Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Things you Didn't Know About Christmas

(Unless you attended my Sunday School Lesson)

Santa Claus is real, despite what your friends whispered to you in kindergarten. As real as Davy Crockett anyway. Saint Nicholas was Turkish and died in 340 AD. He was a Christian and was tortured by the Romans until Emperor Constantine (famous for being the first Christian emperor, or at least famous to those of us that took 4 years of Latin in high school) set him free.

As with patron saints, he’s pretty willing to patronize things. He’s the patron saint of children and travelers, which makes sense. Maybe also the patron saint of hypercholesterolemia. He’s the patron saint of both Russia and Italy. In Greece he’s the saint of sailors. In France he’s the saint of lawyers.

Saint Nicholas was popular among the Dutch, who thought he put toys and candy in their kids wooden shoes. Saint Nicholas is Sint Nikolaas in Dutch. Sint Nikolass eventually got contracted to Sinterklass. Sinterklass got anglicized to Santa Claus. So Sarah Silverman is wrong, he’s Dutch/Turkish, not German (Give the Jew Girl Toys It’s Sarah Silverman, so it’s going to be offensive.)

Switching subjects, What’s the Deal with Mistletoe? (Incidentally, when I say What’s the Deal, I always say it in an annoying Seinfeld impersonation.)

Druids were the first ones to dig on Mistletoe. Since it’s an evergreen they thought it had special qualities. There are lots of evergreens, so I’m not sure how they picked it out, but who can explain druidism. The Celts believed mistletoe had special healing properties. The Romans felt it was connected to peace and any 2 Romans who met under mistletoe had to hug it out instead of fight. Our current romantic connotation with mistletoe comes from the Scandinavians. Mistletoe is the favorite foliage of Frigga, the goddess of fertility and love.

The Catholic church didn’t like mistletoe. They thought it was pagan and sensual (which is probably exactly why people like it.) So they decided that mistletoe shouldn’t be used around Christmas, and we should use holly instead. Holly leaves are meant to represent the crown of thorns that Christ wore, and the red berries represent his blood. Not really as fun as mistletoe.

Changing subject to another plant, Christmas trees. Christmas trees have been used since pagan times (ie before Christmas.) Again, evergreens were thought to have special qualities, so were used for the festivities around the winter solstice. These got wrapped in with Christmas in the middle ages. Christmas trees were decorated, frequently to represent the Tree of Life (the one in the Garden of Eden, not the MTC.) Pageants would often include a scene with Adam and Eve and their tree, looking forward to the coming of the Christ.

Who invented Christmas lights? That’s right, Martin Luther! None of you guessed Martin Luther, I’m sure. As the story goes, he was walking home one Christmas season and saw the starlight shining through the boughs of the Christmas trees. He liked it so well that he hooked a bunch of candles to his tree. And lighting the Christmas tree was born.

One last one: candycanes. Invented in Germany (Cologne to be exact) to keep kids quiet during church. Before there were cheerios, there were candycanes. Except they were just white sugar sticks, not the current version. But that’s how they got started. It’s a little unclear who did what, but perhaps there, perhaps somewhere else they decided to bend the sticks so they looked like a shepherd’s crook, since Christ was the shepherd of men. The sticks are white to represent the purity of Christ. Traditional candycanes have 3 red stripes: 3 for the Trinity and red for the blood of Christ. The first sighting of candycanes in America occurred in none other than Wooster Ohio. I thought of them as I passed the Wooster exit on the way to NY yesterday.

That’s it for today. I’ll try to dig up some dirt on St. Patrick or St. Valentine in a couple months.

Merry Christmas
Happy Hanukah
Happy Kwanzaa
And Festivus for the rest of us.


peetie said...

I also didn't know Cologne was in Germany. I would've put a sizable amount of money down that it was in France. Huh.

Ranteumptom said...

4th largest city in Germany. Though I certainly didn't know that until 30 seconds ago.