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Yuletide Folklore Traditions

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Yuletide Folklore Traditions - Page Text Content

FC: Yuletide Folklore | A Light History of Pagan Customs and Beliefs At Yuletide

1: Yuletide in all pagan cultures has always shared a common traditional theme: a big festival at the Winter Solstice. Yule is the modern English representative of the Old English words geól which refers to the 12-day festival of Yule, and geóli which refers to the month of Yule. Both words are thought to be derived from the Common Germanic language and are roughly equivalent to the Gothic word jiuleis, the Icelandic word jól, and the Danish-Swedish-Norwegian word jul. Most Bible scholars agree that Christ’s birthdate of December 25th has little historical basis. In fact, no actual date was suggested in the Bible. The first time we find Christ’s birth designated in December was in the year 354, when the date was added to the official calendar in Rome. The Romans hoped to combine various religions’ holidays to enable everyone to celebrate at the same time. The English name, Christmas, did not appear until the year 1083 when it was recorded as Cristes Maessan. | The Early History of Yuletide | Yule or Yuletide is a winter festival celebrated throughout Europe, Russia and North America. It has its earliest roots in the Scandinavia and Germanic cultures as expressed in pagan religious festivals and folklore. Most pagan customs were later absorbed into the Christian festival of Christmas. | The first known Yule feast took place in 840 A.D. By 1000 it was the biggest feast of the year. King Haakon I of Norway is credited with the Christianization of Norway, as well as rescheduling the date of Yule to coincide with Christian celebrations held at the time. The saga states that when Haakon arrived in Norway he was a confirmed Christian, but since his people were still altogether heathen, Haakon hid his Christianity to in order to receive the help of the major local chieftains. | In time, Haakon passed a law that established Yule celebrations were to take place at the same time as their Christmas celebrations, "and at that time everyone is to have ale for the celebration with a measure of grain, or else pay fines, and has to keep the holiday while the ale lasted."

2: In interesting aspect of the etiology of the word Yule is its similarity to the pagan word for wheel, which apparently in many of these countries was quite similar. Modern scholars discount this, but inherent in much of the Yuletide folklore is the cycle of the seasons, life and death and the birth of the New Year, ("the wheel turns"). A complete description of "heathen" Yule practices includes great and bloody animal slaughter for momentous feasts. Thankfully those details are omitted in this folklore compendium. Happily, most contemporary Yule preparations are limited to home made baked delicacies and butterball turkeys all nicely prepped and displayed in the local food markets. No ritualistic sacrifices or viscera required. | For ancient Scandinavia, Germanic and Celtic people, the Winter Solstice is a celebration of the cycle of nature and a reaffirmation of the continuation of life. Yule falls during the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. For folks in Northern climes, the Winter Solstice was a most welcome day to anticipate at the dark end of the year, and although months of darkness lay ahead, folk could rest assured the sun’s might was on the increase and darkness was waning. Yule is actually a span of thirteen days, usually counted from the night before the Solstice (December 19th or 20th, as it varies from year to year ), to the thirteenth night, (usually January 6 called "Twelfth Night" later by Christians). | Julbock in Gavle, Sweden. | Before Christmas became intricately associated with Christianity, pagans believed in a "Santa" and gift giving tradition of sorts. In the merging of pagan tradition and Christianity came many of our contemporary Christmas tales and symbolic figures. With a little imagination it is not hard to see the beginnings of our traditions in the early pagan folklore, including our traditions of gift giving, Santa Claus, his jolly elves, and even the eight flying reindeer | Yule eve is sometimes called "Mother Night", a night devoted to honoring the Idises (female ancestral spirits) as the family protectors. The Solstice itself, either December 20th, 21st or 22nd, is the most important of the days, when the dead and other beings of the dark wander about most freely. When Winter arrives, it was believed humans are closest to the spirit worlds.

