Christmas traditions have changed with the times

Published 5:38 pm Wednesday, December 24, 2008

By Staff
Turkey has replaced less appealing dishes at holiday gatherings
Lifestyles &Features Editor
Families and friends will sit down Thursday for a Christmas feast of ham and/or turkey, mashed potatoes, yams and a few other special favorites.
But if we were living in England centuries ago, Christmas dinner would consist of (gulp!) the head of a hog cooked with mustard.
If that doesn’t kill your appetite, consider that in the Middle Ages it was customary for peacocks and swans to be consumed at Christmas time, their flesh seasoned with saffron.
Given the choice, I’d just as soon chow down on my Christmas tree, which — by the way — is edible. OK, maybe not MY Christmas tree (which is artificial), but parts of real pines, spruces and firs can be eaten. Pine nuts or pine cones are a good source of nutrition and needles of the trees are high in vitamin C.
Speaking of Christmas trees, Americans buy more than 37 million real trees each year. Oregon, California, Michigan, Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina lead the nation in Christmas tree production.
We can thank Germany for the tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas. The earliest known mention of a Christmas tree in America is a notation in the diary of a German immigrant. The tradition made its way to England after Prince Albert, the German-born husband of Queen Victoria, included a tree as part of the royal family’s holiday celebration at Windsor Castle. Electric lights glowed on Christmas trees for the first time in 1895; they were a safer replacement for the live candles that had been used up until that time.
Mailing holiday greetings to loved ones dates back to the early 1800s; the first commercially-produced Christmas card was created in England in 1842. Artist John Calcott Horsley created a design of which 1,000 cards were printed — only 12 of the original cards are known to exist today.
But as early as 1822, Americans were sending homemade Christmas cards and the practice so over-whelmed the postal service that Washington, D.C. had to hire extra mail carriers to deliver cards in that city. Today, it is estimated that over three billion Christmas cards are mailed in the United States.
And what would Christmas be without gifts?
While many merchants refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday,” the busiest shopping day of the year, studies show that the most profitable are actually the Friday and Saturday before Christmas. Nothing like waiting until the last minute.
By the way, most dog owners confess to purchasing a Christmas gift for their pets … so if you left Fido and Spot off your list, you’d better get grab your coat and get back out there.
Another facet of today’s Christmas celebrations is the act of helping those less fortunate. Some of these projects have a long history of making the holiday a little merrier.
For example, in 1891 a large crab pot was placed on a street in San Francisco to encourage passersby to drop cash into it as a way to fund a charity Christmas dinner. That, by the way, was the first Salvation Army kettle. Toys for Tots was organized in 1947, insuring that needy youngsters would find something from “Santa” on Christmas morning.
Finally, as for the first — and most important — Christmas, there is a common misconception that Jesus was born in a wooden stable. That is an Americanized version; in reality, He was born in a cave, which was used at the time to keep animals warm. A church now stands over the cave and countless pilgrims visit it each year.
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*In 1836, Alabama became the first state to make Christmas a legal holiday. Oklahoma became the last state to do so, in 1907.
*During the holiday season, nearly two billion candy canes will be sold.
*Austria issued the first Christmas stamp in 1937.
*Can you name Santa’s reindeer? They’re Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Oh, and don’t forget Rudolph!
*And the Grinch award goes to … some malls in Florida banned Christmas caroling in 1996 after merchants and shoppers complained about the noise.