THE HISTORY AND TRADITIONS OF CHRISTMAS
The space left by a double-booked speaker was ably filled with not much notice by our own Jackie. She entertained us with so much interesting information that the afternoon flew by.
The cringe-making “Xmas” has a basis in fact. It should still be pronounced Christmas however as the X stands for the Greek letter chi which looks like an X and is pronounced kye. This is the first letter of Christ’s name as it is spelt in Greek.
There are many traditions surrounding the Yule Log. It is thought to originate in Scandinavia where an entire tree was brought into a house to burn over the two months of the winter solstice. As families dragged their tree home, greetings were extended between them and a ceremony of music and dancing accompanied its arrival. As fireplaces became smaller the logs did too. Each region of Europe used its own native tree; France used cherry trees, England used oak, Scotland used birch for instance. The French also tended to sprinkle their log with wine so that it smelt nice whilst burning!
The popular carol “Jingle Bells” was the first carol to be broadcast from space! Two astronauts on Gemini 6 announced they had seen a UFO in December 1965 and then played the carol with harmonica and sleighbells which they had smuggled into the spacecraft!
The Christingle service originated in Moravia in Germany in 1747. The minister gave children a candle with a red ribbon around it to symbolise Jesus being the light of the world. The custom was circulated by missionaries but only became a regular service in Britain in 1968. The service is used now to raise money for children’s charities.
There are several stories surrounding the Christmas tree as we know it today. Apart from the most accepted one of Prince Albert bringing the idea here from Germany when he married Queen Victoria, there are many others. Two of my favourites concern Martin Luther and the Scandinavian winter. Martin Luther, as the story goes, was so taken one evening by the sight of the stars shining through the pine forest on his way home one clear winter’s night that he dug up a fir tree and decorated it so that his children could see what he had seen. In mediaeval Scandinavia, evergreen trees were considered to ward off evil spirits and so householders often brought one either inside the house or just up to the door, to keep the family safe during the long winter nights.
Two other types of tree used in the Christmas period were the Jesse tree and the Paradise Tree. The Jesse Tree is a mediaeval tradition and was a branch decorated with small items depicting stories from the Bible. It was used to explain the Bible to illiterate folk and can still be seen in some church windows today. The Paradise Tree was a large structure made from evergreen branches and decorated with apples and small white wafers to represent the Eucharist. This tree was paraded though towns and villages to advertise the commencement of the morality plays each year. Over time the wafers were replaced with tiny pastry shapes – stars, angels, hearts, flowers and bells.
After explaining the origins of some of our favourite carols, Jackie came to the end of her talk and we all enjoyed our refreshments – not least Jackie herself!
Please come and join us in February. On the 12th we will be hearing a talk entitled “Keeping Safe from Scammers” which is a very up-to-the-minute subject. I’m sure you will find it interesting so please do come and see if you like us. All our meetings begin at 2 pm in the Sports Pavilion in Overstrand and cost just £3 per visitor which includes refreshments. For further information please contact our Chairman, Jackie, on 720866 or our Secretary, Chris, on 579433.