This Christmas week, I want to share some of my favorite Christmas lore with you. Much of this is already familiar, but I love thinking about it this time of year.
Did you know the custom of ornately decorating Christmas trees is fairly new? It was an old German custom that really took off in Victorian times when Queen Victoria married the German Prince Albert and starting decorating Christmas trees for him.
The first Victorian Christmas trees were fairly simple. Candles, glass balls, and tinsel prevailed. Back then, tinsel was a luxury reserved only for families who could afford to decorate with and dispose of precious metal. Later, foil-wrapped nuts, candied fruits, small toys and angel or star shaped cookies crept onto the trees. Soon after that Victorian ladies were creating highly embellished tasseled and beaded needlepoint ornaments for their family Christmas trees.
Do you know why we kiss under the mistletoe? I’m sure you do, but I’ll risk repeating myself. It’s a legend connected to an old Scandinavian myth. The beautiful hero-god Balder was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe. His mother the Norse Goddess Frigga was so distraught, she wept over the mistletoe until it bloomed with white berries in the heart of winter, a miracle. Her love and compassion brought Balder back to life. In gratitude for this miracle, she promised to kiss and bless all who stood under the mistletoe.
Did you know the original Saint Nicholas was a wealthy, Turkish, only child orphaned by the plague in 300 AD? He became a priest at the very young age of seventeen and began to give his wealth away to the poor, especially children. He was rumored to surprise people by tossing bags of gold coins down the chimney or lobbing coins through open windows hoping they would fall in the stocking hung in front of the fireplace to dry… Sound familiar?
He later became a Catholic Bishop and also a saint. This is why some early artwork depicts Saint Nicholas dressed in flowing Papal robes and miter. He was also strongly associated with the Catholic Church and when the Protestant Reformation came to England “Saint Nic” went underground. A new “Gift-Giver” and Father Christmas figure arose, but this Gift-Giver wore a suit of breeches and tunic not unlike the long beloved “Green-Man” of Celtic mythology.
The familiar name “Santa Claus” is actually an American corruption of the Dutch name for Father Christmas, which was “Sinterklaas”.
This season, no matter what faith you are, and regardless of how you may or may not celebrate the winter holidays, be conscious of the fact we are passing through history together and adding to the richness of the human story. The harshness of winter is a wonderful time to share our love and light with each other.
Merry Christmas and happy winter holidays to all.