Monday 30 November 2009

What Christmas memory comes back to you at the beginning of December?

Cold weather, crispy grass under our feet, icy puddles, our breaths leaving vapour trails, dark outlines of bare trees, variegated holly with masses of berries ... inside warming fires, toasting marshmallows, crumpets by that fire, spicy delights coming from the kitchen – has your Christmas pudding and cake already been made – ready for that last minute decoration?

Are the children or (perhaps and/or!) grandchildren under your feet getting in your way, or asking to help .. their little fingers into every pie going, greedily tasting all edible goodies available? Looking under every bed, in every cupboard, every nook and cranny to see if their wish has come true?

Christmas market in Jena, Germany

Those were the days the excitement of the weeks before – Carol Services to sing in and go to, Nativity plays to watch applauding our nearest and dearest become little angels for a few dear minutes!! The gathering of the Christmas tree, the decorating the house with holly, mistletoe and decorations .. so much to happen in the four weeks of December starting tomorrow.
Where did it all start? and now .. what do we experience ...? The Roman festival of Saturn was held in December when the temples were decorated with the fir, the pine and the slow growing evergreen box (boxwood in the States); the Druids are associated with mistletoe, while the Saxons used holly and ivy. These customs have been transferred to the Christian festival. The holly or holy-tree is called Christ’s thorn in Germany and Scandinavia from its use in church decorations and its putting forth its berries about Christmas time.

The ancient Roman Saturnalia festival was celebrated on 19 December, eventually being prolonged for seven days, and was a time of freedom from restraint and merrymaking, and often riot and debauchery. During its continuance public business was suspended, the law courts and schools were closed and no criminals were punished .. lucky them – especially in those days of ‘being thrown to the lions’!
Mistletoe in a Silver Birch tree

The Romans also decorated a Christmas tree, though the Christmas tree as we know it today, was introduced by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria, influencing the way Victorian households provided a focal point for decorations, present gathering and general festivities around the fire hearth and the tree.

Christmas as a season, we in the western world have become accustomed to, began in the days of heathen peoples ... when the winter solstice was a time of festival; the Church fixed this day in AD 440 as what to the Anglo Saxons would have been known as the beginning of the year .. when the circle of life, according to the sun and moon, started again as the daylight hours increased.

So for the Anglo Saxons the 25th December was the start of the year, but from the 12th century until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by the British and the Protestant world in 1752, the year began on Lady Day, 25th March. Did you know we “lost” ten days doing this?

Detail of the tomb of Pope Gregory XIII celebrating the introduction of the Gregorian calendar

The druids, a priestly and learned class active in Gaul (France and Belgium) and Celtic Britain during the final centuries BC, were suppressed by the Romans and had all but disappeared from the written record by the 2nd century, although outlying nomadic groups may have survived, particularly in Britain and Ireland as they feature prominently here in mythology. In the 18th and 19th centuries there was a revival of interest in Druidism, and a new romantic and unhistorical cult grew up, which has become known as Neo-Druidism.
Woodcut published in The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells Of England, including Rivers, Lakes, Fountains and Springs (Carrawbrough: Covertina's Well)

Society was settling down and developing during the next 1300 years before countries, or provinces came to be more established, populated with settlements, and brought with them their traditions and cultures they had been absorbing over the centuries. Today regional aspects of Christmas are still, and no doubt will continue to change over the future years to come.

The Christmas tree is an established part of our English Christmas time, while other traditions are entrenched in different countries – Mexico brought us the poinsettias, possibly because the Mexican Franciscan monks included the flower in their Christmas celebration in the 1600s and they thus became popular, and were brought back to Europe by the Spanish – remember then we were going through three Little Ice Ages (1650, 1770 and 1850) , when it was definitely colder than it has been during my lifetime. In the 1950s and 1960s it was also colder than it is today.
Pointsettia tree (with star on top) in San Diego

So many cultures and traditions have grown up in different countries of the world that I am sure most of us have not got a clue about .. when we start Christmas .. St Nicholas Day, or Christmas Eve .. or ... what we eat, what we do, and what little quirks we have each developed within our own families and that have been passed down through the generations. Is it Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, or Noel ... or, or, or ...