3: A depiction of Odin riding his steed Sleipnir from an eighteenth century Icelandic manuscript. | Ódinn and the Pagan Yule Elf | The Santa tradition is believed to begin with Ódinn (pronounced "Odin") a Nordic God whose depth and complexity are reflected in the multitude of names, titles, and descriptive kennings for him that have survived from ancient times. The rather horrific image of this god was instilled in the minds of early pagans by early Christians in Europe. They were determined to convert the indigenous Heathen peoples, and played up Ódinn's most terrible aspects at the expense of his beneficent ones. Christians demonized all the Old Gods in the name of their new religion. Ódinn was the original "Alf" or gift-giving "Elf". He was tall and lean, wearing a dark cloak not at all similar to the Victorian era jolly version of Santa Claus in the familiar red and white tunic. Earlier legends describe this "Yule Elf" as riding a white horse, not driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer. The "Yule Elf" was also, a bit stern and could be quite a terrifying figure, especially to rude or ill-willed folk. | Ódinn's benevolent aspect included a kindred spirit as "Fulfiller of Desire," or "Granter of Wishes," who gave gold and other boons to those who were courteous or clever. The greatest boon offered by this Ódinn was to ride above the fields to ensure fertility and fruitful harvests. An interesting related custom arising out of the Germanic pagan tradition was leaving the last sheaf of grain cut in the field for Ódinn's magical steed, an eight-legged creature named "Sleipner". This fertility aspect of Ódinn was related to the return of the dead to their earthly homes at Yuletide, for it was thought the dead brought blessings with them and bestowed them upon their living kin. These 'evolved' dead were Alfar (male Elves) or Disir (powerful female ancestral spirits), who had achieved a higher soul state upon death and who became guardian spirits of their kin's land. Folk would honor their ancestors by bringing gifts of food and drink to the family howe (burial mound) and sitting out on a mound in order to get the highly valued advice of the Ancestor within. The kindred Dead were considered to be an integral part of the family by heathens, and were treated as such. | This forbidding Yule Father in the guise of the Wild Host rode the stormy Winter skies during Yuletide in his fiercest moods. Sometimes people would be taken away by the Wild Host in tumultuous flight. Under the Christian influence, folklore advised people to stay inside at night to avoid the much feared furious Host.

4: More Recent Folk Traditions | Scandinavia folklore includes a Julbock or Julbukk creature, a Yule goat who had its beginnings as carrier for the god Thor, and Jolfoor (Yule-father) and Jolnir (Yule) who are equivalent to our Santa Claus. Other names for the Yule father are Julesvenn in Norway, Jultomten in Sweden, and Jule-nissen in Denmark. Scandinavians also cherished Evergreens at this time of year as a natural symbol of rebirth and life amid winter whiteness. But holly was particularly prized to decorate doors, windows and fireplaces because of its prickliness which was believe to ward off or snag and capture evil spirits before they could enter and harm a household, sort of like a flypaper for faeries. "Jule-nissen" was remembered fondly in 1908 by one Jacob Riis: | Father Yule and gnomes in goat drawn sled | "I do not know how the forty years I have been away have dealt with Jule-nissen, the Christmas elf of my childhood....He was pretty old then, gray and bent, and there were signs that his time was nearly over. When I was a boy we never sat down to our Christmas Eve dinner until a bowl of rice and milk had been taken to the attic, where he lived with the martin and its young, and kept an eye upon the house, and saw that everything ran smoothly. I never met him myself, but I know the house cat must have done so. No doubt they were well acquainted, for when in the morning I went in for the bowl, there it was, quite dry and licked clean, and the cat purring in the corner. The 'Nisse was a friend indeed to those who loved kindness and peace." | In most places in Scandinavia during Winter Solstice, the sun rises at or later than 9 a.m. It sets on or before 3 p.m for a mere six hours of daylight. Even if you sleep for eight hours, you spend much more of your waking time in darkness than in light. In the northern reaches of Norway, above the Arctic Circle, the sun never even makes it above the horizon on the shortest days of the year!

