Tag Archives: Christmas traditions

The Things We Do to Trees

My festooned tree with new & old.

We have many Christmas traditions and the decorating of the Yule or solstice tree goes back a long ways. There are tree traditions in other cultures that involve adding wishes or charms or paper decorations but I’m going to talk about the Christmas tree tradition. It did begin long ago in Estonia and Germany, though the first recorded instance that can be documented was from the 1500s. But there is reference to other tree and winter solstice/Christmas activities going back farther. Of course the other end of the yearly tree celebration still takes place on May Day or Beltane and involves the May pole, where people dance around the tree, weaving it with ribbons.

In previous centuries trees were decorated with apples, figs, nuts, dates and other dried fruits. Candles were put in the trees to signify the return of the sun after the winter solstice and whether Christian or not there is a festival of light tradition in almost every culture. Earlier times and Victorian era trees may have seen strings of popcorn and cranberries (still popular with some) and chains made of paper. Sometimes these trees were done outside and any bounty of fruit and nuts would have been appreciated by the wildlife. Queen Victoria, from her German heritage, popularized the tree decorating, which then spread to Canada and the US.

And so, in Canada it was already a well-entrenched tradition by the time I came along. The house we lived in had a slanted ceiling and at its apex it was probably twelve feet high. My mother always bought a tree that just fit under that roof. I’m not sure of the true height but it had to be between 10-12 feet and a ladder was needed to decorate the tree. Besides department stores and civic centers I don’t even know if you can get a tree that big these days.

Once the giant tree was erected in its cast iron stand, the lights were strung on with care, where the bulbs would be switched about so there was no cluster of red, yellow, blue or green. The special lights–the bubble lights and the weird round snow globes or other odd colored lights–were distributed about the branches. These lights weren’t the little lights we all use today but those massive ones, only slightly smaller than the outdoor version and on sturdy cords. I once had candles to put on my  tree but I stopped after a few years because it was too difficult to keep the holders upright and not cause a house fire.

Decorating the tree was a full family affair and often took two days. My mother had two boxes that were three feet high and two feet square full of decorations. There were the balls that actually had an accidental hole  (where they get brittle over time and just a bit too much pressure will pop a hole through) but they were still beautiful. I’ve talked in another post about the vintage Christmas ornaments. The rarer ones: coffeepots, teapots, lamps, umbrellas, horns, birds and bells would go nearer the top. The very unusual and one of a kind balls were also placed about the tree. When I was little I had my ball and I had to put it on the tree. My siblings would often tease me that it was gone. That ball lasted forever, even into my adulthood and when I asked my mother where it was one year, she said, oh it broke years ago. I was heartbroken because that ball was the symbol of the good things in childhood for me. It was unique, turquoise and pink and silver, part bell shape and even had a little hole in it.

Same tree but without flash.

Once all the balls were placed, sometimes on every single branch, we festooned the tree with glass bead garlands and tinsel. I had to meticulously drape a piece of tinsel or maybe two on every branch. My younger brother got into tossing handfuls at the tree, which offended my young and anal sensibilities. The tinsel was accompanied by little twists of metal, icicles that were also hung. But the tinsel itself was also a bane. We started to not hang it on the lower branches since our cat, who loved to chew the spider plant and eat grass from time to time, found the tinsel a special grassy treat.

There was nothing worse than tinsel bum, when the cat went to poop and had a long brown dingle berry hanging on a thread of tinsel from his ass. His solution was to drag his bum throughout the house, over the carpet, leaving brown streaks in an attempt to dislodge the annoyance. We had to run after him, with wads of toilet paper, and try to very very gently remove the offending decoration from the cat. Tinsel was a pain to decorate with, mostly plastic, and non biodegradable, and disgusting when the cat got it. We did gather it up every year but a fair amount went out with the tree or was vacuumed up.

These days, I wouldn’t put tinsel on if I could find it. I use a winged thing theme, whether birds, angels, fairies, flying frogs or whatever, plus red apples and eclectically shaped balls. I use one color of light but I do tend to put on lots of decorations. This year my tree was a little more Charlie Brown than usual and I decided to forego the bead garlands and couldn’t fit the tree topper on. Still, if nothing else, I enjoy having a tree through the winter season. It symbolizes a more innocent time, the return of light and nature in the dark times, and a joyous comfort in the whimsical decorations. To me, it’s one of the best parts of Christmas.

Happy Holidays to everyone and may you have joy and celebration in all your traditions.

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How to Waste Your Time at Christmas

It’s nice to know that North America isn’t the only continent to have its share of kooky priests of the Christian faith. Of course, there are nuts in all faiths, fundamentalists who love to rant up a storm and believe it’s their way or no way and they might be willing to put you to death for that belief. In the meantime they expound from the pulpit and threaten things in the past like burning Korans or more inane items…like hanging elves.

Yep, it turns out that even Denmark has a priest in Jutland who decided that elves were of the devil. We’re not talking the tall ethereal Tolkien elves; we’re talking those little green and red-dressed elves in Santa’s factory making toys for girls and boys. Whether they’re union workers, paid a decent wage, doing it out of the goodness of their magical hearts, or eldritch slaves of a sinister Santa, they’ve usually been seen as pretty harmless.

