1 December 2012

A few notes about Christmas:

Christmas takes a great deal of planning and time to collect, bring together, prepare, rpdouce on the day.  Christmas is rather like a pudding - a mixture.

Ginormous plum pudding on a Victorian Christmas card
Plum pudding used to comprise beef, veal, sherry, lemon, orange, cinnamon, bread, prunes, cochineal etc.  During the 1700s meat was dropped.  Lucky charms were inserted: ring - marriage; thimble - life of blessedness; money - good fortune.

The Christmas cake was introduced in the mid 1800s - like the Christmas pudding but with no meat and no alcohol.  After about 20 years, people started to decorate them, for instance with china ornaments such as father Christmas.

2nd December is St Nicholas Day: later called Santa Claus: Kingly, looked after sailors, small boys, solicitors, thievs, virgins, travellers, barrel makers, prostitues etc, later the patron saint of Russia.

There were three daughters of a solicitor who were to be forced into prostitution to pay off their father's debts.  St Nicholas climbed on the roof and dropped gold coins down the chimney, where they fell into a sock.  After that lots of people put out socks in hopeful anticipation.  St N had an elf - Black Peter - who whipped children if they'd been bad.

In stockings Father Christmas used to put - a gilt gingerbread and a toy per child, and parents used to put in other items.  

The rest of the year he rescued children from peril.  He also became patron saint of Aberdeen, after he punched a bishop (check this!).

Christmas decorations were traditionally two hoops, decorated with evergreens, apples/oranges, put in the window with a candle inside. This was called the kissing bow.

Yule log - a lit piece of wood from last year's fire, originally this was an offering to the God Thor - Church agreed it was Ok so long as it was ash as this was the fire made by the Shepherds.

Queen Victoria's ChristmasPeople tend to think that Albert the Prince Consort of Queen Victoria introduced Christmas Trees to this country.  This had been a custom in Scandinavian countries and Prince Albert merely popularised them here.  Martin Luther King had the idea of using of  decorating with fir trees when he went outside and saw all the stars in the sky and the fir trees so tall that the stars looked as though they reached all the way to heaven.  He brought in a fir tree, put candles on to represent the stars, then apples, biscuits.

Albert and Victoria's trees were always 6' high with eight sets of branches.  On them would be gold baskets of coloured sweets, candles and ribbons.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had separate trees, he decorated hers (tastfully), she decorated his as she thought he would like (but did he?!).

Mistletoe is traditional at Christmas for kissing under and traditionally it was to protect people and to ensure fertility.

In many ancient religions the mistletoe was regarded as a sacred plant.  The Druids believed that a sprig of mistletoe fastened above a doorway would ward off all sorts of ills, such as witchcraft, disease, bad luck and fire.  In addition, it would enhance the hospitality - and fertility - of the household.  Hence the English Christmas custom of kissing under the mistletoe.  
But to the Norsemen the mistletoe was a baleful plant, because it caused the death of Baldur, the shining god of youth.

The traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols was thought up by the founder of my School, Bishop Benson, in 1880, the year my school was founded.  His son was at Oxford King's College and he introduced it to them and they popularised the tradition.

21 December was the day of St Thomas, the patron saint of old people. So they could beg/ask for money on that day for their Christmas.  (Children in Cornwall also used to beg for frumenty (hulled wheat boiled up with milk seasoned with cinnamon and sugar, from the Latin for corn).

Grandfather Frost with his fairy granddaughter
24 December is the French pere noel, Russian babouska (pink pig), United States Kristingle - a fat jolly person.  In the communist USSR he was Grandfather Frost - and his grand daughter (on 31 December) as no Christmas.

Mince Pies were crib shaped pastry, representing Christ.  They were filled with a mixture of game, rabbit, mushrooms, eggs, spices and seasoning.

Turkey is recorded as being eaten as long ago as 1520 (in Bristol), although it's by no means traditional in this country.

Crackers appeared in the 1870s, from the French idea of paper containing bonbons.  Tom Smith bought the idea back from France and by 1900 was producing over 13 million boxes a year.

Boxing Day, the day alms boxes in churches were opened, but having the day off work on that day started in Cornwall.  Gill the Draper in Truro used to give his staff the day off and the custom of not working that day spread from there.  (As a child I thought it was literally a day when boxing took place - a sort of football but, instead of a ball, a box was kicked around instead.)

Characters from late 18th century
Pantomime used to be harlequinade, scaramouche, columbine, panto clown, used to be 90% predictable with 10% of something different.  In 1772 John Rich and David Garrick of London produced one which was 10% predictable ('oh no, he isn't') and 90% different, introducing jugglers, singers, musicians, it was very popular and the idea took off.

Originally the storylines came from operas and musical plays but they soon ran out of ideas, then got scripts from made-up stories, adapting folk stories.  Music hall stars then took part, such as Marie Lloyd, through Dan Leno to Danny la Rue, pop singers in the 1960s started to make guest appearances, then soap opera start, sports celebs and even cameo spots.
Characters from the Commedia dell' Arte
The snag with panto was the scene shifting, so the idea was to have some of the action taking place in front of the curtain whilst scene changes were going on. The 1800s speciality acts were getting children in the audience on to the the stage, also offer singers, jugglers etc.  Traditional items have always been in pantos, such as the kitchen scene from Cinderella.

... and finally ...

The person whom it's all about ...

The exact ethnicity and nationality of Jesus 
(seen in the paper many years ago, so perhaps not 'pc' enough these days)

Recently, at a theological meeting in Rome, scholars had a heated debate on this subject.  One by one, they offered their evidence.  Three proofs that:

That Jesus was Italian:
He talked with his hands.
He had wine with every meal.
He used olive oil

That Jesus was black
He called everybody ‘brother’
He liked Gospel music
He couldn’t get a fair trial

That Jesus was Jewish
He went into his father’s business
He lived at home until he was 33
He was sure his mother was a virgin, and she was sure he was God

That Jesus was Californian
He didn’t cut his hair
He walked around barefoot
He started a new religion

That Jesus was Jamaican
His first name was Jesus
He was harassed by the authorities
He lived on a diet of beans

That Jesus was Irish
He didn’t get married
He was always telling stories
He loved green pastures

But perhaps the most compelling evidence is this:

That he was a woman:
He had to feed a crowd at a moment’s notice with no food
He kept trying to get the message across to men who just didn’t get it
Even when he was dead, he had to get up because there was more work for him to do

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