5: Norway | Yule officially starts with the chiming of the church bells in the afternoon of Julaften (Yule Eve or Christmas Eve) on December 24th. The previous day Lillejulaften (little Christmas Eve), is when the tree is put up and decorated. This is the actual start date for the 13 day long Yule celebration in Norway. Yule has is honored in Norway as a time of peace and charity. Therefore, the tradition requires that work be reduced to a minimum, and no wheels are to be turned. This would otherwise show impatience with the great wheel in the sky, the sun. As part of Julafred, or Peace of Christmas, neither bird, beast nor fish is trapped, shot or netted. | Iceland | Iceland's major patron saint is Heilagur orlákur órhallsson, (St. Thorlakur Thorhallsson, Bishop of Skálholt). Two days are dedicated to him: December 23rd, which commemorates his death in 1193, and July 20th, which celebrates the exhumation of his bones. The main custom associated with orláksmessa is the partaking of a simple meal of skata or skate (see picture at right). Yes, this is actually the creature that features prominently in their Christmas feast Plentiful in Iceland, relatively rare elsewhere, this little beastie can grow up to 3m in length. I hear they are quite friendly. This custom, which originated in the West Fjords, has become traditional all over Iceland. | The Yule tree is usually decorated on this evening. This is also a big shopping day for last minute gifts, with stores remaining open until midnight. The Jólasveinar (Yuletide Lads) and their parents Gryla and Leppalúi are the most popular Yuletide characters in Icelandic lore. The Jólasveinar start arriving in town on the morning of December 12th. The tradition is to remember to place a shoe on your windowsill before that, as they will leave a small gift for children who have been good, a small toy or fruit, for example, and for those children who have been naughty they will leave something they might not like too much, like a still squiggling skate in their shoe. | Grey skate, native to Icelandic waters

6: Jólasveinar first appeared in the folklore in the 17th century and are thought of as playful imps whose main interest seems to be getting their hands on some of the seasonal food and other goodies, or lurking about trying to do some minor mischief. When they first appeared the Jólasveinar had many of the attributes of their rather gruesome parents but in the last century they gained became increasingly benign and took on many of the attributes of St. Nick or Santa Claus. | However, their parents, Gryla and Leppalúi, were child-eating, bloodthirsty ogres, in particular Gryla. their mother. Gryla. went around the countryside at Christmas time trying to steal little children who had been naughty during the year. Through the centuries the legend of Gryla. has been a very popular means of making children behave. Oh well, we have that gingerbread house tale where the lady tries to shove those two little kids into an oven. What awful things to tell a little kid :( | Presents are exchanged on Afangadagskvld, which is the peak of Icelandic "jól", and occurs on the evening of December 24th. On this evening, gifts are exchanged. It is a custom to eat hamborgarhryggur (smoked pork loin) or rock ptarmigan (I thought those were extinct). Before Christmas it is traditional to bake laufabrau (e. leaf bread) and piparkkur (e. ginger biscuits). | Gryla terrorizing naughty children | Finland | On the eve of the Finnish Joulu (Yule), children are visited by Joulupukki, a character similar to Santa Claus. Joulupukki visits people's homes and rides a sleigh pulled by a number of reindeer. He knocks on the front door during Jouluaatto (Yuletide), rather than risk getting stuck shimmying down through the chimney in the middle of the night. At right is a Christmas postcard saying Merry Christmas in Finnish. A pig has escaped from the shed, and red jacketed elves scurry to catch it. Pigs are considered a symbol of good luck, although as far as the pig is concerned his future is anything but rosy at Yuletide.

