Thursday, December 15, 2011

Answers to Questions about Christmas Symbols

Not long after Thanksgiving the phone at my reference desk began to ring and my email box began to fill with questions about the symbols of Christmas. What's a busy librarian to do? Go check out a reference book about Holidays and Traditions, and thats just what I did and here is what I found. By the way these are actual questions.
Q: Is Santa Claus the same person as St. Nicholas?
A: Yes and no. The original Santa Claus was Nicholas, the legendary saint who was bishop of Myra (Turkey) in the fourth century. He was usually shown wearing the fur-trimmed robes of a cleric, with a beehive (symbolizing industry) and a bulldog (fidelity) at his side. He was a gift giver but also a disciplinarian, bringing switches and rods for children who misbehaved. December 6 was his feast day, and in many countries, it is on this day, not Christmas Eve that St. Nicholas arrives to hand out his presents and punishments. It wasn't until the December of 1823 when Clement Moore's wrote the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" that the American Santa Claus was transformed from a tall, slim bishop to a jolly, overweight fellow who wore a red suit and entered the house via the chimney.
Q: Are reindeer for real and can they really fly?
A: Again, yes and no. More than 600 years after the death of St. Nicholas, Russians carried his legend back from Constantinople, and he became Russia's patron saint. From there his story spread to Lapland, home of the reindeer, which may explain why the modern Santa lives at the North Pole and gets around in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. It was again Clement Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" that popularized the names of Santa's reindeer: Now Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen. On Comet, Cupid, Doner and Blitzen! Rudolph is a whole other question!
Q: Are Luminarias more than just a pretty way to light your path?
A: Yes, Luminarias mean "lights" or "illuminations" in Spanish. The word also refers to the small bonfires that illuminate the dark nights of the Christmas season throughout the American Southwest. These bonfires are made from pinon pine logs that have been stacked in log cabin style to form a box about three feet in height. Some believe that luminarias can be traced back to the fires that warmed the shepards to whom the birth of Jesus was announced. Today luminarias acn be seen on Christmas Eve in front of churches, homes, and public plazas.
Q: What is the history of the Christmas carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"?
A: This popular secular 16th century English carol is from West Country of England. It is one of the few traditional holiday carols that make mention of the New Year's celebration. This song actually reflects the Christmas tradition of showering gifts on the people who wandered from house to house (known today as carolers), singing these Christmas songs to please the wealthy people of the community.
Q: Why do we send Christmas cards?
A: In Ancient Rome, it was the custom to exchange greetings and gifts on the first day of January. With the advent of Christianity , the giving and receiving of such tokens continued in some European countries, often taking the form of New Year cards. These contained no reference to Christmas and were sent out after December 25 so they would arive on New Year's Day. The first printed Christmas card was produced in England in 1843. Designed by John Calcott Horsley, it sold for a shilling and looked like a postcard. It wasn't until the 1880s that cards became folders of four, eight, or more pages. Cards became more elaborate throughout the Victorian period, with "frosted" surfaces, fancy cut edges, layers of lace-paper, and other forms of decoration. Now, in the twenty-first century the christmas card is still out there, I saw them in Walgreens. There were religious ones and some with cute little penguins and little forest friends dancing around the decorated christmas tree. There were even some for those who enjoy a little "wicked" fun. I love Christmas cards. To me, it's more special whem someone sends me a hand written card with a scene that warms my spirit. After looking at ten different designs and still not making up my mind as to what I wanted I decided to rebel against my own tradition and send everyone a Christmas E-Card... So now you know a little bit about some of our more famous Christmas traditions
HoHoHo...Happy Holidays to All!

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