Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays the Flashback Edition

It will come as no surprise like many others this past little while I have been super busy--you may have figured it when I complained about needing a wife or when I disappeared for nine days. Well, one of the things that didn't get done this year was procuring and decorating the Christmas tree. So on Christmas morning, I piled the gifts where the tree would have gone and the dude and I told little Bible-style stories about the importance of intellectual pursuits like chess. (The vast majority of our gifts were received elsewhere, where they had managed to decorate.)

Many people can tell you that the tradition of the Christmas tree gained popularity in the nineteenth century, but when I stopped looking for Christmas stories in November and December's issues of Godey's Magazine and Lady's Book, I started finding interesting items about Christmas.

One of the prettiest superstitions I know, is that of children in Germany, and the whole north of Europe on Christmas-day. They are then taught to believe that our Saviour, on the anniversary of his birth, travels all  over the world to visit children that love him and their parents, to bestow upon them some token of his affection. 'Blessed are the little ones,' he said; and there is not a little heart in Germany which does not, on that day, feel the truth of it in its own childish manners. From Whitsunday to Christmas the days are counted with great care, and as the nights grow longer, the approach of the holidays becomes the subject of children's conversation. At last snow begins to cover the ground, and it is now certain that the great day is near at hand. The eve preceding the festival every child is on its best behavior, in breathless expectation of the great event, and the favors that are to be shown it by Him who loved 'the little ones.' Towards dark the family are all united at the thanksgiving dinner--the tapers burn with more than usual lustre...After dinner the children, young and old--though the latter may be let into the secret, after having pledged themselves to keep it religiously--are conducted into a darkened room where they are left long enough to think and guess at the gifts which await them. At last the door opens, and father and mother announce 'that the little infant Jesus has paid them a visit, and left them tokens of His love.' They are then conducted into another room, where the Christmas tree is dressed for their reception. It is a large evergreen with many branches, fantastically lit up with tapers and lamps, with its branches gilt or silvered over, as in the fairy tales, and suspended from them are the beautiful presents, all inscribed with the names of the donees.
"Christmas and New Year in France and Germany," Francis J. Grund. Godeys' Magazine and Lady's Book. January 1848; 36 p 6-7.

Interesting that early on Jesus was the gift bringer. Santa Claus was known at this time, in America from as early as 1773, although he became more of the guy we know (sleigh, fat and jolly) in the nineteenth century. Although I wonder...I know some people don't believe in "lying" to their children about where gifts come from, how much worse for parents to put out presents on behalf of Jesus instead of Santa?

In a week or so, I'll have more interesting things about gift giving during the holiday period--and yes, I've chosen those words carefully.


Margaret said...

It's fun to trace back the various origins of Christmas traditions. What I always wonder about this time period is how they managed to put the presents on the branches of the tree. I guess they must have been small presents.

Oma said...

From the fairy tales and other books, we have used our imagination to impart knowledge to our children. Getting children to behave can be challenging so rewards are given. As harsh as some lives were, any little token would be treasured.

Beth W said...

And then we look at Iceland, where 13 mischievous imps basically ruined your house and beat you, bad or good, for sport during this time of year. Hrmmm....

Marika C said...

My Mom is from Germany, and that is how we celebrate Christmas, even though we are not particularly religious. On December 6 we got a visit from St Nick and Krampus. Krampus always left me sticks and coal, thankfully I was never bad enough for him to throw me in his bag and take me off to his cave.