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All photos on this blog posted either in the past, the present or future are the property of me Jo-Anne Meadows and can not be used by anyone else for anything else without my written permission.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Is Rudolph a girl

Did you know that Rudolph might actually be a girl!? Only female reindeer keep their antlers throughout winter. By Christmas time most males have discarded their antlers and are saving their energy ready to grow a new pair in the spring.
The UK Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus became more and more alike over the years and are now one and the same.
Some people say that Santa lives at the North Pole. In Finland, they say that he lives in the north part of their country called Lapland.
But everyone agrees that he travels through the sky on a sledge that is pulled by reindeer, that he comes into houses down the chimney at night and places presents for the children in socks or bags by their beds, in front of the family Christmas tree, or by the fire place.
A fireplace with a hanging stockings

Most children receive their presents on Christmas Eve night or early Christmas morning, but in some countries they get their presents on St. Nicholas' Day, December 6th.
St. Nicholas putting the bag of gold into a stocking is probably where the custom of having a tangerine or satsuma at the bottom of your Christmas stocking came from. If people couldn't afford gold, some golden fruit was a good replacement - and until the last 50 years these were quite unusual fruits and so still special!
The biggest Christmas stocking was 51m 35cm (168ft 5.65in) long and 21m 63cm (70ft 11.57in) wide (from the heel to the toe). It was made by the volunteer emergency services organisation Pubblica Assistenza Carrara e Sezioni (Italy) in Carrara, Tuscany, Italy, on 5th January 2011. Just think how many presents you could fit in that!



Thursday, 18 December 2014

How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus

Santa in different colour outfitsIn the 16th Century in Europe, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas had become very unpopular.
But someone had to deliver presents to children at Christmas, so in the UK, he became 'Father Christmas', a character from old children's stories; in France, he was then known as 'Père Nöel'; in Germany, the 'Christ Kind'. In the early USA his name was 'Kris Kringle'. Later, Dutch settlers in the USA took the old stories of St. Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle became 'Sinterklaas' or as we now say 'Santa Claus'!

Many countries, especially ones in Europe, celebrate St. Nicholas' Day on 6th December. In Holland and some other European Countries, children leave clogs or shoes out to be filled with presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas's horse, they will be left some sweets.

St. Nicholas became popular again in the Victorian era when writers, poets and artists rediscovered the old stories.
In 1823 the famous poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' or 'T'was the Night before Christmas', was published. Dr Clement Clarke Moore later claimed that he had written it for his children. However, some scholars now believe that it was actually written by Henry Livingston, Jr., who was a distant relative of Dr Moore's wife. The poem describes eight reindeer and gives them their names. They became really well known in the song 'Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer', written in 1949. Do you know all eight names?





Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Man Behind the Story of Father Christmas/Santa Claus

St. Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century AD in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was a very rich man because his parents died when he was young and left him a lot of money. He was also a very kind man and had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. There are several legends about St. Nicholas, although we don't know if any of them are true!

St NicholasImage from the St. Nicholas Center
www.stnicholascenter.org
The most famous story about St. Nicholas tells how the custom of hanging up stockings to get presents in first started! It goes like this:
There was a poor man who had three daughters. He was so poor, he did not have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters couldn't get married. (A dowry is a sum of money paid to the bridegroom by the brides parents on the wedding day. This still happens in some countries, even today.) One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house (This meant that the oldest daughter was then able to be married.). The bag fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated later with the second daughter. Finally, determined to discover the person who had given him the money, the father secretly hid by the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas dropping in a bag of gold. Nicholas begged the man to not tell anyone what he had done, because he did not want to bring attention to himself. But soon the news got out and when anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from Nicholas.
Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a Saint. St. Nicholas is not only the saint of children but also of sailors! One story tells of him helping some sailors that were caught in a dreadful storm off the coast of Turkey. The storm was raging around them and all the men were terrified that their ship would sink beneath the giant waves. They prayed to St. Nicholas to help them. Suddenly, he was standing on the deck before them. He ordered the sea to be calm, the storm died away, and they were able to sail their ship safely to port.
St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and later put in prison during the persecution by the Emperor Diocletian. No one is really knows when he died, but it was on 6th December in either 345 or 352 AD. In 1087, his bones were stolen from Turkey by some Italian merchant sailors. The bones are now kept in the Church named after him in the Italian port of Bari. On St.Nicholas feast day (6th December), the sailors of Bari still carry his statue from the Cathedral out to sea, so that he can bless the waters and so give them safe voyages throughout the year.


