Friday, December 2, 2016

Christmas Lore

The History of the Christmas Kettle

In 1891, Captain Joseph McFee wanted to help vulnerable people in San Francisco, especially during the Christmas season..but he had no funds to do so. He remembered during his earlier days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, seeing a large iron kettle where passengers of boats that docked, tossed coins in to help the poor. Captain McFee suspended a similar pot from a tripod in the Oakland Ferry Landing...and encouraged the public to “Keep the Pot Boiling.” He collected enough money to host a Christmas dinner for the poor.

Canada's first kettle was used in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1906. Today, the familiar kettles and kettle workers (or 'bell ringers') are seen in more than 2,000 locations nationwide. For more than 100 years, the annual Christmas Kettle Campaign has been a great way for people to help others in need in their local community through the work and efforts of The Salvation Army.

Holly and Mistletoe are Symbols of Christmas

Holly and Mistletoe are an integral part of holiday imagery and tradition. Holly is used to adorn a home in green and red finery alongside evergreen boughs and wreathes. In addition, it has become customary to hang a bouquet of mistletoe under which people are encouraged to share a holiday kiss. While these elements of celebrations are now incorporated into many of the secular and religious components of Christmas, they have very different origins.

Holly has been used since the days of the early pagans as a decoration for mid-winter festivities, when it was brought into homes to keep evil spirits away. Ancient Romans believed that the holly prickles drove away these evil spirits...and it held a place of honour at December festivities dedicated to the god Saturn. To avoid persecution during the Roman pagan Saturnalia festival, early Christians would participate in the tradition of hanging 'evil-repelling holly' on their homes to appear like the masses. Eventually, as the number of Christians grew, the tradition became less of a pagan one...and more associated with Christians and Christmas. Some people have inferred that holly and its prickly edges is symbolic of the crown of thorns Jesus wore at his crucifixion, with the red berries representing blood.

Mistletoe was once held sacred by the Norse, Celtic Druids and North American Indians. It is actually a parasitic plant that grows on a wide range of host trees. Heavy infestation can dwarf the growth and kill these trees. In cultures across the pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a 'represenation of divine male essence' (and thus, romance, fertility and vitality). The plant was also thought to be a symbol of peace...and anyone standing below it, should receive tokens of affection.

When enemies met beneath mistletoe, they had to lay down their weapons...and observed a truce until the next day. This is how the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe likely began...and why a ball of misteltoe is now hung in homes during Christmas...a season of peace and affection.

Traditions Behind Gift Giving
The holiday season is a time to celebrate with friends and of the most festive times of the year. Many holidays focus on the exchange of presents, which may be exchanged with relatives, friends and even co-workers. Gift exchanges trace their origins to both religious and secular trditions, each of which has helped shape the holidays into what they are today.

Christmas: Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day all over the world. For Christians, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe was a gift from the Creator. From a religious standpoint, gifting others around Christmastime can be traced back to the stories of “The Three Kings” (also referred to as the Three Wise Men) who visited Jesus after his birth. Frankincense, a fragrance involved in worship...Gold and Myrrh, an incence associated with funerals was presented. These gifts symbolized worship in Christ that He would be the King of Kings...and that suffering and death would come to Him.

St. Nicholas, a fourth century saint, is a beloved figure across the globe...who has a reputation for giving gifts in secret and helping the needy. The figure of “Santa Claus” is based on St. Nicholas...and the blending of the two has evolved as history...being a mix of folklore and personal traditions.

Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The word “hanukkah” actually means “dedication” in Hebrew. Traditionally, gelt (or money), was given as a Hanukkah gift. Many Hanikkah gift givers aim to give gifts that are thoughtful and sweet. Money is not exchanged as much today, with other gifts taking its place.

Kwanzaa is an American holiday that pays homage to traditions and cultural influences from Africa. The holiday was developed in 1966 by Maulana Ndabezitha Karenaga. The focus of Kwanzaa is on family and the harvest as well as certain principles...such as unity and faith. Gifts make up one of the seven symbols of Kwanzaa celebrations. These gifts, based in religious, secular and cultural traditions are symbolic of the labour and love of parents...and the committments made and kept by their children.

Twelve Things You Probably Didn't Know About Christmas
(with thanks to Tom for this submission)

Most historians believe that Jesus Christ was actually born in the spring (taxation time, remember).
North Americans ship millions of gifts at Christmastime to family and friends.
The mistletoe was believed to be an ancient symbol of fertility and verility.
Ham...not the festive favourite.
Germany's Prince Albert started the tree tradition in 1848. During the 'winter solstice (December 21), branches served as a reminder of spring which became the birth of our 'Christmas tree.' Germans were the first people to bring evergreens to their homes...a tradition which made its way to North America in the 1830's.

The famous red Santas suit was created by Coca-Cola in the 1930's. Throughout the years, Santa wore a variety of colours: red, blue, white and green.

On December 6 (St. Nicholas Feast Day), children leave out their shoes to find little gifts in them the next morning. This gift-giving tradition started in Holland.

The Rudolph we know, almost named Reginald, was created by copy-writer, Robert L. May in 1939 for Montgomery Ward's colouring books.

Jingle Bells was orignally a Thanksgiving song. It was first performed by an organist from Savannah, Georgia at his church at a Thanksgiving concert. The song was republished in1857 with today's title.

Christmas sends at least 15,000 people to ER ~ accidents from hanging lights to taking the roast out of the oven. Christmas also sparked hundreds of average of 17 deaths...and $13,000,000 in property damage annually.

Santa has his own zip code: HO HO HO.
Christmas doesn't remove Christ from Christmas! In fact, as far back as 1100, the word Christianity was originally spelled Xanity.

Compiled by Merle Baird-Kerr...December 1, 2016


  1. ALAN commented: "Your erudite messages most appreciated. You are a fountain of light
    in a sea of sullen ignorance."

  2. Many thanks, Alan for your response...very cleverly expressed and written.

  3. Sherry writes...

    Great article on Christmas Lore! Looking forward to more. My birthday is Dec 6, and I may leave some little shoes out, at my door. I love December.

  4. Thank you Sherrie...hoping you have a wonderful December and enjoy every day!