Some Xmas info (You had to ask ; )
Posted by Carolyn B on March 22, 1998 at 12:05:05:
In response to Christmas, written by D'Anne on March 18, 1998 at 17:59:24
This perhaps doesn't answer your question directly, but it does sort of put the whole thing in context (by at least telling you some of the things that were later developments). For various reasons, I have had to research historical Christmas decorations, but I’ve been focussing mainly on Victorian and early 20th C.
I hope others here will jump in to elaborate or correct!
Leading up to Regency period:
Bear in mind that Christmas really builds on the longer tradition of seasonal celebrations related to the winter solstice so this time of the year has always been a holiday (except during when the Puritans tried banning the celebration - mid 1600s - don't have exact dates).
In the 1600s –maybe early 1700s (not sure how long all of these continue) Christmas was one of a series of seasonal holidays. While Christmas was celebrated, it did not perhaps have the primacy it has for many today as THE major holiday in the year.
This quote is from Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer (1989), which looks at what traditions British settlers brought to the US:
Imposed upon the crop cycle was a cadence of cultural time which was regulated by the Christian calendar [my, but that’s alliterative!]. Accounts were settled and rents were due on Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer’s Day (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29), and Christmas Day, both in Virginia and Southern England. Events such as Twelfth Night, Shrovetide, Lent, Easter, Ascension and Lady Day were also times of high celebration. . . . The climax of the year was Christmas, a happy season of parties, dances, visits, gifts and celebration.
Would these activities include burning the Yule log? I think that harks back to pagan traditions as does the holly and ivy symbolism.
19th Century Developments
Following information is from Christmas Past by Robert Brenner. He’s primarily talking about the US but looks at cultural imports.
Christmas as we know it today was a conscious and most deliberate invention in the mid 19th century by such popular authors as Washington Irving, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Clement Moore, Thomas Nast, Sir Walter Scott, and Charles Dickens.
According to Brenner, the fat jolly St. Nicholas was an American invention
1809 – Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker History of New York "changed St Nicholas from a stern bishop into jolly St. Nick who showered gifts and good tidings"
1822 – Clement Moore borrowed from Irving’s book to write "An Account of a Visit of St. Nicholas" [Twas the night before Christmas, etc.] "This did much to establish the magic of Christmas eve and its visit from St. Nick"(spreading the Dutch tradition????)
1843 – In England and US, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol "gave Christmas a moral anchor, though not a religious one, by fixing family reunion and charity as seasonal virtues.. . .Scrooge and the Spirits of Christmas quickly focused attention on the joy of Christmas along with its traditions of gift giving."
1860s – Thomas Nast’s (American) illustrations "created the myths that Santa Claus lived at the North Pole, wore a suit with fur trim, and had a workshop where he made toys" (I wonder though if there weren’t folklore precedents for these myths? What's the "myth" in Britain and other European countries today?)
1890 – Christmas recognized as a legal holiday by the US government (Alabama was the first to recognize it as a state holiday in 1836)
The mentions posted below of aristocratic Germans putting up trees in Canada and England in the 18th C. is interesting – they apparently didn’t have the same sort of influence Good Queen Vickie did over the masses! (or the advertising/mass consumer industry was not yet developed enough to capitalize on the trend in the 1700s ; )
Before the 1840s, an English household probably wouldn’t have contemplated having a Christmas tree. (If you weren’t a landowner. I wonder where you would one chop one down?)
Brenner does mention the English tradition of a “candle trow” dating back to the 14th C. or so. Has anyone heard of this?
This is an upright rod with X-shaped crosspieces of graduated size, smaller from bottom to top. These graduated crosspieces thus formed the shape of a tree. Candles were placed along the arms and these were burned in honor of the baby Jesus on his birthday. Over the years it became traditional to place sweetmeats, goodies, dolls, and gifts around the base of this candle trow.
(Most of Brenner's books are about how trees were decorated because he collects historic Christmas ornaments.)
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