A Quirky Guide to Christmas
Posted ago by Paula
Firstly, let me start by wishing everyone in the Quirky community a very merry Christmas! ‘Tis the season of gingerbread houses, decorating blue spruces, and giving fruit cakes that you know people will promptly throw away after you leave. In fact, there are so many traditions surrounding the holidays that it’s easy to forget why we follow them in the first place. Did you ever wonder how certain customs came to be popular in modern times? Let me weave a little tale for you…
Candy canes have been a staple at most Christmas celebrations since they gained popularity in 17th century Germany. This sugary confection is shaped like a crook in honor of the shepherds that were mentioned in Luke’s nativity recounting. While they may have risen to fame after the Renaissance, rumor has it that this treat’s origins began with Christians living in pagan-ruled Europe during the first Millenium C.E.
At the time, many Christian holidays were observed at the same time as pagan Roman festivals, so that early Christians could celebrate in secret without fear of persecution for their religious beliefs. Christmas falls on December 25th due to its proximity to the Winter Solstice and the feast of the Roman god of Mithras. Tradition has it that the candy cane has three different stripes so that early Christians could use it to teach their children about the Holy Trinity.
In the story of The Night Before Christmas, one famous line reads: “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” In this case, St. Nicholas actually does play a role in the tradition of hanging stockings. Legend has it that Nicholas wanted to anonymously leave money for members of a poor family, but had to hide it in a safe place so that no one else would steal it before the family found it. Ever the innovator, he snuck into their home late at night and deposited bags of coins in their socks which were drying over the fireplace.
On top of hanging stockings on Christmas Eve, many children leave their shoes out on the evening before December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas. They awake to find money, candy or fruit in their soles. That crafty Nick.
Some believe that this yule beverage first originated in Europe, and that may be true, but ever since the Colonial period, Eggnog has been the Christmas beverage of America. During this time, rum was called grog, which somehow got mistranslated to nog. This holiday drink was so popular in the 18th century that George Washington was rumored to have come up with his own blend, where in addition to rum he added sherry and rye whisky. Not a drink for lightweights.
Perhaps the most romantic holiday tradition is stealing a kiss under the mistletoe. You’ll be surprised to learn that the passion around this plant actually predates Christmas. Mistletoe had been considered an aphrodisiac since the period of the Celts and the Druids. The ancient Greeks thus believed that kissing underneath this greenery would promote fertility. These legends were passed through different generations and cultures until it finally became tradition in Victorian England that a young woman couldn’t refuse a kiss if she was standing under the mistletoe at Christmas time.
Just don’t eat the berries. As Batman warned Catwoman, “mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it”, which is certainly true. In fact, I wanted to pick up some mistletoe for the holidays this year, and no florist in NYC seems to have any. I spoke to someone at Gramercy Park Flower Shop, who told me that since the berries are poisonous, it is illegal to sell mistletoe across state lines. Since the plant doesn’t grow well in New York state, supplies are relatively low, hence a yearly shortage.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
While some Christmas traditions can trace their origins back to the start of the the Common Era, this one has been around for less than a century. Everyone is familiar with the popular song that debuted in the 1940’s, and the claymation TV movie that plays every year. However, Rudy is a little older than that.
In 1939, Robert L. May penned this children’s story as part of a promotion for the department store, Montgomery Ward. One theory is that he crafted this story to cheer up his four year old daughter, who had just lost her mother that year. Whatever the reason, Rudolph has become a modern day ugly duckling story that children continue to identify with every Christmas.