows during the 12 days of Christmas as a sign to weary travelers that food and shelter could be found here. Also, it was a signal that there were no evil spirits there, or so the wanderer thought.

Holly - Holly was considered magical because of its shiny leaves and its ability to bear fruit during the winter. It was believed that in liquid syrup it would stop coughs and that when hung over one's bed would induce sweet dreams. The prickly holly is called "he" (what a surprise) and the non-prickly holly is called "she" (surprise, surprise). Tradition says that the type of holly which is first brought into the house determines who will rule the household for the coming year. My guess would be that A LOT of non-prickly holly is the first to enter the households.

Christmas Pudding - I can't say as if I've ever had Christmas pudding. The tradition surrounding the Christmas pudding originated in the 14th century. It was actually a porridge made by boiling beef and mutton which was combined with raisins, currants, prunes, wines and spices (sounds delicious, doesn't it?) It was made in large copper kettles and prepared several weeks before Christmas with all of the household members particitpating.

Each member of the household had to take their turn at stirring the stew and making a wish. By the 1600's the addition of eggs and breadcrumbs, ale and spirits (of course), improved its taste significantly. As with other Christmas traditions, Christmas pudding was banned during the Protestant Reformation, but re-established as part of the traditional Christmas feast by King George I. Tradition calls for a silver coin to be placed in the pudding along with a ring, button and thimble. Somewhat dangerous, I would think, especially for small children. It was believed that the finders of these objects in their Christmas pudding would be given the gift of wealth, be married within the year or be doomed to bachelor or spinsterhood.

First Footing - This tradition sounds a lot like Santa Claus coming to me. In any event, in some countries, first-footing takes place at the New Year. In England, it occurs on Christmas Day. The first-footer is the first person to enter the house and, according to tradition, is said to let in Christmas. In some areas, he is a professionally hired First Footer (try putting that on your resume) to make sure that the tradition is carried out properly. He carries an evergreen twig, and comes in through the front door. He then passes through the house and exits through the rear (sounds like a burglar to me.) According to tradition, you may give him salt or bread or some other small gift as a symbol of your hospitality. Boy, at least Santa Clause gets cookies. This poor man gets salt and bread. Also, according to tradition he has dark hair, not red and is always a male. I'm not sure what to say about that!

The Kissing Bough (or the Kissing Ball) - Ah! Now this seems like a nice tradition. Until the introduction of the Christmas tree, the kissing bough was the primary piece of decorative greenery in the English Christmas. It was formed in the shape of a double hoop with streamers going up to a central point and was made up of evergreen boughs, holly, ivy, apples, pears, ribbons and other ornaments along with lighted candles. A sprig of mistletoe was hung from its center (wonder what that's for?) As the name implies, any lady who accidentally (yeah, accidentally, like we'd believe that) wanders under the kissing bough has to pay the price and allows herself to be kissed. That's okay as long as you're kissing a prince. With my luck, I'd probably end up kissing a frog. Maybe he'd turn into a prince.
Wassail - The word wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon term was hale, which means be well. It means to drink a toast to one's health or to express good will at a festive event. The tradition of wassailing, as with a lot of traditions, started as a pagan agricultural festival. In order to increase the yield of the apple orchards, the pagans believed that the trees needed to be toasted in the winter. So, during the twelve days of Christmas, the pagans would visit selected trees from various orchards which were either sprinkled with the wassail mixture, or had a bottle of wassail broken against their trunk. The wassail mixture consisted of mulled ale, cider or wine with sugar, roasted apples or eggs in it.

The Yule Log - We touched on this briefly in another of my Linda's Blog articles. After Christmas all the branches of the tree are removed and the trunk is saved to be decorated in the spring as a "May Pole." After the May Pole ceremonies are finished the decorations are removed and the trunk is cut into pieces. The largest log is then saved for the following Christmas to become the Yule Log.