Creative Commons

But pastor Jon Knudsen in Jutland thinks differently and not only are meek little Christmas elves of the devil but they “make children sick.” Knudsen likened decorating with elves as akin to putting up Nazi flags. Wow. Elves are very powerful with their insidious elfin ways. It seems that while some of the townspeople supported Knudsen’s protest that amounted to an elf being hung (by the neck) from the front of the church, others protested by riddling his lawn with garden gnomes or sending letters from the “elves.”  In the end someone rescued the elf, leaving a note that it would be kept safe until the New Year.

Now we might be scratching our heads over the singling out of elves but they are very much part of Scandinavian folklore. I noticed there was no mention of Santa Claus, or Sinter Klaus as he is called in parts of Europe and is first an old pagan deity before the Christian church sanctified him. So what do you do with Santa, patron saint of thieves, who has become legitimized by Christianity? It’s not a far leap from Santa Claus to Satan Claws. Oh no!

The real point of discussing this ridiculousness is that it’s a waste of time. If a Christian (or other) priest practices what they preach then they should be spending far more time on charity and compassion. With much more dire issues like murder, rape, child abuse, subjugation, pollution, poverty, etc. affecting this world, Knudsen would do better to preach on how to help people than to rile up others over elves (of all things) who make children sick. I challenge him to show me a real elf; whereas I could show him poverty, abused children, raped women. That’s the true devil.

If this is all that a priest can get up to it tells me he has too much time on his hands and does not understand the faith he is supposed to be an expert in. He would do better to get off the pulpit and go back to meditation on what it truly means to be a Christian, or be of any faith that preaches tolerance, love and compassion. Oh and perhaps someone should organize a flashmob of elves on this guy’s church.

See the full article here: http://www.cphpost.dk/news/local/87-local/50617-pastor-executes-elf-to-save-christmas.html

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Ho Ho Ho Ain’t Just For Prostitutes

One of the stupidest things I’ve heard in recent years in regards to Christmas was that Australia banned their department store Santas from saying, “Ho ho ho,” because it was derogatory. Who made this decision; a twelve-year-old? That’s a fine example of political correctness taken to extreme idiocy. It’s like saying, you can’t say Merry Christmas but can still celebrate it.

Granted there are other religious celebrations at this time of year but if someone wishes me Happy Hanukkah and another wishes me Merry Christmas and a third wishes me a Cool Yule, I get the sentiment. I don’t have to push my religious beliefs or superiority down anyone’s throat. I take it in the spirit of the sentiment.

I was also told by one co-worker once that her children (at their school) were told to say Merry Xmas not Merry Christmas because Xmas wasn’t making it Christian. WTF? There are so many things wrong with this statement (and I don’t know if it was this woman’s or the school’s). One, Christmas is, well…Christian. Duh! X is an old symbol for cross, as in crisscross, the crossroads, railroad Xing. It’s not because trains make X’s at that spot; it’s because they cross the road at that spot. The pronunciation of Christ in Christmas is “kris” and hence the X is a shortened form of writing “Christmas”. Really, how dumb can people get?

But Santa, he’s as Christmas as a shopping frenzy. When I was a kid, we of course had the obligatory trip to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap. I can’t remember any of those visits really, nor what I asked for. My childhood greed and wants changed every year I’m sure. The only Santa visit I truly remember was the last one.

(Spoiler alert on Santa’s existence.) I had already figured out that Santa wasn’t real and really was my mother storing gifts in her closet. Not yet at the stage of wanting to preserve the magic and the harmless lie, I said I didn’t want to go because Santa wasn’t real. My mother made me go because my little brother, two years younger, still was starry-eyed over the white-bearded gnome. Of course, somewhere along the line I blurted out to my brother that Santa didn’t exist and my mother was not pleased with me.

But she shouldn’t have made me go to see the fake. I think if a picture still exists of me on Santa’s lap it shows a sullen child. My little brother probably went first and then me. As I’m sitting on Santa’s lap and he asks me what I want for Christmas I notice the fake beard, and sticking out of it near his lip is a tag that says “Made in Hong Kong.” That cemented the truth for me, that Santa was an impostor.

Coca-Cola's first Santa

Many years later, Santa has morphed. He was of course a very Victorian image (though versions of Kris Kringle, Sinter Klaus, Pere Noel, etc. existed before that) and was hugely popularized in North America by that American institution Coca-Cola. He was first commercialized (and fattened up) in 1931, and he’s never looked back since.  Santa keeps changing and just as there is the summer flash mob that forms around a zombie walk, there are the winter flash mobs of Santas that swarm the streets, sometimes passing out candy and kisses and stopping in every alcoholic watering hole they can find.

I once ran into the flashmob Santas, from skinny to fat, tall to short, male and female. A few elves were along as well. It was fun and just brought a smile to my face. Unfortunately this year I had a previous engagement; otherwise I would have been romping with the Santas. And these days, do I believe in Santa? Well, I think I believe in the spirit of giving, for joy and fun but not because you must or it’s expected. And certainly not with a price tag that says, oh you didn’t love me enough because you only spent $20 not $80 on me. If I could I would give more including donations to charity as I found it gave me a profound sense of goodwill when I did.

But as for ho ho ho, Australia and all you other politically correct Nazis, loosen up. Ho ho ho could be ha ha ha or hee hee hee or even hardy har har. It’s the sound of laughter, which obviously those places in Australia forgot.

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