7: Santa's workshop and headquarters in Lapland, Finland | He usually wears red, warm clothes and often carries a wooden walking stick. His workshop is in Korvatunturi, Lapland, Finland, not the North Pole. He is married to Joulumuori (Mother Yule). Typical Finnish Yule dishes include ham, various root vegetable casseroles, beetroot salad, gingerbread and star-shaped plum-filled pastries. | When Santa enters a home, his first words are usually "Gott in Himmel es ist kalt" (It's seriously freezing out here). Then: "Onkos tll kilttej lapsia?", which is Finnish for "Are there any good children here?". Presents are given and opened immediately. | Denmark | Danes celebrate on December 24th, which is called Juleaftensdag (literally, Yule Eve Day), or simply Jul. An elaborate dinner is eaten with the family in the evening, consisting of roast pork, roast duck or roast goose with plain potatoes, caramelized potatoes, red cabbage and gravy. Dessert is rice pudding with a cherry sauce. After the meal is complete, the family gather around the Juletrae to sing Christmas carols and dance hand in hand around the tree. Then the children often hand out the presents which are opened immediately. The Danes have a tradition of giving a julekalender, (Christmas calender), containing a story for each of the 24 days. The major Danish television channels air a similar evening series with an episode every evening for children during this time. There is also an adult series aired later in the evening for teenagers and grown-ups, that is more fun, satirical and possibly violent ("adult"). | Denmark is a mecca of Yuletide spirit. The Danish simply love Christmas and nowhere is that attachment more remarkable than in Odense. From Saint Canute’s Cathedral to the Funen Village, the home of Hans Christian Andersen is a Yuletide dream in December, with Christmas markets that seem out of a fairytale. The Danes also have a tradition julestue’ (Christmas room) dating back to the 1400s, which is a cosy atmosphere where holiday gifts are swapped, hearty glogg is swilled, and peppernuts are crunched by rosy-cheeked shoppers seeking companionship and refuge from the biting cold. In ancient times, entertainment usually included dance, song and often more wild revelry particularly by the youth. Revelers often partied deep into the night. | Odense, Denmark

8: Sweden | Almost all Swedish families celebrate with a julbord (variety of smorgasbord), which traditionally includes julskinka (baked ham), sill (pickled herring), janssons frestelse, and a collection of meatballs, sausages, meats and patés. The julbord is traditionally served with beer, julmust, mumma (a mix of beer, liquor and svagdricka) and schnapps. The dishes vary throughout the country. Swedes also enjoy glogg. Glogg is a mulled wine (with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and bitter orange) often "topped" with some vodka and then served hot with raisins and almonds. Yule gifts are distributed either by Jultomten (usually from a sack) or from under the Christmas tree. As in many other countries in northern Europe Jultomten brings gifts on Julafton (Yule Eve), December 24th, the day generally thought of as the main jul celebration. Many Swedes watch Kalle Anka och hans vanner (literally "Donald Duck and his friends"). I am still trying to find out why since DD and his friends are soon to be RDs (roast ducks). No pangs of conscience, I guess. | Russia and Eastern Europe | Russia | Russian Christmas lore includes St. Nicholas, Father Frost, the Snowmaiden who helps Father Frost distribute gifts, and old Babouschka. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has adopted the custom of celebrating Christmas on December 25th. However, the Orthodox Church Christmas is on January 7th. | December 6th marks the Feast Day of St. Nicholas of Myra who is a Turkish bishop who became the patron saint of Moscow and Santa to the world. Due to the suppression of religion during the Soviet regime, St. Nicholas was replaced by Dyed Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, the Russian Spirit of Winter who brought gifts on New Year's. He is accompanied by Snyegurochka, the Snowmaiden, who helps distribute the gifts. Prior to the Soviet era, folklore describes an endearing character known as Babouschka who wanders the countryside in search of the Baby Jesus. Along the way, she visits homes where children live, leaving them gifts at Christmas time. Babouschka continues to be favorite in Russian Christmas traditions. | Russia's Father Frost