The tradition of the Yule log has very deep pagan roots, as well. Surprise! Surprise! It stemmed from the Celtic, Teutons, and Druids burning the logs in their winter ceremonies in celebration of the sun. The selection of the log took on the utmost of importance and was surrounded by a ceremony. According to tradition, the largest end of the log is placed into the hearth while the rest of the tree trunk sticks out into the room. The new log is lit from the remains of the previous year's log which had been carefully stored away.

Many superstitions surround the Yule Log. It had to be ignited the first time a flame was put to it or bad luck would surely follow. Also, it had to be lit with a stick saved from the fire from the year before or the house would burn down. And, unless charcoal from the great fire was kept under the family beds for the following year (what fun), the house might be struck by lightning. Burning the log was said to bring good luck in the new year, as well as protection from fire in the home from which it is burned.

Fruitcake - Ah, fruitcakes! Who doesn't love a fruitcake? I for one have never had one. Don't know why. It just never appealed to me to eat something that was over a year old. Plus, I just never really liked the looks of them.

In any event, fruitcakes started with the Romans who needed to find a way to sustain their armies in faraway lands. Lucky Romans! The fruitcake became so popular in Europe that it was a law that fruitcake (also known as plum cake) could only be served on certain holidays and only on the most important milestones (e.g., weddings and funerals). Boy, they must have really loved their fruitcakes!

Prior to the 1700's, crusaders and hunters carried fruitcakes to sustain themselves over long periods of time away from home. Nowadays fruitcake is generally associated with Christmas. It has, however, since the 1700's been used in ceremonial celebrations of all kinds throughout Europe, including religious holidays, harvest celebrations, birthdays and weddings.

Traditionally, the top layer of the wedding cake called the "Bride's Cake", was a dark fruitcake that was removed and stored for the bridal couple to savor on their anniversaries. Oh, Boy! Lucky couple! A separate piece of fruitcake from the "Groom's cake" was wrapped in a wedding napkin, tied with a white ribbon and put at each guest's place at the table. Single women would put it under their pillow to dream of a groom of their own (I'm not sure I'd want to sleep with fruitcake under my pillow.)
Most people today feel that fruitcake is best used as a doorstop, as a gift for someone else, or just plain thrown away. I don't even know anyone who has ever baked a fruitcake. Do you?
This tradition can definitely become a long long tradition from which it is never to return.

Mistletoe - We touched on mistletoe a little in the paragraph above under the Kissing Bough. Mistletoe is a plant with white berries and has been used as a decoration in houses for thousands of years. It's also associated with many pagan rituals. Marriage ceremonies always included kissing under mistletoe. For Scandinavians, the goddess of love (Frigga) is strongly associated with mistletoe. The early church viewed this as a pagan ceremony and tried to stamp it out. In spite of this attempt the mistletoe survived as a Yuletide symbol. The practice of kissing under the mistletoe has persisted, even in song. Hey! People just love to kiss!

Poinsettias - Poinsettas were added to Christmas tradition starting in 1828. According to tradition, Joel Roberts Poinsett, then the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, imported the plant from Mexico, which had a Christmas "miracle" story about how the plants leaves became red. 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. Personally, I love poinsetta's. I love to put a bunches of different colored small poinsetta plants together in a group and place several groups around the house.

So, now you know where some of these long lost Christmas traditions began. Personally, I think we can all do without the fruitcake, but that's me. Maybe you like your fruitcake. I'll take the Kissing Bough and mistletoe!

"Oh, don't stand under the mistletoe with anyone else but me,"
" anyone else but me! Anyone else but me!"
"Don't stand under the mistletoe with anyone else but me,"
"anyone else but me......."
Come on. Sing along....

Christmas Cards! A Wonderful Tradition!

Christmas Cards are such a wonderful tradition. They allow you to wish your friends and family a happy holiday season. They also provide a way to catch up on what is happening with everyone.

Sadly, however, Christmas Cards are becoming a long lost tradition. People just don't want or have the time anymore to send you a card.