So much to find out in the month ahead – what we all do, what foods we eat, what are our expectations.... I have just been in Manchester about 250 miles (400 km) north from here where the population of the environs is approximately 2.5 million – so a city worth a street market for the month before Christmas.

There were stalls from Italy – with salami (including hazelnut ... see my last post), nougat from France, delicious Dutch ‘cookies’, carved wooden toys and small items from Nuremberg, Germany – famous too for spicy gingerbread - and I am sure many more .. I had a lovely time in the few breaks we had wandering through the Christmassy stalls savouring the days to come and remembering the days gone by of our childhood Christmas times.

So much to tell you and so much to find out from you, dear Readers, about your traditional and cultural celebrations – I remember my times in South Africa .. and it is seriously difficult to become enamoured about plum pudding when the sun is beating down – but we did and had the works .. though the Christmas tree was an aloe branch, painted silver, and decorated with Christmas baubles .. my best Christmas tree so far!

Dear Mr Postman – haven’t we had such terrible weather – floods in the north, floods in the south – we have floods here .. my brother’s village has been flooded – they are alright they’re high on the hill above .. but the last time it happened this badly nine years ago – a car was floating in the street – now that is a site to behold. They had 65mm of rain in the last 24 hours, while the monthly average is 80 mm. We count our blessings we do not have to deal with that aftermath. My mother is very sleepy .. so my visits are short ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Filemot said...

Christmas decorations and it is not yet 1st December, you are efficient. The flat upstairs already has its Chrtistmas tree in the window. We are thinking of setting up a system of mirrors so we can enjoy it

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barbara .. I know .. I haven't done mine - just enjoyed the Manchester Christmas market and watching everyone out and about with their Christmas spirit. If I thought hazelnut salami would have travelled to Eastbourne .. I might have bought some .. but forgot and forgot to find out if it came from Avella.

When you have magic lantern effect set up - send me a picture (large format) and I'll be able to include it in my Christmas posts - Christmas deserves a few I think ..

Good to see you here - H

Cioara Andrei said...

Foarte interesant subiectul postat de tine. M-am uitat pe blogul tau si imi place ce am vazut.Cu siguranta am sa il mai vizitez.
O zi buna!


Hi Hilary! Thanks for sharing your very own treasured memories of Christmas. Some of my own Christmas memories include the following: waiting for the gifts to be unwrapped, waiting for the noche buena (midnight meal) when we shall eat the most delicious food our mother cooked, going to Church very early at dawn to hear dawn masses, eating 'bibingka' and 'puto bumbong' just outside of Church, (these are native delicacies made from rice). I also remember the little children singing Christmas carols, and also the cool weather we enjoy during this season (our country being in a tropical climate). :-)

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,

What a fun post. It is interesting to know where so many of our traditions come from. Good to know that everyone is ok. The rain can be to much at times. Stay high and dry if you can. Glad that you had some fun. You have had so much on your plate for quite some time. It is good to get out sometimes.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. thanks for visiting .. and I'm glad you enjoyed it. It is interesting to find out what everyone else does and when .. some start in early December.

It's stopped raining - I'm pleased to say .. but the snow has come - up in the north. It was nice having a complete change I agree.

Thank you - have a lovely week -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Joyce .. good to see you and your memories are different. Yes - always good to unwrap our presents .. still exciting. A midnight feast - what fun! and home cooked food is the best - Mmmm.

Then a dawn mass, and eating your native delicacies .. I'll have to look up what they are .. outside sharing with the congregation. Being in a warmer climate has its advantages and disadvantages .. missing the seasonal cold and frosty morning.

Good to see you here and sharing your memories with us - have a really good week -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Cioara - thank you for your kind words. It is good to see you here.

Romanian is not a language I know much about - but I can recognise a few words.

