Monday, November 19, 2012

Christmas; Past and Present

Christmas; Past and Present
By Micki Peluso
Rated "PG" by the Author.

This is a reflection of the Christmases of today as compared with the past.

Christmas; Past and Present

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the Mall, last minute

shoppers scurried from store to store; short on patience and with little

evidence of the holiday spirit of love. The only ones smiling were the store

owners and the costumed Santa, who gets paid to be jolly.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of talking

dolls, video games, bicycles and other expensive toys, danced in their heads.

Mama in her kerchief and I in my cap had just settled down to tackle the

mountain of Christmas bills, which was larger than the national debt.

The moon on the crest of the new fallen snow, reflected the concern of

families awaiting the arrival of loved ones traveling on icy roads.

Years ago, Christmas seemed easier, less commercial and more enjoyable.

Many families lived near each other, and most of the decorations, foodstuffs and

presents were homemade. While there was stress and haste to accomplish the

needed tasks by Christmas Eve, the stress was different than what is

experienced today. Generations past did not seem to lose sight of the reason

for Christmas; a birthday celebration of sharing and love.

The nostalgia of horse-drawn sleigh rides through wooded country roads is

sorely missed. Bells jingling accompaniment to carols sung off key by bundled-up

children in the back of the sleigh, is a thing of the past. Yet Christmas

retains an aura of magic, nonetheless.

Originally, the Christian church did not acknowledge Christmas at all, as

such observance was considered a heathen rite. The earliest records of any

Christmas celebration dates back to the early part of the third century.

Gift giving, as a custom, may have originated with the Romans, relating to

their worship of Dionysus at Delphi.

The Christmas tree comes from the Germans, although its origin has been

traced as far back as ancient Egypt. The tree replaces a former customary

pyramid of candles, part of the pagan festivals. There is a legend that Martin

Luther brought an evergreen home to his children and decorated it for Christmas.

German immigrants carried this custom with them to the New World, but it did not

gain popularity until 1860, when John C. Bushmann, a German, decorated a tree in

Massachusets and invited people to see it. Evergreens, a symbol of survival,

date to the 18th century when St. Boniface, honoring the Christianization of

Germany, dedicated a fir tree to the Holy Child to replace the sacred oak of

Odin. The "Nation's Christmas Tree," was the General Grant tree in General

Grant National Park in California, dedicated May 1, 1926,by the town mayor. The

tree was 267 feet high and 3500-4000 years old.

Mistletoe, burned on the alter of the Druid gods, was regarded as a symbol

of love and peace. The Celtic custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from

the practice of enemies meeting under the plant, dropping their weapons and

embracing in peace. Some parts of England decorated with mistletoe and holly,

but other parts banned its use due to association with Druid rites. Mistletoe

was considered a cure for sterility, a remedy for poisons, and kissing under it

would surely lead to marriage.

The 4th century German St. Nicholas, shortened through the years to Santa

Claus, has become the epitomy of today's Christmas spirit. St. Nicholas, taking

pity upon three young maidens with no dowry and no hope, tossed a bag of gold

through each of their windows, and granted them a future. Other anonymous gifts

being credited to him were emulated and the tradition grew. The Norsemen

enhanced the legend of Santa Claus coming down the chimney with their goddess,

Hertha, known to appear in fireplaces, bringing happiness and good luck.

Sir Henry Cole, impressed by a lithograph drawing, made by J.C. Horsley,

instigated the idea of Christmas cards. It took eighteen years for the custom

to gain popularity, and then it was adopted mainly by gentry.

Christmas was banned in England in 1644, during the Puritan ascendency. A

law was passed ordering December 25th a market day and shops were forced to

open. Even the making of plum pudding and mincemeat pies was forbidden. This

law was repealed after the Restoration, but the Dissenters still referred to

Yuletide as "Fooltide."

The General Court of Massachusets passed a law in 1657 making the

celebration of Christmas a penal offense. This law, too, was repealed, but many

years would pass before New England celebrated Christmas.

When Washington crossed the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War, it

was the observance of Christmas that made his conquest of the British a

success. The enemy was sleeping off the affects of the celebration.

Befana, or Epiphany, is the Italian female counterpart of Santa Claus. On

Epiphany, or Twelth Night, she is said to fill children's stockings with

presents. According to legend, Befana was too busy to see the Wise Men during

their visit to the Christ Child, saying that she would see them on their way

back to the East. The Magi, however, chose a different route home, and now

Befana must search for them throughout eternity. The sacred song traditionally

sung on her yearly visit is the Befanata.

The number of Magi visiting the stable on that first Christmas Eve could be

anywhere from two to twenty. The number three was chosen because of the three

gifts; gold, frankencense and myrrh. Western tradition calls the Magi, Gaspar,

Melchior, and Balthasar, but they have different names and numbers in different

parts of the world.

Though distinctly Christian, the social aspect of Christmas is observed and

enjoyed by many religious and ethnic groups. Rabbi Eichler, during a sermon in

Boston in 1910 explains why: "...Christmas has a double aspect, a social and

theological side. The Jew can and does heartily join in the social Christmas.

