December 1, 2011
My First Reindeer
The Christmas breeze is now on the air. The bright lights adornment everywhere simply says its Christmas time! The songs and melodies that promotes joy, peace and love for everyone surely touches every heart for excitement,unity, celebration and remembering that we have a God that truly loves us and was brought on this world to save and redeem us.
As I count the days for the first Christmas Day for my first born, it is truly exciting and surely an all year round celebration with God pouring blessings and glory!
December 2, 2011
The History of Christmas Trees
Evergreens have been associated with seasonal celebrations since ancient times.
Seasonal celebrations occur at the time of winter solstice.
Evergreens have been used as symbols by various nationalities and/or religious groups, including: Egyptians, Romans, Druids, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Spaniards and Slovaks.
Yule log traditions contributed to superstitions, as well as the traditions of gift giving and decorating the log or tree.
Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries people believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits and illness.
In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. Many ancient peoples believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.
The Ancient Egyptians
The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and who wore the sun as a blazing disc in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.
The Ancient Romans
Across the Mediterranean Sea, the early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs. The Saturnalia was a special time of peace and equality when wars could not be declared, when slaves and masters could eat at the same table, and when gifts were exchanged as a symbol of affection and brotherhood.
The Celts and Vikings
In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The fierce Vikings in Scandanavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder. Many historians believe that our word for Yule came from the Norse word, ‘rol’, the Gothic word ‘hiul’ or the Saxon work ‘hweol’ all of which mean wheel and refer to the cycles of the sun.
The Yule Log
When families bring home their Christmas tree from a sales lot or a choose-and-cut tree farm, they are following a tradition that is more than a thousand years old. “Bringing in the Yule log” was a ritual that began in Great Britain and that spread throughout Europe, eventually reaching North America. On Christmas Eve, the large central trunk of a great tree was dragged from the forest. Everyone in the family, both adults and children, helped with the job by pulling on the ropes. When the log was finally brought into the house, it was thrown on the family fireplace where it burned for the 12 days of Christmas. Many superstitions surrounded the log: it had to be ignited the first time a flame was put to it or bad luck would surely follow; 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, the house might be struck by lightning. As the Yule log spread through Europe it acquired many customs and many names. In Ireland, it was called “bloc na Nodleg”, or Christmas block. In Spain, children followed the log as it was dragged through the village, beating it with sticks to drive out the evil spirits; they were rewarded with gifts of nuts and chocolates by people who lived along the way. In the Balkan areas of Europe, women decorated the log with red silk, gold wire, needles and flowers before it was thrown into the fire. Hardly anyone burns a Yule log anymore, but some memories of it remain. In French homes, instead of Christmas cake, children enjoy a rich chocolate roll covered with a dark brown frosting that looks just like bark. Sometimes the “buche de Noel”, or Christmas log, is decorated with frosted berries and holly needles, or with marzipan mushrooms, as a reminder of the great logs that were once dragged from the forest.
In the fourteenth century, when hardly anyone knew how to read, churches held “miracle plays” to tell the people in villages and towns stories from the Bible. Special plays were held at special times of the year, in accordance with the early Christian Calendar of Saints. The play that was held every December 24, which was Adam and Eve’s Day, was about the Garden of Eden. The play showed how Eve was tempted by the serpent, how she picked the apple from the forbidden tree and how the couple was expelled from Paradise. The time of year that the play was held created a problem for the actors and the organizers of the play. How do you find an apple tree with needles on it in the middle of the winter? In Germany, someone solved the problem by cutting down an evergreen tree, probably a spruce or pine, and tying apples onto it. As well, the tree was hung with round white wafers to remind the audience that even though Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, the birth of the baby Jesus Christ would bring redemption. The idea of a Christmas tree hung with apples amused people in Germany so much that before long many families were setting up Paradiesbaum, or Paradise trees, in their own homes. The custom persisted long after the miracle plays were no longer performed. Ever since, red and green, the colours of apples hanging on a pine tree, have been the official colours of the festive season
The Christmas Tree
As the years passed the trees were loaded with many more things to eat in addition to apples. Gilded nuts and gingerbread cookies were hidden in the tree while marzipan candies, shaped like fruits and vegetables, were hung from the boughs. Brightly decorated eggshells, cut in half and filled with tiny candies, were set in the tree like birdnests. So many sweets were hung from the tree that some people called it “the sugar tree”. On the Twelfth Night of Christmas, January 6, when it was believed that the Magi arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts, the tree was shaken and the children finally were allowed to eat the sweets that fell from the tree. The wafers once hung on the Paradise tree were replaced with cookies in the form of hearts, bells, angels and stars. With time, perhaps because so many decorations were eaten before the tree was taken down, the cookies were replaced with decorations made out of thin, painted metal. When families in colder climates combined the decorations on the Paradiesbaum with the candles on a conifer tree, they created the Christmas tree that is still found in homes today.