Have a nice day too (I looked that up .. "O zi buna!")

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Patricia said...

Oh I love this post Hilary,
I always think about what joy it was to sing at Christmas - I was hoping to play Mary in the Pageant but that never came to I worked up a special carol every year and sang a solo was my gift...
and then setting the table - preparing for that communion - including the Hannuhah candles, advent candles and the Christ candle in my design....knowing all would sit down and enjoy the feast of coming together in joy. Glad you asked

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. some good memories for you - singing is not one of my fortes .. but I do enjoy Carols .. and how fantastic that you were able to write and sing your own carol - brilliant - I hope you've still got them - written down and musically annotated?

You certainly come from a family who put their deity or "God" into this special day - remembering why we are all here on Christmas Day. The table and the satisfaction that the meal, decorations, little extras are all so special. So pleased you remembered and we can share those moments with you.

I have more to tell about our own Christmas time and how my brother and his wife (Bella) bring a wonderful Christmas together for us ..and the special little Church we go to ..

Remembering our prayers and saying thank for our beneficence

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Liara Covert said...

Festive music and smells of apple cider and cinnamon transforms the ambience of a house. This period of the year provokes new levels of awakening. Every wonder why some people play Xmas music in July? In Australia, this is the coldest time of their calendar year. Sometimes people even have festive holiday parties in July just to be unconventional. Who says one limits celebrations to only one period? Keep it coming!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. I just love that spicy smell as we walk the streets with street parties, or going into friends' houses .. Christmas roasting smells. Delicious .. only 23 days!

In Johannesburg at 5,600 feet high it is very cold in winter and the houses definitely aren't built for it .. we had Christmas dinners in June - delicious they were too .. the full works, carols playing, a good lunch with all the trimmings, crackers etc and decorations was such fun. Each of us helping with different courses.

As you say .. we can things when we feel like doing them .. but it is good to savour that one day (or two in our case perhaps) that is so special for our childhood memories.

Great to see you - more tales to tell of Christmas differences around the world ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Barbara Swafford said...

Hi Hilary,

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love the music, the lights, the festivities and how people seem a little more joyous (except when they're stressed over shopping).

Right after the Thanksgiving holiday, I like to decorate the house, play tunes and remember what Christmas is really all about. It warms my heart and fills me with love for all mankind.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barbara .. thanks for coming over - yes .. Christmas is a great time .. as you say the traditions we all have for our families ..

Gosh you are a glutton for punishment .. get the house sorted out now - well done and it'll save time later on and your planning will be so much easier.

I love the rich Carol Services and listen to rich classical music .. it is a wonderful time ..

Your sentence "it warms my heart and fills me with love for all mankin" - has a wonderful loving ring to it .. let's hope we can all give of our best, love as we wish to be loved, and be at peace with all .. thanking and being grateful for all things ..

Thanks Barbara - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Jan Lundy said...

will write more later, dear friend, but just wanted you to know that i have a blog guest today that may be right up your alley! at


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jan .. thanks I'm on my way over now. I did remember vaguely .. but went up to Mum and got taken over by a couple of things ... then blogger sent me a wobbly .. oh well - your message came through loud and clear - thank you.
xx00xx00 to you too ....

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

Oh I do so love to learn, and your blog is like a new school lesson a few times a week. Thank you, Hilary!
Poinsettias --- now I know where they came from. Wonderful!
As for the Christmas memories I hold near and dear in my (inner child's) heart, that would have to be lying beneath the fully lit Christmas tree, with its shiny silver tinsel, blinking colored lights and every other light in the living room turned off. It was just me and the Christmas tree, having our "moment" together. I would stare up into her branches which lit up with yellow, then blue, then red, then green and my mind would dream happy little thoughts... So content were those days. Not a care in the world, except if I could stay awake long enough to hear Santa on the roof with his reindeer.

Thank you for allowing me to share that precious memory here.
Much love to you, and dry weather, too!

BK said...

