…and God Bless us Everyone…Christmas Traditions
Out of the mouths of babes, or in this case one Tiny Tim from probably the most popular Christmas story every written, “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens. This novella has been filmed and staged many times over since it was written in 1843.
As a novice historian I am always interested in how things started, how certain traditions became part of our lives. This story began my quest of discovery as far as Christmas in America is concerned.
I watched what I believe is the best representation of this story on YouTube yesterday. It stars George C. Scott. The whole film is darkly lit until the very end when the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come have made their points and departed. When Scrooge, who represents darkness and winter in the beginning, becomes a happier human being and is renewed in life, or spring comes into his life at last, the scenes become brighter. With every broad smile emanating from Ebeneezer Scrooge’s face, the brighter the world around him becomes. Here is that video if you’d like to watch it.
Dickens is credited with being one of the greatest influences in reintroducing his fellow Englishmen to the old Christmas traditions such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards. The novella has also been credited with restoring the Christmas season as one of merriment and joy after a period of Puritan sobriety in the United States.History of the First Christmas Tree
My first research on the origin of the Christmas tree claimed that Prince Albert, the German consort of Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree to England in 1840. However, Queen Charlotte, the German wife of George III set up the first known English tree at Queen’s Lodge, Windsor, in December 1800.
The legend goes that her compatriot, Martin Luther, the religious reformer, invented the Christmas tree. As the story goes, one winter night in 1536, Luther was walking through a pine forest near his home in Wittenberg when he looked up and saw thousands of stars glinting among the branches of the trees. The sight inspired him to set up a candle-lit fir tree in his house that Christmas to remind his children of the starry heavens from whence their Saviour came. (This information comes from www.historytoday.com. Go to that site for further information about Christmas trees.)
|Prince Albert's Christmas Tree|
History of Christmas Cards
The origin of Christmas Cards also comes from England. The custom was begun by Sir Henry Cole in 1843 to see if cards could be sent using the new ‘Public Post Office.’ He was a government worker and wondered if the new system could be used by ordinary people instead of just by rich people who could afford to send anything by post.
Trains, rather than horse and coach, were making it easier to send things. As cards became popular in the UK they could be sent in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny--half the price of an ordinary letter.
This is a picture of the first Christmas card sent by Sir Henry.
They sold for 1 shilling or 8 cents today. It had three panels. The outer panels showed people caring for the poor and in the center was a family having a large Christmas dinner. Some people didn’t like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine. About 1,000 were printed and sold and today are very rare and cost thousands of pounds or dollars to buy.
I seem to remember in my own past that Christmas cards could once be sent cheaper than a usual letter if you didn’t seal the envelope. I guess that tradition carried over to the U.S. at least for a period of time. To see more on this history go to www.whychristmas.com.
History of Santa Claus
When did you stop believing in Santa Claus? I think I was 10 or so when my mother’s family gathered at my grandparent’s house which was then called the Berry House, now Berry Manor Inn, for Christmas festivities.
I noticed that all of a sudden my grandfather, Herman Winchenbaugh, or Grampie Wink, as we called him, was missing. Then behold we heard ringing bells and a big “ho ho ho” as Santa entered the room with a pack on his back. I knew at once that it was my grandfather and not Santa and so I moved one more step forward into my growing up.
Two New York Americans are credited with introducing Santa Claus as we know him here in the United States. Here’s how it came about.
Thomas Nast, a caricaturist and editorial cartoonist drew an illustration of Santa Claus for the poem of Clement Clarke Moore called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” also known as “The Night Before Christmas.”
Here is that illustration from Wikipedia:
Of course the poem became very famous and the rest is history, as they say. There is many a father all over the country who reads this poem to his children on Christmas Eve as part of their family traditions. There are those who insist that Coca Cola invented the modern Santa we see today. That could be true. What do you think?
Here’s a video from VideoWorksSamples on YouTube about the history of Santa Claus.
The Christmas TruceOne of the most heartwarming Christmas stories is a true one. At a time when many of our servicemen and women are serving overseas during the Christmas season, we are reminded of history once more and some U.S. and German soldiers during WWI. Here’s the YouTube video in case you don’t know that story. The video comes from the movie: "Oh What a Lovely War."
Remembering Our Traditions
It is important that we remember our traditions. They are what make life worthwhile. Lift a glass in remembrance of Christmas pasts this season and also create your own traditions to pass down to the next generation. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and thank you all very much for listening this past year.
Note: If you are new to this blog space you might enjoy a few Christmas stories from the archives: 2012, “Christmas Art Class;” 2013, “The Days Between;” 2011, “Christmas in Maine” a poem by niece Bette which appeared in the Courier in 1987. There are also two fictional Christmas stories, “A Doll for Christmas,” 2012; and “A Boy and his Boat, a Christmas Story,” 2013.