9: An old Russian tradition, whose roots are in the Orthodox faith, is the Christmas Eve fast and meal. The fast typically lasts until after the evening worship service or until the first star appears. The dinner that follows is very much a celebration, although, meat is not permitted. Kutya (a type of porridge), is the primary dish. It's ingredients are very symbolic; various grains for hope, and honey and poppy seed for happiness and peace. The Christmas tree (Yolka) was yet another tradition banned during the Soviet era.To keep the custom alive, people decorated "New Year's trees", instead. Since ornaments were either very costly or unavailable, family trees were trimmed with homemade decorations and fruit. Yolka is the Russian word for fir tree. The custom of decorating Christmas trees was introduced to Russia by Peter the Great, after he visited Europe during the 1700's. | Carpatho-Rusyn tradition includes many fascinating old Yule customs. In the distant past, the beginning of a new year was identified with the central event of the Winter Solstice, the Yuletide (Rirdvo, Hody). It was a ritual for safeguarding new crops. One of the ancient customs required that on Christmas Eve the husbandman (gazda) nurse his fruit trees by bandaging them with straw binders and treating them as living beings. The tree which did not bear fruit was warned by the husbandman holding his axe, "Jablin', jablin': zarod' jabka; jak ne vrodys, vyrublju tja" or 'Appletree, appletree, you shall bear fruit, or else I will cut you down'. It was believed that such a tree would take the threat seriously and would start bearing fruit. The oats and straw had a magical power in pagan society. They were believed to secure plenty of fodder and grain. Christianity provided another rationalization for the custom, stressing the birth of Jesus on straw and oats, thus transforming the two into symbols of that event. | Slovenia | Slovak traditional festivities begin with St. Martin's day on November 11t, St. Katherine's on November 25th, St. Andrew's on November 30th, St. Nicholas' on December 6th, St. Lucia's on December 13th, and, finally, whether it's on December 24th or January 6th, Christmas is celebrated with a bountiful ritual of foods. | Similar to the pagan tradition of Scandinavia, the Slovak celebration of Christmas includes the feast of the Winter Solstice. Ancient Slovak forefathers ascribed magic powers to this special time of the year. They believed that the spirits would protect the crops and cattle from harmful demons, ensure a good harvest, and bring happiness in love and in family life in the year to come. The rise of Christianity in Europe subordinated this feast to the church calendar of Christ being born on December 25. However, many pagan traditions have prevailed to this day and even determine the course and character of these celebrations of the eternal victory of life over death.

10: The ritual lighting of the Yule fire was once a widespread practice observed by all Europeans. The Yule fire was considered sacred and was later replaced by burning of candles as a memory of near ones no longer with us. Candles were added to Christmas tree decorations. Christmas trees were introduced to Slovakia from Germany and Austria in the latter half of 18th century, and eventually spread to all of Slovakia by the early 1900s. The trees today are decorated with fruits, home made Christmas decorations (woodcarvings), baked goods made with honey in the form of Angels and other religious symbols and candies. The Christmas tree is kept until 6th of January, which is the Feast of the Three Kings, at which time the kids are allowed to finally have the candies and other sweets from the tree. The Slovak words for Christmas Eve are literally "bountiful eve". The bounty of this sacred evening lies in the wide range of festive dishes. Tradition requires the feast must include garlic (to ward off demons), honey, wafers, nuts, cooked peas or French beans, dried fruit, and the main dish, cabbage soup with mushrooms and opekance - small pieces of dough - with poppy seed and honey. | At the beginning of this century, fish has become the traditional meat served during Christmas Eve (their scales are said to bring wealth into the house) in the Catholic portion of the population while the Lutherans add smoked meats and sausage to their cabbage soup. Christmas holidays include an abundance of Slovak pastries and baked goods that are prepared over many evenings during the month of December. | Bulgarian Christmas Carols are among the foremost literary monuments of Indo-European culture and is a great inspiration for the region's folk artists. They are also of great interest to researchers who have written on the unveiled secrets of the ancient songs. On Christmas Eve, families gathered together because, according to the ancient beliefs, this was the time when the sun was born and it wasn't strong enough to conquer the darkness. Therefore mankind must join in this duel between the chaos and the world order with songs, blessings, magic and rituals. | Bulgaria | Yuletide Vlach festivals in Bulgaria (really Romania) are based on folklore of the twelve days that elapse between Christmas and Epiphany. The Vlachs believe that mysterious beings called Karkandzal'i (pronounced like "Karkalanza") wander about the earth from dark till dawn. traveling about in masks and costumes

