Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Legend and Lore

The Christmas Tree

A legacy from Germany, that possibly began in the 8th century.  The Christian missionary St. Boniface led a group of German converts into the forest to chop down a sacred oak of the god Odin, and the felled tree uncovered a small fir.  St. Boniface instructed his followers to take fir trees into their homes because the branches point toward heaven and the Christ child.
Other legends credit Martin Luther, who was inspired by a stroll on a starry winter’s night.  He placed candles on an evergreen tree to create an allegory for his children, using the array of tiny flames to represent the stars in the sky over Bethlehem.

My young daughters (in Santa caps) help with Library Storytime 

The Yule Log

Scandinavian Norsemen thought of the year as a wheel.  At the winter solstice, on December 22, they lit bonfires to celebrate the triumph of the sun over darkness.  To fuel the raging fires, they used enormous pieces of wood.  These logs became known as Yule logs, the word Yule coming from the Norse word for wheel.
Over the centuries, the custom endured and slowly evolved.  In England, tradition dictated that the Yule log be lit on Christmas Eve and burned for a period each day until Twelfth Night.  The charred remainder was then positioned under a bed to fight off fires, lightning, and evil spirits, until the following Christmas, when it became kindling for the new Yule log.
In some places today, the custom is enjoying a revival, again warmly marking the days of Christmas.

St. Nicholas

Despite European beginnings, St. Nick is a unique American tradition.
A humorous tale by Washington Irving described the early Dutch settlers’ fondness for Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas.  In Irving’s story, the jolly old man is first described flying over rooftops and dropping presents down chimneys.  In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore drew from this story when he penned his famous poem A Visit from St. Nicholas. And it was during the Civil War that Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, gave Santa his now-famous and traditional appearance.  He sketched the old gent with a round belly, dressed in fur-trimmed garb, and smoking a clay pipe.  
Today’s Santa, as he listens to children’s wish lists and smiles with them for the camera, still looks the way Moore and Nast depicted him.

Greetings Cards

Sir Henry Cole, an Englishman, found the task of writing personal greetings to all of his associated more than he could face.  Partly inspired by the inexpensive postal rates, he decided to commission an artist to create a scene that expressed his sentiments; then he added a message and had a thousand cards printed.  Those he didn’t use were sold through a local shop, and as he predicted, he was the not the only person with too little time—the custom is now part of our culture.


In merry old England, revelers went from house to house spreading the cheer of the season.  To all who bade them welcome, they drank a toast from a bowl of steaming wassail, which was hot ale topped with toasted apples.  Today we still sing the English carol:  “Love and joy come to you and to you your wassail too, and God bless you and send you a Happy New Year, and God send you a Happy New Year.”


A “carol” is a joyous song, especially about Christmas.  Many of the older carols, like Away In A MangerThe First Noel, and We Three Kings tell about the birth of Christ.  In a way, they are Christmas stories set to music.  Around Christmas time, carols are sung in many places besides church. 
It’s fun to go “Christmas caroling.”  Groups of friends both and small can be heard singing carols from house to house in the evenings.  Sometimes caroling groups bring a special cheer by singing at nursing homes and hospitals.


Epiphany (a Greek word that means arrival) falls on January 6 and is the last of the 12 days of Christmas.  This marks the day that the three Magi found the Christ Child in a stable in Bethlehem and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Each present given at Christmastime today is an echo of those first, most-precious gifts.

Boxing Day

December 26th in England, Australia, and Canada, is called Boxing Day because traditionally people give presents or money to employees and servants.  The day is named after the little clay boxes in which the money was given in medieval days. 
Christmas Tree Star or Angel:  The star reminds people of the star of Bethlehem that led the three wise men to Jesus.  The angel reminds people of the angel Gabriel who told Mary she would be the mother of God’s son, and the angel who told the shepherds the news of Jesus’ birth.


A “crèche,” an old French word meaning “crib” or “manager,” is a model of the Nativity scene, reminding people of the night Jesus was born.  Inside a model stable are the figures of Mary and Joseph looking at the Baby Jesus lying in the manger.  They are usually surrounded by figures of the shepherds and their sheep, and the three wise men with their camels.  In some towns, large crèches are put up in the middle of town.  Many people also have small crèches in their homes.

The History and Explanations of Santa Claus

That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up.  They forget.  They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old. ~Walt Disney

Here is the best history I have found about St. Nicholas, or "Santa Claus" and I also like the way the letter to Virginia explained Santa Clause.  Even more amusing is the Disney movie, The Santa Clause:

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