12/15/2022 “Christmas Traditions”   Leave a comment

I’m a bit of a history nut and because it’s the Christmas season I began wondering, how the Christmas we celebrate came to be. Of course, having a trace of Celtic blood in me leads me directly back to the Druids and some of their odd and unusual celebratory customs. As far as I can tell that’s where the tradition of mistletoe began as it was a part of many of their holiday ceremonies. As I read through a number of books there was absolutely no history of kissing under the mistletoe in the days of the Druids. The tradition of hanging a sprig in the house is supposedly linked to them as well. That came much later with the earliest recorded mention in some sort of music from 1784.

In illustrations of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, there appeared pictures of people kissing under the mistletoe. It’s quite likely that those illustrations popularized the custom. Leave it up to us Americans to take an old Bronze Age custom and turn it into just another reason to be kissing on someone.ofofofI was also curious of where the custom of bringing a tree into the house originated. As best I can determine it started with the Germans who got it from the Romans, who got it from the Egyptians who got it from the Babylonians. Who knows what’s true and what isn’t. It seems that those pesky Babylonians passed down a lot of crazy traditions to anyone who’d listen. Apparently, there was some sort of Babylonian fable concerning an evergreen tree that grew out of a dead tree trunk. Sounds stupid to me but any reason is a good reason when you want to throw a party or orgy.

The first written record of a decorated Christmas tree comes from Latvia, in the 1500’s. Local merchants decorated a tree and danced around it in the marketplace. When they became too tired to dance, they set it on fire. I’m sure glad that custom didn’t make it to the present day. Around that same time the Germans in their infinite wisdom passed a law to limit the size of a Christmas tree to just over four foot high. You gotta love them Germans.

Jump ahead a hundred years when it became common in Germany to decorate Christmas trees with apples. During the 1700’s in parts of Austria and Germany, evergreen tips hung from the ceiling and were decorated with apples, gilded nuts and red paper strips. The first mentions of using lighted candles came from France in the 18th century. Those quirky French must have a fondness for the occasional house fire. As Europeans emigrated to America, they brought their customs with them. The Christmas tree was introduced in the United States and grew from tabletop size to floor-to-ceiling. If you’re going to live in America, everyone knows things must be bigger and better.

In the 1880’s trees began to be sold commercially in the United States and were normally harvested from the forests. The first glass ornaments were introduced again from Germany and were mostly balls. Toys and figurines also became more common during those years. Sears, Roebuck & Company began offering artificial Christmas trees for sale – 33 limbs for $.50 and 55 limbs for $1.00. There was nothing that Sears Roebuck won’t rush to sell to make a few bucks.

The 1900’s brought us the first Christman tree farms because the surrounding forests were being overharvested. W.V. McGalliard planted 25,000 Norway spruce on his farm in New Jersey to get the ball rolling. President Theodore Roosevelt actually considered banning the practice of having Christmas trees out of his concern about the destruction of the forests. His two sons disagreed and enlisted the help of conservationist Gifford Pinchot to convince the President that the tradition was not harmful to the forests. In 1966 the National Christmas Tree Association began its time-honored tradition of having the Grand Champion grower present a Christmas Tree to the First Lady for display in the Blue Room of the White House. Currently there are approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees sold each year in the United States. Almost all of these come from farms.

Just a tip from a former college student who worked part-time on a Christmas tree farm in Edinboro, Pennsylvania in the 1960’s. It was the worst job I ever had. I smelled like pine trees for months and ruined most of my clothes because of the sap. That job convinced me to say the hell with tradition, just get me one of those beautiful artificial trees. I never looked back.

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