11: They especially like to haunt the springs and defile the water, and are very dangerous to encounter. These "mysterious beings" are thought to have been inspired by Greeks and Turks incursions, and attempts have been made to trace their origins to ancient centaur myths. | Poland | In the tradition of ancient ancestors in Poland, much work is to be done before Gwiazdka, (Yule Eve), which marks the death of the old year, the rebirth of the Sun and the start of the New Year (Nowy Roku). The weeks preceding the Winter Solstice are a flurry of preparations for the cold bitter winter ahead. Houses are swept clean, and everything that stands still gets washed. In the evening, neighbors would visit each other's homes, helping to do the larger tasks, painting the outside of the home, stuffing the pillows and mattresses with feathers, spinning the wool into thread for the much-needed new sweaters and cloaks. The harvest has already been put up, and now the animals needed to be secured in the stables (or the basement of the home, in smaller villages) and made ready for winter. In among these tasks were those that would ready the household for the Yule celebration. An evergreen was selected, honed, and brought into the home, a symbol of the circle that is life, and guarantor of its protection as well. It was decorated with hand-made ornamentation. Some of the time-worn designs include babcie (grandmothers) made of straw, shining stars (eight or five pointed), water pitchers and roosters made of paper, and long paper spirals cut in traditional manner. Wycinanki, (cut paper icons), were made during long dreary afternoons by the young ladies of the house, as a symbolic way of asking for a kind winter and a prosperous year. | Yule Eve was a blessing, a celebration - and a drudge. All must be on their best behavior, for as you do this last day of the year, so you will do all the next. The day was one of fasting and cooking and cleaning, preparing for the festivities of the evening. Sheaves of wheat - usually the sacred last cuts, saved from the year's harvest, were brought to adorn the corners of the home to insure a bountiful harvest the coming year. All fires and lights were allowed to go out, save the one used for the cooking the evening feast; when the food was done, that fire was left to extinguish as well. One by one, relatives began arriving as the day began to turn to dusk. By then, it was time for the Gwaiazdka (star watch).

12: It was quite an honor to be selected for the Gwaiazdka. It usually it went to the youngest in the home, who was having trouble staying out of mischief. The sky began to darken, and the watcher took his place at the window, waiting restlessly, stomach growling, scrutinizing the inky blackness for the first star's glow. The wait seems interminable until suddenly "Juz idzie! (There it is!)". A cheer arises, for the sacred day has now begun. The Yule log in the hearth is consecrated, and is lit as an ages-old ritual. A candle in the Gwaiazdka. window is rekindled, as well as a light in every window, all through the home. The Light is reborn, the wheel turns, and the celebration begins. A plate of bread and salt are passed, the salt being the taste of death, the bread being the promise of the future, both traditional at any Polish gathering, and shared by all present. | Western Europe | England | About AD 730, the English historian Bede wrote that the Anglo-Saxon calendar included the months geola or giuli corresponding with either modern December or December and January. He gave December 25th as the first day of the heathen year and wrote that the Anglo-Saxons celebrated all night long to honor the Germanic divine "mothers". They began the year with December 25th, the day some now celebrate as Christmas; and the very night to which we attach special sanctity they designated by the heathen term Modraniht, ("Mothers' Night"), a name bestowed probably on account of the ceremonies they performed while watching this night through. | Hauling a Yule log, 1832 | The term "Yule log" varies widely in English ancestry. In the north-east of England it was commonly called a "Yule Clog", and in the country's Midlands and West Country, the term "Yule Block" was also used. In the county of Lincolnshire, it was known as "Gule Block", and in Cornwall, it was called "Stock of the Mock". In other parts of the British Isles, different terms were used, for instance in Wales, the log was often referred to as "Y Bloccyn Gwylian", meaning "the Festival Block", while in Scotland, "Yeel Carline" (meaning "the Christmas Old Wife") was used. In Ireland, the term, Bloc na Nollaig, which meant "the Christmas Block", was used.

