CHARLOTTTE, North Carolina, Dec. 17, 2015 – Apparently Christmas traditions are so abundant there isn’t enough space to cover them all. Following the trivia story about Christmas trees, a historian from Charlotte sent an email informing me I had offended the queen for whom the city of Charlotte is named.
In an effort to make amends, we offer more Yuletide trivia today. After all, when your NFL team is undefeated, you have earned the right to be a little uppity.
1 – More about Christmas trees: Setting the record straight, it was Queen Charlotte, the German-born wife of George III, who had the first Christmas tree in Britain at Windsor Castle for a Christmas party in the year 1800.
Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg reigned when the American colonies claimed their independence from England. She was also the grandmother of Queen Victoria.
Members of the British Royal Family had Christmas trees long before the tradition became popular among the citizens of England. In fact, Princess Victoria had a tree at Kensington Palace in 1832.
The confusion over “responsibility” for the popularity of Christmas trees arises from the fact that German Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, allowed the Illustrated London News to print a picture of the Royal Family gathered around their tree in 1848. The idea caught on with the public to become the tradition we know today.
Going back further in history, the ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Hebrews regarded evergreen trees, wreaths and garlands as symbols of everlasting life.
Tree worship was common in the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden, where people decorated their houses with evergreen plants at New Year’s to scare away the devil and evil spirits.
Germany is responsible for the Christmas tree’s being placed indoors. Many historians believe it was Martin Luther who began that custom, but long before that Germans had something called a “Paradise tree.”
Paradise trees were decorated with apples in remembrance of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The trees were put up on Christmas Eve and candles were often added to represent Christ.
Centuries later, at the turn of the 19th century, as far as we know, Queen Charlotte celebrated Christmas at Windsor with the first Christmas tree in Great Britain.
And now you know the rest of the story.
2 – Christmas cards: The UK gets credit for the custom of sending Christmas cards; Sir Henry Cole got the idea in 1843. The new “Public Post Office” had been established for ordinary citizens three years earlier, and Cole wondered if his concept would increase the use of the service.
Cole approached an artist friend, John Horsley, who designed the first card with three panels. The outer panels showed people caring for the poor, and the center frame depicted a family gathering for a large Christmas dinner.
Controversy arose even in those days, however, because the family dinner showed a child being given a glass of wine.
The cards sold for a shilling each, and the first printing totaled about 1,000 cards.
As printing techniques improved, so did the volume of cards.
The earliest cards usually had Nativity scenes, but in the Victorian era robins and snow-scenes became popular. Mail carriers of the day were known as “Robin Postmen” because of their red uniforms.
During the middle of the 19th century, William Egley, who illustrated some of Charles Dickens’ books, designed an engraved card that is today on display in the British Museum.
Christmas cards did not arrive in the United States until the late 1840s, but they were so expensive that most people could not afford them. Finally in 1875, a printer from Germany named Louis Prang mass- produced cards so that everyone could purchase them.
By 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers began making cards with a name that is still familiar today…Hallmark.
3 – Kissing under the mistletoe: A personal favorite. Historians believe the ancient Druids started the tradition of hanging mistletoe in the house in order to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the household.
For whatever reason, mistletoe was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology, which is where the practice of kissing originated.
In the UK, York Minster in the city of York held a Mistletoe Service where wrong-doers could receive a pardon for their misdeeds.
As for kissing, the original tradition was that a berry would be picked from a sprig of mistletoe before a person could be kissed. When all the berries were gone, you were out of luck, no more kissing.
Tracing the name is not quite so romantic or elegant. Mistletoe is derived from two Anglo Saxon words: “Mistel” means “dung” and “tan” means “twig” or “stick.” The word “mistletoe” then becomes “poop on a stick.”
And now it’s time to take a “bough.”
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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