Gladly, does he contribute to the spirit of good will and peace, characteristic

of the season. It was from the light of Israel's sanctuary that Christianity

lit its torch. The Hanukka lights, therefore, justly typify civilization and

universal religion."

Dr. Clement Clarke Moore, a professor at the General Theological Seminary

in New York, penned the famous poem, "Twas the Night before Christmas." Dr.

Moore never intended for the poem to be published. Miss Harriet Butler,

daughter of the rector of St. Paul's Church in Troy, New York, accompanied her

father on a visit to Dr. Moore. She asked for a copy of the poem and sent it

anonymously to the editor of The Troy Sentinel. A copy of the newspaper

carrying his poem was sent to Dr. Moore, who was greatly annoyed that something

he composed for the amusement of his children should be printed. It was not

until eight years later, that Dr. Moore publicly admitted that he wrote the


Christmas is the favorite Holiday of children, who unquestionably accept

the myth of Santa Claus. In 1897, one little girl began to have doubts as to

the reality of Santa Claus, and wrote to the New York Sun, asking for

confirmation. Her letter read: Dear editor, I am eight years old. Some of my

little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says,"If you see it in The

Sun, it's so. Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?" Virginia


Francis P. Church's editorial answer to the little girl became almost as

famous as Dr. Moore's poem. In part, this is what he wrote: "Virginia, your

little friends are so wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a

skeptical age. They do not believe, except they see... Yes Virginia, there is a

Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion

exists....Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It

would be as if there were no Virginias...No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives

and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten

thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

It is sentiments like this that warm the heart of child and adult alike,

as Christmas nears. It is not the gifts, soon forgotten, that make Christmas a

time of wonder and magic. It is the love within all people for God, for

children, for each other. During this hectic holiday season, take a moment or

two to savor the true meaning of Christmas.

"And I heard him exclaim
As he drove out of sight,
Happy Christmas to all,
And to all a Goodnight!"
Dr. Clement Clarke Moore


  1. What a great post, Micki! Love your "Twas the Night Before Christmas" satire. Although I love gift giving and many holiday trditions, the ocommercialism of Christmas has gone over the top by 100 miles. It actually brings out the worst in people as opposed to the best. Your historical account of Christmas is fantastic. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to you and your wonderful family!

  2. I love your historical account too and I never knew the origin or the back story for "Twas the Night Before Christmas." I also loved what the editor wrote to the little girl. Great post as always!

  3. Thank you Micki for this great post. It was such a joy to read this, find your voice expressing what's important, history - and the cute little Dr. Clement Clare Moore-verse at the end.
    Enjoy your Holiday before Christmas fun starts. :-)

  4. Great post, as usual! Now, Go to Catnip has bestowed the Shine On and/or Reality Blog Award(s) to you. Grab the badge(s) and post to your site if you desire. Be sure to leave a comment so I know you stopped by and hopefully accepted!

  5. Thanks, Peggy, it seems both good times and bad bring out the best and worst in people. So glad you stopped by.

    Sandra the "yes, there is a santa claus was posted in the Chicago Tribume many years ago and later a cartoon was made from it--I always loved the article.

    Raani, Clement's poem was always my fav and my kids,gradkids. I was surprized to find in my research that he was really mad about it being published--he was a professional and probably felt a little silly--turning over in his grave now lol.

    Sharla, I'll try to get the award and do everything but I have two that I still need to do altho I may have missed the boat with the one going around out media group. It's an especially nice award!!

    Thanks to allof you for your helpful comments.

  6. You have brought tears to my eyes, Micki. Thank you for including the Virginia letter. I love the response, so beautifully written. I've read it before but it always gets to me. And thank you for the the very well written abridged history of Christmas traditions. Much of it is new information for me so I enjoyed reading it. Christmas banned? Can you imagine? Merry Christmas, Micki!

  7. Linneann, So happy to see you here again. I'm glad you liked it--I love the long poem and the letter asking about Santa too--did you ever catch the cartoon they made of it--cute.

    Love, Micki

  8. Just what I needed today, a Christmas goody from Miss Micki! I love your posts, Micki, if I'm not laughing or crying because they are so funny or intense, I am learning something new. Thank you!

  9. Dear Deirdre,

    It's my job to keep your emotions hopping lol.

    Love, Micki

  10. Hi,
    And here in Germany, we sing the song, O Tannebaum, O Tannebaum! Wie grun sind deine Blatter, which means in English, O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, how green are your leaves!
    I enjoyed reading this article and especially the part about where the Christmas tree began in Germany. Christmas Eve is also the most important holiday in Germany. Gifts are given out on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Eve there are church services throughout German in all of the churches. They are usually packed with people. The 25th of December is known as the first Christmas Day and the 26th as the second Christmas Day. However, the most important day is Christmas Eve.
    Great article Micki and thanks so much for all of the information.

  11. Thanks, Pat,

    Glad to have you back! We actually have 12 days of Christmas here which leads to the ephiphany whiccch is in mid January. It used to be people left their decorations up until then, but now they seem toputthem up the day after thanksgiving and then take them down right after New years Eve.

    Love, Micki