13: The Yule log was originally an entire tree that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony whose purpose was to provide maximum warmth and endurance. In some European traditions, the largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room. In 20th century Europe and North America it has since been modified to the burning of the largest log possible at or around Christmas. | Possibly the most enduring contribution to the Yule tradition from the English is Ebeneezer Scrooge and Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" written in 1843. One school of thought believes that Dickens' inspiration for the Scrooge character stems from a grave marker for one deceased Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie. The marker identified Scroggie as a "meal man" (corn merchant), but Dickens must have misread the marker as "mean man". Another great tradition, the custom of caroling and Christmas carols, is thought to have originated in England as well when roaming musicians would go from town to town and visit castles and other houses of the rich to give unrehearsed performances. Singing carols at Christmas was possibly inspired by visions of angels and shepherds who visited Jesus at his birth and worshiped the holy child. After their visits, they went on with their declarations in the street. | Ebenezer Scrooge encounters Jacob Marley's ghost | Germany | It is from Germany that many of our Yuletide customs originated. In the mid 16th century, German towns would set up Christmas markets, providing everything a family might need for their celebrations. Bakers would make shaped gingerbread and wax ornaments. A visitor to Strasbourg in 1601 described a tree decorated with "wafers and golden sugar-twists (barley-sugar) and colorful paper flowers. The early Christmas trees were symbolic of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden, and the foods used to decorate it were symbols of Plenty. The flowers were originally only red (for Knowledge) and White (for Innocence). Later little gift items were hung on the tree, including dolls, books, fiddles, drums, work boxes, needle cases, ribbons, and lace. Part of the German tradition of taking down the tree on January 6th was the Plündern, during which the children raid the tree of cookies and sugar plums. | An early version of a “tree” with candles was the lichtstock, a wooden pyramid trimmed with green sprigs and candles, but the traditional German Christmas trees have always been the silver fir and the balsam. They are grown in such a way to make candle usage on the branches safe. The poet Goethe first saw a Christmas tree in 1765 in Leipzig. His description of a Christmas celebration in Die Leiden des Jungen Werther ("The Sorrows of Young Werther") in 1774 is the earliest depictions of a

14: candle-lit tree, and it may have helped spread the custom. Candles on the tree replaced bonfires as a symbol for the returning sun. However in some areas, old trees are still brought to a public place and burnt in a big bonfire. This was before anybody worried about leaving a large carbon footprint. | Tinsel was invented in Germany around 1610. Though silver was durable, it quickly tarnished by candlelight. Mixtures of lead and tin were tried, but proved to be too delicate for use, so real silver was used for tinsel right up to the mid-20th century. The Rauschgoldengel, literally the “Tinsled-angel,” was introduced in the 1850s from the Thuringian Christmas markets. Also in the 1850s, intricately shaped glass bead garlands for the trees and short garlands made from necklace 'bugles' and beads were introced as popular decorations. Between the 1870's and 1930's, Germans made the finest molds for ornaments, with nearly 5,000 different molds at that time. Though there were over one hundred small cottage glass blowing workshops in Europe at the turn of the century, it was from Lauscha, a small town nested in the Thuringian mountains, that most ornaments were made After the world War II however, glass ornament production declined. Many of the craftsmen left for West Germany. | Translucent plastic lock together shapes, honeycomb paper angels, glow-in the-dark icicles, and Polish glass balls and birds became popular decorations. As quantity rather than quality, became the Communist philosophy, many antique Christmas decoration molds were left to collect dust or were lost or destroyed. In the 1960's, when it was fashionable to have an aluminum tree and all the same shape and color ornaments, many of the old glass ornaments were thrown away | America | Christmas in colonial Virginia was very different from our twentieth-century celebration. Eighteenth-century customs didn't take long to recount: church, dinner, dancing, some evergreens, visiting, and more and better of these very same for those who could afford more. | "Christmas in the Country"

15: No eighteenth-century sources highlight the importance of children at Christmas time, nor of Christmas to children in particular. Philip Vickers Fithian's December 18, 1773 diary entry mentions "the Balls, the Fox-hunts, the fine entertainments." None of this was meant for kids, and the youngsters were cordially not invited to attend. Sally Cary Fairfax was old enough to keep a journal and old enough to attend a ball at Christmas 1771, where she writes she was not one of the "tiny tots with their eyes all aglow." The emphasis on Christmas as a magical time for children came about in the nineteenth century. We must thank the Dutch and Germans in particular for centering Christmas in the home and within the family circle. | In America, decorations were not easy to find in the shanty towns of the West, as this tradition was introduced from Europe, people made their own. Frontier style self sufficiency! Tin was pierced so that light could shine through and create patterns. Old magazines with pictures were cut out. Rolls of cotton wool and tinsel were much sought after commodities at the general store at Christmas time. The Paper Putz, or Christmas village, was a popular feature under the tree, especially in the Moravian Deutsch communities of Pennsylvania. In the more extravagant households there might even be a little train going around the whole scene.

