Tuesday, May 25, 2010


  • "Hot cockles" was a popular game at Christmas in medieval times.  It was a game in which the other players took turns striking the blindfolded player, who had to guess the name of the person delivering each blow.  "Hot cockles" was still a Christmas pastime until the Victorian era. (Lets bring this one back into fashion!)
  • "Wassail" comes from the Old Norse "ves heill"---to be of good health.  This evolved into the tradition of visiting neighbors on Christmas Eve and drinking to their health.
  • A traditional Christmas dinner in early England was the head of a pig prepared with mustard.
  • Alabama was the first state to recognize Christmas as an official holiday.  This tradition began in 1836.
  • Although many believe the Friday after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year, it is not.  The Friday and Saturday before Christmas are the two busiest shopping days of the year.
  • An artificial spider and web are often included in the decorations on Ukrainian Christmas trees.   A spider web found on Christmas morning is believed to bring good luck.
  • As early as 1822, the postmaster in Washington, D.C. was worried by the amount of extra mail at Christmas time.  His preferred solution to the problem was to limit by law the number of cards a person could send.  Even though commercial card were not available at that time, people were already sending so many home-made cards that sixteen extra postmen had to be hired in the city.
  • Before settling on the name of Tiny Tim for his character in "A Christmas Carol," three other  alternative names were considered by Charles Dickens.  They were Little Larry, Puny Pete, and Small Sam.


  • Orange and black are the colors of Halloween because orange is associated with the fall harvest and black is the color of darkness.
  • Tootsie Rolls were the first wrapped penny candy in America.
  • Halloween candy sales average over 2 billion dollars per year.
  • The ancient Celts thought that spirits and ghosts roamed the countryside on Halloween night, so they began wearing masks and costumes to avoid being recognized as human.
  • Some people believe that if you see a spider on Halloween, it is the spirit of a loved one watching over you.
  • According to superstition, if you stare into a mirror at midnight on Halloween, you will see your future spouse.
  • Samhainophobia refers to an abnormal and persistent fear of Halloween.  This time of year may also stir up other phobias such as the fear of cats, witches, ghosts, spiders, the dark and cemeteries.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


    Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows.  In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits and illness.
   In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 and 22, and is call the winter solstice.  Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and the winter came every year because the sun god has become sick and weak.  They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well.  Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.
   The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown.  At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.
     Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast in honor of  Saturn, the god of agriculture.  The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful.  To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.  In Northern Europe the Druids (priests of the ancient Celts), also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life.  The Vikings thought that evergreens were the special plant of their sun god, Balder.
     Germany in credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.  Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce.  It is  held belief that Martin Luther, a 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree.  Walking home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens.  To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles. 
     Most 19th century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity.  The first record of one being on display was in the 1830's by  German settlers in Pennsylvania.  In the late 1840's Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.
     To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred.  The pilgrim's second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out "pagan mockery" of the observance, penalizing any frivolity.  Oliver Cromwell preached against "the heathen traditions" of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful  expression that desecrated "that sacred event."  In 1659, the Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other that a church service) a penal offense, people were fined for hanging decorations.  That continued until the 19th century when German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.
  In 1846, the royals, Queen Victoria and German Prince Albert, were sketched in the London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree.
     By the 1890's Christmas ornaments where arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S.  It was noted that Europeans used small trees about 4 feet tall, while Americans liked the Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling.
     The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-Americans continued to used apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies.  Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts.  Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end.  With this Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.


       People have been making jack o'lanterns  at Halloween for ages and ages.  The practice started from an old Irish myth about a man named "Stingy Jack".  According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him.  True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy the drinks.  Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.   The next year Jack tricked the Devil into climbing a tree to pick a piece of fruit.  While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.
     Soon after, Jack died.  As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven.  The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word, not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell.  He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since.  The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern", and then simply "Jack O'lantern."
     In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits.  In England, large beets are used, immigrants from these countries brought the jack o'lantern tradition with them when they came to the U.S.  They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o'lanterns.