Wednesday, December 16, 2015

More Christmas Traditions

Yes, I know there was a Republican debate filled with fear mongering, war mongering, and the extermination of "thousands of children." Not going to let it dim my holiday spirits.

Christmas Trees
What's Christmas without murdering some helpless conifer, hauling it inside, and dressing the corpse in lights and tinsel? (Sorry, still a little bummed about that debate.)

The Christmas tree is pagan, of course. Germanic pagans understood that woodland fairies got cold in winter just like everyone else. They would bring inside pine boughs so the sprites would have a comfy warm place to winter. In return, the fairies would give the family good luck the rest of the year.

Don't osculate under the tree parasite with anyone else but me. In Norse mythology the mistletoe was sacred to the goddess Frigga. Frigga feared for the life of her son, Baldar the god of the summer sun, and got pledges from all the plants and animals on earth to protect him. But she had neglected the lowly mistletoe. Loki snatched a sprig of the plant and fashioned it into an arrowhead which killed Baldar.

Frigga cried over her child, her tears becoming mistletoe's white berries, until he was resurrected. She then decreed that all who meet under the mistletoe should show no harm and kiss each other in greeting.

Wassailing began in the Celtic tradition of drinking toasts to fruit trees to make them happy and insure a bountiful harvest. It merged with Nordic caroling into an English tradition of door-to-door singing followed by a demand for fruity goodies like figgy pudding and cider or ale.

Christmas Pickle
I didn't know this was a thing but, hey, I love a good kosher dill.

In the 1880's, Woolworth department store sold a line of glass fruit and vegetable ornaments imported from Germany. The pickles were not moving because they were ugly, bumpy, kinda phallic looking. Woolworth had a stockpile of unpopular pickle ornaments.

Some advertising genius publicized the story that in Germany the pickle ornament was the last one put on the tree and a special present was set aside for the first child to find it. Utter poppycock but people flocked to the stores to buy their Christmas pickles and a new tradition was born.

Candy Canes
There is a fascinating story that the choirmaster of Cologne Cathedral in 1670 was looking for a way to keep the children quiet during his interminable liturgical services. He went to a confectioner and asked him to put a curve in peppermint sticks to symbolize the shepherd's staff.

Another story is that an American candy maker around 1900 wanted to make a religious treat. His candy would look like a shepherd's staff but if you turn it around the hook becomes a J for Jesus. The white in the cane symbolized Christ's purity while the red symbolized the blood of His scourging at the crucifixion.

Both stories have no actual historical support. Peppermint sticks have been around for centuries. The hook was probably added as a seasonal marketing tool to make it easier to hang the treats on a tree. Just like marshmallow peeps have no religious significance.

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