Monday, 15 December 2014

The Colours of Christmas

There are several colours which are traditionally associated with Christmas. This site uses Red, Green and Gold. But why do we have them and what do the colours represent?

Most the colours and their meanings come from the western/northern European traditions and customs, when Christmas is in the middle of winter and it's dark and cold.

Green

Christmas HollyEvergreen plants, like Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe have been used for thousands of years to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long dark winter. They also reminded people that spring would come and that winter wouldn't last forever!
The Romans would exchange evergreen branches during January as a sign of good luck. The ancient Egyptians used to bring palm branches into their houses during the mid winter festivals.
In many parts of Europe during the middle ages, Paradise plays were performed, often on Christmas Eve. They told Bible stories to people who couldn't read. The 'Paradise Tree' in the garden of Eden in the play was normally a pine tree with red apples tied to it.
Now the most common use of green at Christmas are Christmas Trees.

Red

As mentioned above, an early use of red at Christmas were the apples on the paradise tree. They represented the fall of Adam in the plays.
Red is also the colour of Holly berries, which is said to represent the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross.
Red is also the colour of Bishops robes. These would have been worn by St. Nick and Santa Claus!

Gold

Gold is the colour of the Sun and light - both very important in the dark winter. And both red and gold are the colours of fire that you need to keep you warm.
Gold was also one of the presents brought to the baby Jesus and traditionally it's the colour used to show the star that the wise men followed. Silver is sometimes used instead of (or with) gold. But gold is a 'warmer' colour.

White

White is often associated with purity and peace in western cultures. The snow of winter is also very white!

White paper wafers were also sometimes used to decorate paradise trees. The wafers represented the bread eaten during Christian Communion or Mass, when Christians remember that Jesus died for them.
White is used by most churches as the colour of Christmas, when the altar is covered with a white cloth (in the Russian Orthodox Church Gold is used for Christmas).

Blue

The colour blue is often associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus. In medieval times blue dye and paint was more expensive than gold! So it would only be worn by Royal families and very rich people. Mary was often painted wearing blue to show she was very important.

Blue can also represent the colour of the sky and heaven.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

The History of Christmas Cards

The custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. He was a civil servant (Government worker) who was very interested in the new 'Public Post Office' and wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people.

The First Christmas CardSir Henry had the idea of Christmas Cards with his friend John Horsley, who was an artist. They designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each. (That is only 5p or 8 cents today(!), but in those days it was worth much much more.) The card had three panels. The outer two panels showed people caring for the poor and in the centre panel 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 1000 (or it might have been less!) were printed and sold. They are now very rare and cost thousands of Pounds or Dollars to buy now!
The first postal service that ordinary people could use was started in 1840 when the first 'Penny Post' public postal deliveries began. Before that, only very rich people could afford to send anything in the post. The new Post Office was able to offer a Penny stamp because new railways were being built. These could carry much more post than the horse and carriage that had been used before. Also, trains could go a lot faster. Cards became even more popular in the UK when they could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny - half the price of an ordinary letter.
As printing methods improved, Christmas cards became much more popular and were produced in large numbers from about 1860. In 1870 the cost of sending a post card, and also Christmas cards, dropped to half a penny. This meant even more people were able to send cards.
An engraved card by the artist William Egley, who illustrated some of Charles Dickens's books, is on display in the British Museum. By the early 1900s, the custom had spread over Europe and had become especially popular in Germany.
The first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. In late Victorian times, robins (an English bird) and snow-scenes became popular. In those times the postmen were nicknamed 'Robin Postmen' because of the red uniforms they wore. Snow-scenes were popular because they reminded people of the very bad winter that happened in the UK in 1836.
Christmas Cards appeared in the United States of America in the late 1840s, but were very expensive and most people couldn't afford them. It 1875, Louis Prang, a printer who was originally from German but who had also worked on early cards in the UK, started mass producing cards so more people could afford to buy them. Mr Prang's first cards featured flowers, plants, and children. In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, who are still one of the biggest card makers today!
In the 1910s and 1920s, home made cards became popular. They were often unusual shapes and had things such as foil and ribbon on them. These were usually too delicate to send through the post and were given by hand.
Nowadays, cards have all sorts of pictures on them: jokes, winter pictures, Santa Claus or romantic scenes of life in past times. Charities often sell their own Christmas Cards as a way raising money at Christmas.

