Only two more weeks until Christmas!
Hopefully this is a time of joy for you and not a time of stress. I love this time of year, even though we no longer have little ones. I still love shopping for the perfect gifts for everybody on my list and cannot wait to see their faces when they open their packages. I have also enjoyed researching the history of various Christmas things and traditions.
Here are some of my latest discoveries.
At our home, Santa always hung candy canes on the tree after leaving gifts underneath the tree and eating his cookies and drinking the glass of milk. Sometimes he even left a note.
One year he forgot to leave the candy canes and that caused concern — he never forgot them again.
Candy canes, like we learned last week about Christmas trees, originated in Germany. One legend said that a choirmaster invented the first ones in 1670 when he was worried about young children sitting through a particularly long Christmas service.
Those early candy canes were all white, shaped like a shepherds crook to remind the children of the shepherds visit to baby Jesus on that first Christmas night. Most historians say this story is probably not true, but I like the sentiment so I am sharing it with you. The red stripes were added much later, probably in 1900.
Many people said the “J” shape of the candy cane stands for Jesus and the white represents his purity and the red stands for the blood he shed on the cross.
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Have you ever wondered about mistletoe?
I discovered mistletoe is a plant that grows on certain trees such as willow, apple and oak trees. The actual tradition of mistletoe goes back to the ancient Druids.
People would give it to friends as a gift to hang in your home. It was thought to bring good luck to the family and also ward off evil spirits.
In Norse mythology, mistletoe symbolized love and friendship. The tradition of kissing underneath mistletoe came from England. Apparently it began among the servants but spread to the middle class. A man was allowed to steal a kiss from a woman if she was standing underneath mistletoe, and if she refused it was said to be bad luck.
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I love red poinsettias.
Their vibrant red color is just beautiful. I was surprised to learn poinsettias are native to Central America. The ancient Aztecs used them to make a purple dye for clothes as well as cosmetics. The sap of the plant was used to cure fevers.
How they came to America is interesting. The first Ambassador to Mexico was Joel Roberts Poinsett, an American from Greenville, South Carolina.
Poinsett was a serious plant lover and had greenhouses where he grew all sorts of things. In 1825, he brought some poinsettias back from a trip to Mexico and began growing them in his greenhouses.
He cultivated them so they were much smaller than the ones in Mexico. He gave some to one of his botanist friends who began selling them. The plants became popular and were re-named after him. Did you know Dec. 12 is National Poinsettia Day? This marks the date of Poinsett’s death.
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Did you know Jesse Trees have been around since the Middle Ages?
A Jesse Tree is a way to teach young children about the Bible. The name comes from Isaiah 11:1, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.”
You can even make your own using a real tree or a paper tree. We have an advent calendar/tree made from cloth. Every day you put an “ornament” on the tree and tell what it represents. An apple might symbolize the apple from the story of Adam and Eve. A rainbow could represent the story of Noah’s Ark.
I love our advent calendar and have fond memories of our children arguing over who would get to hang the ornaments on the tree every day during the month of December. Now I hang them on the tree every morning and smile thinking of their anticipation of Christmas Day.
I love learning about the origins of where so many of our traditions come from. Please look out for next week’s column for more Christmas history.
South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at [email protected]