I love Christmas Cards, especially if they contain a handwritten note or handwritten letter. The handwritten note signifies that the person actually stopped to write something to you. In this fast paced, no time for anything world that is important. Some Christmas Cards contain computerized notes informing everyone of what is happening with them and their families. In a computerized world this was bound to happen. This is fine as well.

Why do I love sending and receiving Christmas Cards? Because I love catching up with what is going on whether it's a handwritten note or a computerized letter. I cherish all the Christmas Cards that I have ever received with handwritten notes or computerized letters. For some of my friends this is the only correspondence that we have every year and provides a way for both of us to stay in touch. In fact, I have never thrown a Christmas Card with a handwritten note or computerized letter away. All of them are in my memory books (albeit I'm on Volume #32 now, but...). For someone like me who is getting older my memory books provide a means of looking back and remembering. The Christmas Cards provide the time frame.

I know my family would be astonished by this, too. I have kept every single Birthday card, Valentine's Day card, Anniversary card, Christmas card, etc. that I have ever received from anyone since I was about 7 years old. It's so nice to be able to go back and look at the cards I received and what was said by my beautiful Step-Daughter, Grandmothers, Grandfather, Old Family Friends, and my Father, all of whom are no longer with us. Re-reading them always brings back such warm and cherished memories for me. I know, call me an old softy. I admit it.

Okay, Linda, let's get back on track. Since, we're coming into the Christmas Card giving season I thought it would be a nice idea to take a look at this Christmas tradition for my Linda's Blog. So, where did the tradition of giving Christmas Cards begin?

Well (surprise, surprise), it began in Victorian England in 1843, the same year that Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol." John C. Horsley is actually credited with this, but it was actually at the suggestion of his friend, Sir Henry Cole, that the first Christmas Card was created and published.

It seems that Sir Henry Cole was caught in the mad holiday rush (sound familiar) and was unable to send the traditional written Christmas message to his friends and associates. Instead he sent them an illustrated holiday greeting. The card was divided into three panels and was designed by his friend John C. Horsley. The main illustration showed the three elders at a party raising wine glasses in a toast the side panels showed two Yuletide traditions - feeding the hungry and clothing the needy. The message inside 150 years later is still the most popular greeting of all: "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you." Henry Cole's cards caused quite a stir. Back then you could send letters for just a penny each (can you imagine 1 penny!)

In the 1860's greeting card companies began appearing all over England. In 1846 Christmas Cards started in America, but didn't really take off until 1920 when advances in printing technology added to the popularity of Christmas Cards. That's also when the color red started being associated with Christmas.

Christmas Cards started due to a mad rush and sadly, their decline may be due to a lack of time during the mad rush of the holiday season. I sincerely hope not. It is such a wonderful and lovely tradition. Sending warm holiday greetings is such a beautiful way to say "A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year To You!"

Have a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy, Healthy, and Safe New Year.

image -http://www.ccdsvictoriantubeheaven.com/

Christmas Means Presents! Doesn't It?

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." - Dr. Seuss

If you ask any child, "What does Christmas Mean?" they'd probably reply, "Christmas Means Presents!" But, is that really true? Besides the religious significance of Christmas, what does Christmas really mean? Where did all the Christmas traditions come from?

Christmas Day didn't become official until 354 when Pope Gregory proclaimed December 25th as the date of the Nativity. Pope Gregory was following an early church policy of absorbing pagan rituals into Christian beliefs. So, he incorporated the December 19th Roman Saturnalia celebration of the winter solstice and the coming of spring and the winter festival of Yule into the Christian Church. The Roman Saturnalia honored the God of Harvest and had seven days of riotous merrymaking and feasting. The Yule celebration incorporated giant logs, trimmed with greenery & ribbons, which were burnt in honor of the Gods so the sun would shine brightly.