Charities also make money from seals or stickers used to seal the card envelopes. This custom started in Denmark in the early 1900s by a postal worker who thought it would be a good way for charities to raise money, as well as making the cards more decorative. It was a great success: over four million were sold in the first year!

Soon Sweden and Norway adopted the custom and then it spread all over Europe and to America.


Friday, 12 December 2014

History of the Christmas Tree part 2

The History of Christmas Trees

A Christmas Tree with gold baublesCones on a Fir TreeThe first first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house, in the way we know it today, may have been the 16th century German preacher Martin Luther. A story is told that, one night before Christmas, he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas. Some people say this is the same tree as the 'Riga' tree, but it isn't! The Riga tree originally took place a few decades earlier. Northern Germany and Latvia are neighbours.
Another story says that St. Boniface of Crediton (a village in Devon, UK) left England and travelled to Germany to preach to the pagan German tribes and convert them to Christianity. He is said to have come across a group of pagans about to sacrifice a young boy while worshipping an oak tree. In anger, and to stop the sacrifice, St. Boniface is said to have cut down the oak tree and, to his amazement, a young fir tree sprang up from the roots of the oak tree. St. Boniface took this as a sign of the Christian faith and his followers decorated the tree with candles so that St. Boniface could preach to the pagans at night.
There is another legend, from Germany, about how the Christmas Tree came into being, it goes:
Once on a cold Christmas Eve night, a forester and his family were in their cottage gathered round the fire to keep warm. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. When the forester opened the door, he found a poor little boy standing on the door step, lost and alone. The forester welcomed him into his house and the family fed and washed him and put him to bed in the youngest sons own bed (he had to share with his brother that night!). The next morning, Christmas Morning, the family were woken up by a choir of angels, and the poor little boy had turned into Jesus, the Christ Child. The Christ Child went into the front garden of the cottage and broke a branch off a Fir tree and gave it to the family as a present to say thank you for looking after him. So ever since them, people have remembered that night by bringing a Christmas Tree into their homes!



Thursday, 11 December 2014

History of Christmas Trees part 1

The History of Christmas Trees

A Christmas Tree with gold baublesThe evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used Fir Trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.
Nobody is really sure when Fir trees were first used as Christmas trees. It probably started about began 1000 years ago in Northern Europe. Many early Christmas Trees seem to have been hung upside down from the ceiling using chains (hung from chandeliers/lighting hooks).
Other early Christmas Trees, across many part of northern europe, were cherry or hawthorn plants (or a branch of the plant) that were put into pots and brought inside, so they would hopefully flower at Christmas time. If you couldn't afford a real plant, people made pyramids of woods and they were decorated to look like a tree with paper, apples and candles. Sometimes there were carried around from house to house, rather than being displayed in a home.
It's possible that the wooden pyramid trees were meant to be like Paradise Trees. These were used in medieval German Mystery or Miracle Plays that were acted out in front of Churches on Christmas Eve. In early church calendars of saints, 24th December was Adam and Eve's day. The Paradise Tree represented the Garden of Eden. It was often paraded around the town before the play started, as a way of advertising the play. The plays told Bible stories to people who could not read.
The first documented use of a tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is in town square of Riga, the capital of Latvia, in the year 1510. In the square there is a plaque which is engraved with "The First New Years Tree in Riga in 1510", in eight languages. The tree might have been a 'Paradise Tree' rather than a 'real' tree. Not much is known about the tree, apart from that it was attended by men wearing black hats, and that after a ceremony they burnt the tree.

A picture from Germany in 1521 which shows a tree being paraded through the streets with a man riding a horse behind it. The man is dressed a bishop, possibly representing St. Nicholas.

In 1584, the historian Balthasar Russow wrote about a tradition, in Riga, of a decorated fir tree in the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”. There's a record of a small tree in Breman, Germany from 1570. It is described as a tree decorated with "apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers". It was displayed in a 'guild-house' (the meeting place for a society of business men in the city).