Christmases Long Ago

Christmases Long Ago
by Jennifer LB Leese

What is it about Christmas that makes our hearts skip a beat? Maybe it's the sweet nostalgia found in such movies as A Christmas Story, It's Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. It could be the butterflies you get in your stomach every time you hear White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, or Christmas Shoes. Or maybe it's the feeling you get when you see Christmas lights on houses and trees, or images of the jolly round guy, and holly wreaths.
Christmastime brings out the child in all of us. It is seen in the awestruck gaze of children's eyes. It is in the wonder of surprise, the history of the season, and the tickling of hope and love.
There is a definite magic in the air this time of year. It is that magic that makes the grumpy neighbor a little bit nicer and people in general a little more patient.
Christmas isn't just about one thing. The history goes so deeply into our past, it can't help but be so much more. For me, it's the celebration of family and friends, sleigh bells, ice-skating, smells of sugar and spice, candles burning, roaring fires, decorated houses, Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, tinsel and garland, new toys, fancy glass ornaments, mistletoe, egg-nog, love, hope, peace, and contentment.
Christmas traditions are handed down from generation to generation. Some associate Christmas with hanging the same decorations in the same spot year after year, singing the same songs, eating the same food, and/or attending Christmas mass or a special holiday event.
Who Brings Your Presents?
Are your presents left under the tree, in a stocking, or in a shoe? Does Santa Clause deliver them or is it Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, or the Fairy Queen?
In the United States, Santa Clause leaves us presents for Christmas morning in stockings and under the tree. He also starts early by delivering them all on Christmas Eve.
Father Christmas delivers to good little children in England. He sneaks into the house and fills the stockings with gifts.
Now if you lived in France, The Christ Child would put gifts in your empty shoes, which you set out on the doorstep or by the fireplace.
In the Netherlands, you put hay and sugar inside a shoe on the night before Saint Nicholas Day for Saint Nicholas' horse. After the horse eats, Saint Nicholas repays you by filling your shoes with candy and tiny gifts.
The children in Spain also leave gifts for an animal. The camels of the Three Kings are given straw to eat and they leave gifts on Epiphany, twelve nights after Christmas.
In some parts of Germany you get gifts from a girl called Christkind. She wears a crown of candles and carries a basket full of gifts to the children.
In parts of Europe at Christmas time you might get a gift from a Ferocious-looking man with a sooty face. It'll be knight Rupprecht passing out gifts as he travels with Saint Nicholas.
Papa Noel delivers gifts for children in Brazil, Julinisse leaves them presents in Denmark, and Old Man Christmas is the one you'll get candy and small gifts from if you lived in Finland.
Christmas Tree and Decorations
Placing a small evergreen (undecorated) in our house started as early as 700 A.D. as a German tradition, it is said that the first decorated tree was introduced in Alsace, France in 1521 by the Princess Helene de Mecklembourg. Some believe we decorated the little tree because of people from Victorian times hung candies and cakes from it with ribbon
Others say it is connected to the Paradise tree that was decorated with apples during Advent in the 11th century to symbolize the Tree of Paradise.
The Today staff of The Tuscaloosa News' research states that Woolworths, in 1880, sold the first manufactured Christmas tree ornaments. They also report that "Martin Luther, in the 16th century, is said to have been the first person to put candles on a tree, and the first electrically lighted Christmas tree appeared in 1882. Calvin Coolidge in 1923 ceremoniously lit the first outdoor tree at the White House, starting that long tradition."
The hanging of mistletoe as a Christmas decoration has been used for thousands of years and is associated with pagan rituals. The kiss under the mistletoe is said to be associated with the Scandinavian goddess of love Frigga.
Teutonic people placed holly and other evergreens around the inside of their homes with the hopes of warding off bad winter weather and unwanted spirits.
The Christmas wreath is also comes from pagan beliefs. Pagans used the evergreen wreath with four candles during mid-winter rituals; each candle had it's own meaning- Earth, wind, fire, and water.
Rancher Paul Ecke is responsible for making the poinsettia the Christmas flower. Early 1920s, he introduced the first cultivator that could be grown as an indoor plant. He traveled all over the country encouraging poinsettia growers to market the plant for the holiday season.
Christmas Gifts
For many, whether they admit it or not, Christmas is about presents. Children nearly burst anticipating Christmas morning. Christmas's gift-giving tradition has its roots in the Three Kings' offerings to the infant Jesus. Giving and receiving presents is huge at Christmastime - after all, it is the largest annual economic spike for many nations. Ironically, Christmas Day is the least active day of the year for economically. This is also typically when most toy or game manufacturers introduce new products.
Electronics, such as digital cameras, camcorders, video games, video game systems, and televisions, is an enormous seller at Christmastime nowadays. Years ago popular gifts for children were toy trains, dolls, BB guns, toy soldiers, spinning tops, and jack in the boxes.
Christmas Food
Food is often associated with celebrations. Christmas is no exception. Christmas dinner ranges from duck to turkey, ham to prime rib, of course, all with the trimmings of potatoes, cranberries, hot rolls, and festive cakes and desserts. Depending on what your parents or grandparents ate for Christmas dinner has a lot to do with what you now have and serve.
Christmas Then and Now
If you think of Christmas' long ago, we've certainly advanced in our ideas of Christmas and celebrating the holiday.
Making ornaments from walnut shells, hanging real candy canes from the tree, making handmade Christmas cards, and going from house to house singing Christmas carols are rarely seen today.
Now with the age of video games, big screen televisions, and portable music players, the holiday season has become a time for big expenses and even bigger expectations.
All things considered, Christmas is how YOU want to celebrate it, but I do hope, whatever your "feelings" are toward the holiday, that you are teaching your children the specialness of the season. Do your children know what Christmas is all about?
I wish you a joyful present and a well remembered past. May the closeness of friends, the comfort of home, and the unity of the season, renew your spirits and I wish you a very Merry Christmas, all the happiest holidays, and all the luck the New Year could possibly bring to you.