In the Middle Ages, the Christian Church added the Nativity Crib and Christmas Carols to its customs. Lavish feasting was the highlight of the festivities. However, all the celebration came to an abrupt end in 1652 when the Puritans banned Christmas in England, which was followed seven years later in Massachusetts. Christmas returned to England in 1660, but a lot of the traditions didn't return until they were revived by the Victorians. The Victorians turned what was once a riotous free-for-all celebration into a family-oriented celebration. So, we can thank the Victorians for a lot of the Christmas family traditions that we have today. Not all of them, but a lot of them.

So, I thought it would be fun between now and Christmas to post some articles on my Linda's Blog about the various Christmas traditions and where they came from. So, let's start with one of my favorites "The Christmas Tree":

Christmas trees originated in Germany from an ancient pagan custom of bringing evergreens into your home. Evergreens were a symbol of life. It is said that Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546)was the first to use the Christmas Tree as a home decoration in Germany. While on a walk one Christmas Eve he noticed an evergreen tree shining in the moonlight. He couldn't forget this beautiful picture so he cut the tree down and returned home with it an decorated it with candles. He told his children that the tree should remind them of the brightness of Christmas and its message of the Savior's birth.

In Germany and in ancient northern cultures, after the December festivities, the branches of the evergreen were removed and the trunk was decorated on May 1st as a May Pole, celebrating a rebirth of spring. The tree was then cut up and the largest log was used the next December as the "Yule Log."

The Christmas Tree was introduced into England in the in 1841 by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who brought one into his house for his family. The tradition soon spread throughout England and then to America. However, as with a lot of traditions, the use of Christmas trees also caused an uproar. Some thought it was pagan idol. Eventually, it became acceptable to all.

So, it became fashionable to set up a large tree at Christmas and decorate it with lighted candles (far too dangerous today), candies, and fancy cakes hung from the branches by ribbons and paper chains. Just think, the ants and/or rats would have a field day if we did this today. All of the earliest Christmas tree ornaments were handmade.

The kinds of trees the Victorians chose would surprise you. They were not the fat, wonderfully full trees that we think of today. The first trees were small trees that could be placed on tabletops with a lot of room between the branches. Personally, I think this is kind of nice. In fact, I decided this year to forego the big 7' tree in favor of a 4' pre-lit tree that I'm going to place on a small table covered with a tree skirt. Hopefully, I'll like this smaller tradition and will continue it for years to come.

Most of the early Victorian ornaments were homemade. Homemade paper cornucopias filled with sweets, nuts and popcorn hung on many Victorian Christmas trees. Gingerbread men, popcorn strings (you remember those don't you), gilded nuts, paper ornaments, Paper chains (you remember those, too, don't you) and ribbons. Handmade paper toys and dolls hung from the branches.

Glass ornaments made their appearance in the 1860's, primarily in the homes of German immigrants. Other early ornaments were made of lead, like stars and crosses. Around 1870 "store bought" Christmas ornaments began to replace the homemade decorations. From the 1870's to the 1890's Victorian Christmas trees were trimmed with little dolls (my favorites), wax ornaments, shaped like angels or children. Cotton and wool ornaments were also used and decorated with paper faces, buttons, and paper wings.

In the 1890's technology and consumerism greatly contributed to the way in which Christmas trees were decorated. Many families still used handmade ornaments and made it a tradition with their children to make ornaments every year (a lovely tradition which some families still do today.) In 1903 the first strings of electric lights were invented and in the 1960's the artificial Christmas tree came to be.

For me, I prefer the smell of a real Christmas tree and homemade ornaments. However, real trees are far too dangerous (and too much work) and I too succumbed to using an artificial Christmas tree (very nice, but still artificial.) My ornaments, on the other hand, are all handmade. And, guess what? Yes, (this will come as a surprise to most of you) they are mainly dolls or florals. So, enjoy your Christmas tree however you decorate it and remember the words of these famous quotes:

"I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas Tree. The tree was planted in the middle of a great round table, and towered high above their heads. It was brilliantly lighted by a multitude of little tapers; and everywhere sparkled and glittered with bright objects." - Charles Dickens

"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall." Larry Wilde

Animated Tree Graphics by Victoriana.com, The Victorian Era Online