16: Christmas Carol Origins The music to Deck the Halls is believed to Welsh in origin and was reputed to have come from a tune called "Nos Galan" dating back to the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth century Mozart used the tune to Deck the Halls for a violin and piano duet. J.P. McCaskey is sometimes credited with the lyrics of Deck the Halls but he only edited the Franklin Square Song Collection in which the lyrics were first published. The first publication date of Deck the Halls is 1881. The author is unknown but the words are thought to originate in America. The First Noel is unknown in origin but is generally thought to be English dating back to the sixteenth century. There is a misconception that The First Noel is French because of the French spelling of Noel as opposed to the old English Anglo-Saxon spelling of the word Nowell. After England was captured by the Normans, numerous words were adopted from the Norman French language and Noel was spelled as Nowell, early printed versions of this carol use the Nowell spelling. The First Noel was first published in 1833 when it appeared in "Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern," a collection of seasonal carols gathered by William B. Sandys. Joy to the World was composed by English hymn writer Isaac Watts, based on Psalm 98 in the Bible in 1719 in Watts' collection in the language of the New Testament. Watts wrote the lyrics glorifying Christ's triumphant return at the end of the age, rather than a Christmas song celebrating his first coming as a babe born in a stable. The music was adapted from an older melody which was believed to have originated from Handel, not least because the theme of the refrain (And heaven and nature sing...) appears in the orchestra opening and accompaniment of the recitative Comfort Ye from Handel's Messiah, and the first four notes match the beginning of the choruses "Lift up your heads" and "Glory to God" from the same oratorio. As of the late 20th century, Joy to the World was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. The words and music to Little Drummer Boy was composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958. The lyrics consist of no less than 21 "rum pum pum pum's" - a major part of the song and therefore presenting an apparently easy task for the lyricist! Little Drummer Boy has been a huge hit for many artists, including Joan Jett . The most notable rendition was created by the most unlikely combination of Bing Crosby and David Bowie. It was in fact Bing Crosby's most successful recording since the legendary White Christmas. The song, originally titled "Carol of the Drum," was based on a traditional Czech carol.

17: Carol of the Bells, also known as the Ukrainian Carol, was composed by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych (1877-1921) in 1916. Originally titled Shchedryk, this Ukranian folk song is about a sparrow and the bountiful year that awaits a family. It was first performed in the Ukraine on the night of January 13, 1916, on the Julian calendar this is considered New Year's Eve. In the United States the song was first performed on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall. The original Ukrainian song is based on an old Slavic legend that every bell in the world rang in honour of Jesus on the night of his birth. The song is based on a traditional folk chant whose language was thought to have magical properties, because of the manner in which it manipulated the number 3. The original traditional Ukrainian text used a device, known as hemiola, in the rhythm (alternating the accents within each measure from 3/4 to 6/8 and back again). Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, also known as "A Spotless Rose", is a Christmas carol and Marian Hymn of German origin and originally written as "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen". The text is thought to be penned by an anonymous author, and the piece first appeared in print in the late-16th century. The hymn has been used by both Catholics and Protestants, with the focus of the song being Mary or Jesus, respectively. In addition, there have been numerous versions of the hymn, with varying texts and lengths. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears in 1849. The carol started life as a poem written by a minister living in Massachusetts. The music for this time honored carol was composed by American musician Richard Storrs Willis in 1859 who was inspired by the words of the poem. Do You Hear What I Hear? is a Christmas song written in October 1962 with lyrics by Nol Regney and music by Gloria Shayne Baker. The couple were married at the time, and wrote it as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Baker stated in an interview years later that neither of them could personally perform the entire song because of their emotions surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. "Our little song broke us up. You must realize there was a threat of nuclear war at the time." It has since sold tens of millions of copies and been sung by hundreds of artist worldwide. And Just For Fun... Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy Feliz Navidad Linus and Lucy (as in Charles Schultz and Vincent Guaraldi)

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  • By: Janet C.
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  • Title: Yuletide Folklore Traditions
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  • Started: almost 6 years ago
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