For Christmas, I do not really celebrate it although I love Christmas. Usually I will just have a simple dinner and gift exchange with family and friends. I just enjoy the food and company.

Cath Lawson said...

Hi Hilary - Rome used to be a crazy place. I didn't know about the Christmas celebrations but I recently watched a DVD series on ancient Rome and most of it was quite gruesome.

I'm not a very Christmassy person but I try to improve. And I do love ponsiettas. I had no idea they came from Mexico though.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Megan - good to see you hear again and good to see that you're enjoying the simple 'new' information I'm putting across.

That was lovely to hear your remembrances about lying under your tree fully lit, as the lights sparkled through the tree, the tinsel never still, the colours just blending together in rainbow hues, or fully focused and the little baubles darting on the piny branches - was there a piny scent? .. probably. Childhood memories like those are pretty special .. and have brought some back to me: I'll have to write about. Childhood - without a care in the world .. what to do - but time enough to lie on the floor, as little ones do, and dream. Wouldn't it be fun if Santa did suddenly turn up!

It's been great reading your memories and sharing them with us -
Thanks for your thoughts and love .. it is dry now, but wet overnight and more rain to come! Perhaps Christmas will be cold and frosty, with bright blue sun ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi BK - thanks for coming over - your blog describes you = "Symphony of Love" .. we don't need the glitzy bits .. but we can take what we wish to share .. the precious quiet moments. When we were children it was so lovely just enjoying the days as countdown came - finding the tree, then getting it in the house, then the decorations .. each task lovingly done. We each bring our own thoughts and traditions to Christmas .. People and the children particularly are so important .. and enjoying the food well cooked and sufficient - we are lucky. Blessings to you at this time.

It's good to see you here - welcome and enjoy this festive season with your family and friends.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Cath - I think you must have watched something I saw a few years ago .. and want to watch again - as it so explained how we'd changed as a society re our thoughts on war and pain .. - and yes the Romans were pretty gruesome, but it was the norm and accepted as such - in the Middle Ages watching a gallows hanging was a spectacle .. we forget that our thoughts on these kind of things have changed so much! Please tell me what the DVD series was .. it's on my wish list - because it had so much info in it.

Well done for enjoying Christmas more .. it's keeping it simple, and planning and doing as much as pos, and getting the rest of the family to share and help?! I just hope this year you'll be having a happy time together - as you've had some troubles to get through recently.

Wishing you all the best - and we'll both enjoy our Mexican poinsettias.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sara said...

Hilary -- I loved learning about our Christmas customs. There was so much I didn't know.

As far as Christmas memories, one of my favorites is when it snowed on Christmas eve in my town. Mind you, I live in Florida and so we don't get snow very often. But one Christmas eve, we came out of the church service to a full coating of snow. It was so magical and perfect timing:~)

As my daughter lives in London, I have been hearing about the weather problems in England. I hope the holidays will be better for those who have experienced the flooding.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. great to meet you and thanks so much for coming over ..Snow when it comes and surprises you is always magaical .. but at Christmas in Florida .. extra special - brilliant memory.

We're hoping for two weeks of lovely frosty sunny days .. let's hope! Is your daughter getting home for Christmas ..

Have a love pre Christmas lead in time -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Erin said...

What lovely photos and post about Christmas you have. When I was small, my parents would drive from Colorado to Kansas to see my grandparents when my father got off work. We would arrive around midnight (usually Christmas eve) The colored lights on the houses in all the towns we passed through at night, the Christmaslights at my grandparents house and little star drops of chocolate on a plate on the table. It is magic.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Erin - thank you for visiting. Yes those days of being together as a family, doing long journeys, all the packing of the car and then watching the lights as we passed through the towns. The coloured lights are magical.

Your grandparents would have been so happy to see you and so plesed to see have seen your little faces bewitched by the twinkling lights, sparking baubles amongst the greenery .. and then joy of joy your chocoate star drops .. we had golden chocolate coins ..

Glad you have some happy memories to remember those days for your family to share ..

Thank you - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories