Friday, December 19, 2014


Let me begin by saying since this is the "most wonderful time of the year," why am I so stressed out…?? I do admit that I'm a perfectionist and that is where the troubles lies…I'm from a long line of Italian women, who by there own admission don't want to give up one holiday custom or ritual, so here we are in a modern world with our Traditions! For us to surrender it's like waiving the white flag and I for one refuse to do it….someday when I can no longer decorate, perish the thought, I will sit in my wheelchair and just drink and reminisce about my days hanging from ladders and getting electrocuted by Christmas lights!!! While I'm sipping on an Andrew Murray Syrah, I thought you might enjoy some Holiday Tales of how these great customs came to be…..
Christmas festivities often include the hanging of the greens. Christmas trees, mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias grace homes, businesses, and churches.
Many traditions involving greenery originated in Druid, Celt, Norse, and Roman civilizations, which celebrated the winter solstice around December 21. Because the color green represented eternal life, plants that remained green throughout the year played an important role in these celebrations.
The Romans celebrated the solstice with a mid-winter holiday called the Saturnalia, honoring the Roman god Saturn. They lit candles in their homes, spent time with friends and family, decorated their homes with wreaths and garlands, exchanged gifts, and feasted.
As pagan cultures converted to Christianity, they continued many of their traditional winter solstice activities. Because the use of greenery had pagan origins, early church leaders often objected to its use. However, the traditions were so deeply ingrained that the customs continued - but from a Christian frame of reference.

The Christmas tree

Although the Romans used spruce and fir trees decorated with lighted candles and trinkets during Saturnalia rituals, the Christmas tree as we know it is a German tradition believed by some to have originated in the 8th century with Winfrid, an English missionary later known as St. Boniface.
Others attribute the origin of the Christmas tree to Martin Luther in the 16th century. Luther, inspired by the beauty of the stars on Christmas Eve night, is said to have cut an evergreen and put lighted candles on it to represent the starry sky above the stable the night Christ was born. By the early 1600s, trees decorated with candies, fruits, and paper roses were a part of the holiday decorations in German homes.
In 1841, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's German-born husband, celebrated the birth of their first son with a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. The English court adopted the custom, and soon it spread throughout England. In Victorian times, people decorated trees with candies and cakes hung with ribbon.

German immigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition to the United States. Settlers most often used the cedar tree as their Christmas tree because of its abundance. They decorated the trees with berries, popcorn, and Christmas gifts for the family.

How did the kindly Christian saint, good Bishop Nicholas, become a roly-poly red-suited American symbol for merry holiday festivity and commercial activity? History tells the tale.
The first Europeans to arrive in the New World brought St. Nicholas. Vikings dedicated their cathedral to him in Greenland. On his first voyage, Columbus named a Haitian port for St. Nicholas on December 6, 1492. In Florida, Spaniards named an early settlement St. Nicholas Ferry, now known as Jacksonville. However, St. Nicholas had a difficult time during the 16th century Protestant Reformation which took a dim view of saints. Even though both reformers and counter-reformers tried to stamp out St. Nicholas-related customs, they had very little long-term success except in England where the religious folk traditions were permanently altered. (It is ironic that fervent Puritan Christians began what turned into a trend to a more secular Christmas observance.) Because the common people so loved St. Nicholas, he survived on the European continent as people continued to place nuts, apples, and sweets in shoes left beside beds, on windowsills, or before the hearth.
Dutch family waiting for Sinterklaas
"New Year's Hymn to St. Nicholas," colonial Dutch life, Albany, NY. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, March 1881
St. Nicholas Center Collection
The first Colonists, primarily Puritans and other Protestant reformers, did not bring Nicholas traditions to the New World. What about the Dutch? Although it is almost universally believed that the Dutch brought St. Nicholas to New Amsterdam, scholars find scant evidence of such traditions in Dutch New Netherland. Colonial Germans in Pennsylvania kept the feast of St. Nicholas, and several later accounts have St. Nicholas visiting New York Dutch on New Years' Eve, thus adopting the English custom (New Year gift-giving had become the English custom in 1558, supplanting Nicholas, and this English custom lasted in New York until 1847).
In 1773 New York non-Dutch patriots formed the Sons of St. Nicholas, primarily as a non-British symbol to counter the English St. George societies, rather than to honor St. Nicholas. This society was similar to the Sons of St. Tammany in Philadelphia. Not exactly St. Nicholas, the children's gift-giver.
Eastern bishop with beehive and dog
Detail from broadside by Alexander Anderson, December 6, 1810
St Nicholas Center Collection
After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride their colony's nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. John Pintard, the influential patriot and antiquarian who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the society and on St. Nicholas Day that same year, he published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker's History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not the saintly bishop, rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe. These delightful flights of imagination are the source of the New Amsterdam St. Nicholas legends: that the first Dutch emigrant ship had a figurehead of St. Nicholas: that St. Nicholas Day was observed in the colony; that the first church was dedicated to him; and that St. Nicholas comes down chimneys to bring gifts. Irving's work was regarded as the "first notable work of imagination in the New World."

“When men drink, then they are rich and successful and win lawsuits and are happy and help their friends. Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.” 
--- Aristophanes,The Knights, 424 B. C. E.
mulled wine : Mulled wine in cup, selective focus Stock Photo

iMulled wine dates back to Roman antiquity, but it wasn’t until the 14th century that the mix of wine, fruit and spices gained its name, from an Old English word meaning “muddled.” While the word “muddle” is most commonly used today to denote a generally confused state, in its original meaning, that confused state was brought about with alcohol. It is thought that the process of mulling wine was first employed as a way to save wine that was about to spoil.
Charles Dickens gets the credit for elevating mulled wine into a traditional holiday drink. While mulled wine appeared in several of the beloved novelist’s books, it was its appearance in his popular short story, A Christmas Carol, that sealed its place in Christmas culinary history.
Mulled wine was also featured in the Christmas movie classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. When Clarence the Angel visits a modern bar, he considers ordering a “flaming rum punch,” decides “no, it’s not cold enough for that,” then orders: “Mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon and light on the cloves. Off with you, me lad, and be lively!” 

             Hanukkah History & Traditions


First and foremost, Hanukkah is a historical, nationalist holiday. It commemorates the successful rebellion, in the second century B.C.E., of a clan of Jewish freedom fighters called the Maccabees. These warriors rose up against Antiochus, a Greco-Syrian monarch who ruled Israel with a hard hand, banning Jews from practicing their faith and pressuring them to convert to a Hellenic way of life. (It is told that his soldiers would even force-feed Jews pork, a kosher no-no.) Despite being greatly outnumbered, the Maccabees managed to recapture the Holy Temple, the premier site of ancient Judaism, from their oppressors. Hanukkah means dedication in Hebrew -- the holiday pays tribute to the dedication of a group of Jews who believed fervently in their right to religious and nationalist freedom.
Of course, there's also a religious aspect to Hanukkah. Also known as the "Festival of Lights," Hanukkah celebrates the miracle that occurred when the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple. The sanctuary was a shambles, torn apart by the Hellenic forces. The fighters found only enough oil to light a lantern -- by which to read the Torah -- for one day. But the lantern blazed for eight full days. When Jews light the eight candles of the menorah on the eight nights of Hanukkah, they recite a prayer extolling God who "performed miracles for our ancestors in days of old."
There is also a seasonal, even pagan, aspect to Hanukkah. Celebrated on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, during the darkest days of the year, the candle-lighting holiday is a warm, cozy ritual to banish the winter blahs. The focus of the holiday is not so much going to synagogue or reading certain scriptures, but rather staying at home with friends and family, eating, playing, and just spending time together.
In the U.S., where Santa Claus rules the month of December, some Jews have incorporated a little bit of Christmas into their Hanukkah spirit. Some families opt to give gifts each night of Hanukkah; others may decorate their house with a "Hanukkah bush." Even though the two holidays have vastly different religious and historical origins and focus, both Christmas and Hanukkah are a beautiful opportunity to open up one's house and heart and spread some joy.


                         New Year's Traditions

The most commonly sung song for English-speakers on New Year's eve, "Auld Lang Syne" is an old Scottish song that was first published by the poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum. Burns transcribed it (and made some refinements to the lyrics) after he heard it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire area of Scotland, Burns's homeland.
It is often remarked that "Auld Lang Syne" is one of the most popular songs that nobody knows the lyrics to. "Auld Lang Syne" literally translates as "old long since" and means "times gone by." The song asks whether old friends and times will be forgotten and promises to remember people of the past with fondness, "For auld lang syne, we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet."


Oshogatsu (Japan)

The new year is the most important holiday in Japan, and is a symbol of renewal. In December, various Bonenkai or "forget-the-year parties" are held to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a new beginning. Misunderstandings and grudges are forgiven and houses are scrubbed. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times, in a effort to expel 108 types of human weakness. New Year's day itself is a day of joy and no work is to be done. Children receive otoshidamas, small gifts with money inside. Sending New Year's cards is a popular tradition—if postmarked by a certain date, the Japanese post office guarantees delivery of all New Year's cards on Jan. 1.


The Spanish ritual on New Year's eve is to eat twelve grapes at midnight. The tradition is meant to secure twelve happy months in the coming year.

The Netherlands

The Dutch burn bonfires of Christmas trees on the street and launch fireworks. The fires are meant to purge the old and welcome the new.


In Greece, New Year's day is also the Festival of St. Basil, one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church. One of the traditional foods served is Vassilopitta, or St Basil's cake. A silver or gold coin is baked inside the cake. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake will be especially lucky during the coming year.

United States

Probably the most famous tradition in the United States is the dropping of the New Year ball in Times Square, New York City, at 11:59 P.M. Thousands gather to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving exactly at midnight. The tradition first began in 1907. The original ball was made of iron and wood; the current ball is made of Waterford Crystal, weighs 1,070 pounds, and is six feet in diameter.
A traditional southern New Year's dish is Hoppin' John—black eyed peas and ham hocks. An old saying goes, "Eat peas on New Year's day to have plenty of everything the rest of the year."
Another American tradition is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The Tournament of Roses parade that precedes the football game on New Year's day is made up of elaborate and inventive floats. The first parade was held in 1886.


Widely Observed New Year Symbols and Traditions!

Resolutions: It is believed that the Babylonians were the first to make New Year's resolutions, and people all over the world have been breaking them ever since. The early Christians believed the first day of the new year should be spent reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve oneself in the new year.

Fireworks: Noisemaking and fireworks on New Year's eve is believed to have originated in ancient times, when noise and fire were thought to dispel evil spirits and bring good luck. The Chinese are credited with inventing fireworks and use them to spectacular effect in their New Year's celebrations.

New Year's Celebrations

"Auld Lang Syne

Read more: New Year's Traditions |