Christmas Leftovers

While researching the last couple of blog posts for Christmas, I came across a few titbits of information about Christmas that I thought I’d share.  Here’s some more.

Deck The Halls With Boughs Of Holly
This and The Holly and the ivy are two Christmas songs that remind us of the pre-Christian origins of Christmas as a midwinter festival.  These plants (and mistletoe) were seen as a sign of everlasting life when all other plants died.  Holly was associated with Saturn, a god who, among other duties, dealt with agriculture.  Saturnalia was the Roman festival from December 17th – 23rd, which (along with other pagan customs) was adopted and adapted by Christianity.  Well, no point in rocking the holiday boat is there?

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Traditional Christmas party?

Of Tinsel And Fire
All this stuff about decoration got me wondering about tinsel as I had always thought its origins lay in the notion of a substitute for all this greenery.  And when was tinsel created?  Like many things Christmassy you might say the Victorian period. Yes?

No.  You have to go all the way back some 420 years to Germany!  The term “tinsel” was originally a cloth made from interwoven gold or silver thread.  The word comes from the Middle French “estincelle” meaning “sparke, spangle”.  The modern sense is recorded in 1590 in Nuremburg.  Silver used to be beaten very thin and cut into narrow strips and draped around and above statues or above nativity scenes in churches.  This reflected the candlelight and may have been meant to represent the stars in the heavens.

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A nativity scene in San Francisco.

Because it tarnished quickly, other metals such as tin and even lead were used and indeed lead based tinsel was still until the 1960s when it was withdrawn for health reasons.  Tinsel is now PVC based you’ll be glad to hear..

Oh, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
Why do we take the decorations down by 6th January?  That’s supposed to be because of Epiphany on 6th January (Twelfth Night) but the origins of this may have been in the theory that, having taken part of the forest into the home thus taking care of the spirits within the greenery, the spirits had to be released once more or they would be displeased and there would be no new growth.  

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Roy Wood’s Wizzard in 1973.  

Another school of thought was that the decorations could be left up until another pagan festival at the beginning of February.  This became Candlemas and often Christmas festivities carried on for about forty days between the two “official dates”.

Merry Xmas Everybody
1973 was a good year for Christmas songs.  Despite being re-released several times, Wizzard’s Oh, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday has only ever reached no. 4 in 1973.  Slade got the coveted no.1 spot with Merry Xmas Everybody.  This started life as a psychedelic song in 1967!

The lines “So here it is Merry Christmas, Everybody’s having fun” is somewhat ironic as probably not many people were that year due to power cuts during the “winter of discontent”!

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Office workers without electricity or heat in 1973.

Do They Know Its Christmas?
Not in any way wishing to trivialise the importance of this song’s origins in any way, the answer is probably, “No”.

Ethiopia uses the Coptic Christian calendar which is based upon the ancient Egyptian and Julien calendars.  In this dating system, Christmas is celebrated on the equivalent of our 7th January.

Rockin’ Robin
Why do we have robins on Christmas cards?  They’re not winter birds – you see them all year round.  Legend has it that a robin comforted Jesus on the cross and its feathers were stained by the blood.

The reality is that Victorian postmen wore red tunics and were nicknamed “robins. 

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The first robins (feathered variety) depicted on Victorian cards appeared in the 1850s They were sometimes shown, as a visual pun, delivering he mail.  

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A typical Victorian Christmas card depicting the summer to come.  A robin is shown with other birds collecting strawberries.  Very Christmassy!

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Anthropomorphised robin doing charitable work. 

Incidentally, the first Christmas card was printed in December 1843, at the request of Sir Henry Cole.  He wanted to surprise his friends with a novel and colourful card at Christmas time instead of the usual Christmas letter.  Originally, Christmas cards didn’t show any religious or winter scenes but usually depicted images of nature, flowers and animals to remind people that the cold winter would soon end.

Is it any coincidence that Sir Henry Cole was instrumental in setting up the Penny Post three years earlier?  Hmm….

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