Brev. Brig. Gen'l
- Feb 14, 2012
- Central Pennsylvania
Taken from an 1863 Nast spread for Harper's, Keeping Christmas in the era looks fairly familiar. Tree, family, toys children and Joy galore- Father Christmas has morphed into Santa in another section of the page, the feast into Christmas dinner and Christmas greens entwine the whole. Christmas, kept.
Dad always said ' The Civil War was yesterday '. Not as baffling a statement as you'd think considering we're only a few generations post war. What seem huge changes between the war years and 2018 were really a slow roll into an ancestor's tomorrow, incremental, societal shifts only notable because they've been glued end-to-end for so many years it's all now History.
Christmas and all it entails by way of tradition, customs and how we celebrate Christ's birth is awfully illustrative. In the 2,000 years since poor Mary's uncomfortable donkey ride we've lost and gained on how we ' keep Christmas '. When was the last time anyone participated in a 12th Night celebration, dragged a Yule log onto the heart rug ( or had a hearth? ), mummed the neighborhood , added the porcelain baby to one's Nativity scene on Christmas Eve, went caroling or, for that matter took the dogs out cutting holly?
Passed an awesome front yard Christmas display yesterday in which ancient tradition, newer tradition and Christian lore were melded into one, plastic, garish but oddly wonderful statement. Spread out from a central, oversized and lit nativity scene, a candy cane lane ( from each cane hung balls of mistletoe ) circled to the front porch where 6 foot, air filled Santa waved. Victorian carolers of dubious vintage observed the camels, Rudolf romped with several angels and a large, gift bedecked tree was surrounded by snowmen, one of which drove a sleigh. Now, purists may raise an eyebrow but I found it enchanting. 2,000 years we've spent trying to express how sacred, in every, human way, we find our holiday. Display seemed evocative of all of them.
One of Harper's war time spreads gives us ' Keeping Christmas ' during those awful years. Recognizable today are the evergreens, turkey, gifts and mugs lifted in toast to the season. One illustration, frequently used for Halloween 150 years later was of soldiers watching a parade whose participants wear costumes. Mumming has gotten lost since the 1860's, Mummer's parade notwithstanding. Mistletoe and holly you can buy in plastic bulk, missing would be why and tradition surrounding them. heck, 150 years ago we Kept Christmas with the traditional pudding and the odd hog's head on a tray.
Camp Hall, Virginia Christmas festivities included then traditional mummers, a Christmas Keeping tradition dating back centuries.
No expert here, thought I'd look for How We Kept Christmas Past. It's too vast a topic to be inclusive of each century much less our er, progression into 2018, just a few here with once in awhile some tinseled thread running through.
Wassail, Wass Heil, or “ Be In Health “, and a Nordic blessing of the season. Wassailing predated carolers, singing at one's door. A kind of tipsy, traveling mass of cheer, this communal celebration was achieved by carrying ( somehow ) an oversized bowl full of hot ale, brown sugar, and spices on which floated roasted apples. You invaded your neighbor’s home for the space of time it took to share a drink, singing Yule tunes between merry swigs.
Here we come a Wassailing
Carol Singing- Same, really, they just stopped carrying that big bowl around.
Bells Ringing- really miss this. Church bells pealing for Christmas, and I mean pealing, scale after scale, sometimes chasing each other from church to church. They did it in the UK when I lived across the Pond, gives you chills.
Crane Eating- well, stands to reason this jolly tradition went out of vogue since 1550. They're protected now. The aristocracy for some reason stuffed cranes, not turkey.
Decorating With Greens- when was the last time anyone wrapped garland around their lamp post, or for that matter made garland? Tried it- most frustrating thing ever although would suffer through it, to bring this back. Greens, the holly, pine boughs and mistletoe still copiously used 150 years ago had their genesis in pagan celebrations pre-Bethlehem.
Cherry Tree- still looking for this one, cherry trees departed from our celebrations before cranes were stuffed.
Been around for awhile, along with the candied fruit Christmas cakes, both mentioned around 1700 and is making a comeback. In 2018 you can buy molds but this seems cheating. Tradition mandated suet, brown sugar, dried fruit and a handful of flour coaxed into a kind of sticky bowling ball was sewn into a muslin sack. Immersed in water, boiled for around half a day, what emerged wasn’t exactly picturesque. It may have been as foolhardy as hanging lighted candles from one’s Christmas tree, but the plan was, douse one’s impenetrable fruit dumpling with high octane brandy and set it ablaze. After the flames died down you ate it with something called ‘ hard sauce ‘. Between the dousing and a half cup of brandy soaked butter whipped into submission . you could see where all the jolly came from.
Regency era image of Christmas dinner's climax- THE pudding. Really was a huge, big deal.
Hanging Presents From Tree- before Santa came down the chimney to leave stockings filled and gifts under the tree, gifts were hung unwrapped and Father took them down Christmas morning, presenting each family member with theirs.
Boar’s Heads- hoping not to see a comeback. Pig's heads galore in one illustration of a Thanksgiving celebration in camp, may have still been partial to this doubtful delicacy. The boar's head was centerpiece, presented with huge ceremony at the start of traditional feasts in European courts- the aristocracy of several centuries before the Tudor reign delighted in parading this gruesome delicacy.
Yule Log, now relegated to an eggless sponge cake. Some massive tree chosen, a celebration in itself included cutting a ginourmous log and dragging it to a more ginourmous fireplace where it burned ( or was meant to ) for the entire 12 day holiday.
Have era sources indicating Yule logs were still being watched over in the mid-1800's, cannot find more.
Alms Giving- we hear of families in 2018 giving their time Christmas Day helping serve dinner at various charities and this seems typical of the traditional Alms Giving we practiced. Reaching out to each other is where Good Will To All Men came into our holiday picture.
Tree Decorating Christmas Eve, you did not put your tree on the car November's Friday after Thanksgiving. This was erected on Christmas Eve.
Part of what later became ' Christmas Greens ' tradition, Druids celebrated an annual cutting of the mistletoe as part of pagan rites, ancient myth declares a branch of mistletoe slew Balder at the behest of Lode disguised as an elderly hag, and its magical qualities saw a sprig hung around one’s neck as a ward against witchcraft. This last morphed into a now mostly archaic tradition whereby anyone standing under a sprig was fair game for a kiss.
Christmas Eve Service
Holly, also cut with huge celebration, also with a Druid genesis.
Mumming, already mentioned,‘ The Feast of ***** “ and “ The Feast of Fools ‘ were part of pagan Saturnalia and Lupercalia, mid-winter celebrations. You can see the connection. And it was just fun.
Nativity Scene, really, a lovely tradition although cannot find when it began. You saved the baby Jesus figure to add after midnight, when eve became day.
Mead and morat drinking, also diligrout, maupigyrum and karumpty eating, seems to have been based on varying amounts of brown sugar, honey, almond milk and of course ale. May have ended when no one could spell anything they ate.
12 day festival
“ One the first day of Christmas”…. In 2018, by day 2 the tree is down, pine needles vacuumed, ornaments are packed away in bubble wrap and we’re at the mall ( although malls as part of the Christmas celebration will be a nostalgic memory within the next decade ). Celebration really was 12 days long with time off from labor during all of them. Ended with ' 12th Night ' celebrations although they're too involved for this thread.
Common theme? Peace On Earth, Good Will To All Men. We can Keep That.