Monday, December 23, 2013

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas

 by Suzi Love

We know it's almost Christmas because all around the world houses and buildings are decorated with greenery, lights, and other decorations. But where did these traditions begin? 


Heigh ho! sing heigh ho! unto the green holly,
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly.
Then heigh ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly!
Song of the Holly by William Shakespeare

Advent Wreath

Advent wreaths are made of fir branches, with four candles denoting the four Sundays of the Advent season. This custom began in the 19th century but had originated from the 16th when fir wreaths were decorated with 24 candles to represent the 24 days before Christmas, starting on December 1st.
That many candles was a problem so the number was reduced to four. Three of the candles are violet, or purple. The fourth candle is pink and represents rejoicing.
1847 Christmas wreath of holly and berries. 
Print from a booklet recording a Hampstead Conversazione event.
via Creative Commons  PD-old-100

 It is believed that the Romans were the first to hang wreaths on their doors as a symbol of victory in battles and evergreens were placed inside homes to remind people that spring is coming. 

By the Georgian and Regency Eras, some homes had a kissing bough hung over a doorway or a chandelier. 

A kissing bough was constructed from evergreens and decorated with apples, paper flowers, or dolls which  represented Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus and was held together by ribbon and wire.

Today, we often decorate the inside of our homes with green garlands, holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, Christmas cactus and the amazing Poinsettia.  

In Mexico especially, poinsettia plants symbolize Christmas.

Mistletoe was regarded by the Druids with religious veneration and its berries of pearl were a symbolic of purity and associated with the rites of marriage. 

From this came the custom of giving a lover's kiss beneath the mistletoe, although mistletoe appears to have been hung more at farms and in kitchens and the custom followed mainly by the lower classes.

In Britain, mistletoe was mainly found in the western and southwestern parts, so the custom wasn’t even  followed in all parts of England. But where the mistletoe custom was followed, it was hung in doorways and the greenery was watched by young gentlemen in hopes of catching a pretty girl to kiss, usually on the cheek. In some places, it was the custom to pick a berry for each kiss and when all the berries were gone, no more kisses could be taken. Christian tradition associates the holly tree with the crown of thorns, and says that its leaves were white until stained red by the blood of Christ.

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship.  Fir trees decorated with apples were first known in Strasbourg in 1605, and the first use of candles on trees is recorded by a Silesian duchess in 1611.


Yule Log

 Bringing in the Yule Log

Pagans burned a great log and a mammoth candle on the 21st of December, the shortest day in the year, because it was seen as the turning-point in the conflict between the contending forces of winter and spring.

From Harpers Bazaaar “The Yule-block, or Christmas-log, with its warm welcome, extending even to the poor and the stranger as they gathered around the hospitable board is being gradually supplanted by the Christmas-tree.”

Formerly the Yule-log, a huge section of the birch, was cut from a tree selected on Candlemas-day, which so late as the time of Queen Elizabeth was the last day of the Christmas holidays. 

On the following Christmas-eve it was dragged in and placed upon the hearth with great ceremony, the merry-makers pulling with a will, and singing the while the modernized Christmas carol commencing,
"Come, bring with a noise,
My merrie, merrie boys,
The Christmas-log to the firing."

It was then kindled with a brand from last year's Christmas fire, which, if it was not thus kept continually burning, still linked the merry-making of one Christmas-time to that of another.

In Ramsgate, Kent, and the Isle of Thanet, the custom styled "hodening" is still in vogue. 

The "hoden," which appears to be a cross between the "white horse" and the Klapperbock of the Germans, is accompanied by a number of youths in fantastic dress, who go round from door to door ringing bells and singing Christmas carols.’

To read more about Christmas traditions, take a look at my book,

 'History of Christmases Past' by Suzi Love.  

Or take a look at my Pinterest Boards for Christmas :- 

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Angela Adams said...

Thanks for sharing...

Joanna Lloyd said...

What interesting information, Suzi. You have obviously done much research for your lovely book. Great photos too. I loved reading about the history of the Christmas tree!