The First Christmas Tree in Canada
The first Christmas tree in Canada was set up in Sorel, Quebec in 1781 by Baron Friederick von Riedesel. The baron, who was born in Germany, selected a handsome balsam fir from the forests that surrounded his home and decorated it with white candles. The next recorded use of a Christmas tree appears in Halifax in 1846, when William Pryor, a local merchant, cut down an evergreen and decorated it with glass ornaments imported from Germany to please his German wife. After that, the custom spread quickly as German and British pioneers settled throughout the growing nation.
Christmas in the Provinces
Christmas in Canada, in the 19th Century, was often a rough and ready affair: In Newfoundland, a new twist had been added to the custom of bringing in a huge Yule Log that would burn for the twelve days of Christmas; the Newfoundlanders threw a piece of the flaming log over the roof of their homes in the belief that this would protect the inhabitants from fire during the coming year. In Quebec, children hung stockings beside the tree on Christmas eve in the belief that they would be filled by the Christ child; until well into this century, French-Canadian children waited until New Year’s Day to receive the rest of their presents. In Ontario, Christmas was observed in the manner of Victorian England. Carol singers roamed from house to house, brilliantly coloured Christmas cards were exchanged, and banquet tables were laden with roast beef, plum pudding, and boar’s head. In 1882, the Toronto newspaper, The Globe, reported that nearly a million Christmas gifts had been sold that year in the city. In the newly settled Prairie provinces, Christmas dinner was like nothing ever seen in Europe. Fish browned in buffalo marrow, boiled buffalo hump, beaver tail and buffalo veal were just as likely to be the centrepieces of a Christmas feast as roast turkey. After supper, young people would put on their “steels” to go skating on a pond or nearby frozen river. In British Columbia, in the week before Christmas, loggers came down from the mountains, where they had worked for months cutting down the gigantic Douglas firs, to settlements along the coast where they would gather to celebrate the holiday.
Getting a REAL Christmas Tree
The seasonal tradition that is celebrated in Canada today has borrowed many customs from many lands, but families who have come from all over the world have adopted the Christmas tree as the symbol and centrepiece of the festive season. As much as decorating the tree, choosing the tree has become a tradition of its own. Bundled in boots and winter coats, families walk through the snow to Christmas tree lots in the city or drive to farms in the country in search of the right tree. On some choose-and-cut farms, the growers may welcome the family with hot chocolate, a bonfire or a wagon ride through fields covered with beautifully shaped trees. Making the right choice is never easy especially when it comes to Christmas trees. Discussions on the matter are always very lively. Is the tree big enough or will it fit in the house? Is it full on every side? Is a pine tree with its long soft needles more beautiful than a spruce or fir with their stiff, short needles? Decisions are hard but sooner or later everyone agrees on the perfect tree.
Decorating the Christmas Tree
Decorating the tree is an especially important job that is shared by everyone in the family. These days glittering glass ornaments, electric lights, and shining tinsel have replaced the gilded fruits, pine cones, sweets, apples and candles that were once used as decorations. But the ceremony itself has changed little over the centuries. Glittering with colour and light and topped with a star or radiant angel, the Christmas tree, green and lush in the winter, is a symbol that life is eternal, while the presents below it are reminders of the love, joy and close ties that are shared by families and friends.
The German folk song, “O Tannenbaum” says: Not only in summer’s glow, But ‘mid the winter’s frost and snow O faithful pine, O faithful pine, You’re true and green forever. As it has for centuries, the evergreen still symbolizes belief in renewed life and the hope and faith that dwell in all the world’s peoples regardless of race or creed. It is a symbol of joy and delight to all.