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Traditions and Symbols of Christmas

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Copyright the Kanata Kourier-Standard, published 7 December 2007, all rights reserved.

Advent Calendars: The first calendar counting down to Christmas dates back to the 19th century. People counted down 24 or 25 days until Christmas (with the last day being Christmas Eve or Christmas Day) by using chalk lines to mark off the days.

Later on, the tradition of lighting a candle each night was born. Today, Advent calendars vary. Some have drawers or doors that are opened every day to reveal a religious icon, piece of candy, or you may even find ones with cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse.

Candles: The first use of candles at Christmas [time] was in the Roman festival of Saturnalia, where tall tapers of wax were given as gifts to guests and as an offering to Saturn as a symbol of his light.

As Christianity spread, candles were placed in the front window of homes to guide the Christ child as he went from house to house on Christmas Eve. [When I was a child, my grandmother always placed a candle in the tall Russian brass candle holder in the front window, to 'light the Christ child on his way'.]

Candy canes: According to the National Confectioners Association, in the 17th century, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany gave his young singers sugar sticks to keep them quiet during ceremonies.

In honour of the occasion, he had the candies bent into shepherds' crooks. In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes.

By the 1900s the candy cane got its red and white stripes and peppermint flavours. They were mass produced by the 1950s, eliminating the laborious task of making the treat, and their popularity spread.

Christmas tree: Germans would decorate fir trees, inside and out, with roses, apples and coloured paper. The tradition hit England and America via the German immigrants in Pensylvania in the 1800s.

Of course, a Christmas tree isn't complete without ornaments. Decorating trees dates back to the Victorian times. Woolworths department store sold the first manufactured Christmas tree [ornaments], and the trend spread.

Mistletoe: The Scandinavians thought of mistletoe as a peaceful and harmonious plant. And they linked Frigg, their goddess of love, with mistletoe.

The combination of these two schools of thought brought about the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. Those who kissed beneath the mistletoe were thought to have happiness and good luck the next year.

Stockings: A man was so sad over the death of his wife that he spent all his money. Unfortunately, this left his three daughters without money for wedding dowries.

St Nicholas wanted to help the poor girls' cause, so he anonymously threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney of their home. The coins landed in the stockings of the women, who had hung them by the fireplace to dry.

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Patti

This page was updated on 8 December 2007.

Contact me at: patti.primeau@sympatico.ca

This site was edited using Nvu and Style Master.

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