Sunday, December 12, 2010


   Looking at a fully decorated Christmas tree, one of the most outstanding things you notice are the ornaments.  Their color and the way they reflect the lights.  They add so much to the tree's beauty.  They come in so many different shapes, colors, designs and styles.
   When the tradition of Christmas trees first came on to its own, it was decorated with candles, fruits, nuts and candy.
   It was not until the 1800's that glass ornaments came along.  It started in Germany in the town of Lauscha.  The men did the glass blowing, the women did the silvering and the children painted them.  It did not take long for the new tradition of decorating the tree with the new ornaments replacing the fruit, nuts and candy.  Spreading throughout Gemany, and then quickly throughout Europe.

Glass ornament made by Krebs Glas, has 5.1 carats of diamonds priced at $30,000.00

   After the 1850's, the Europeans brought this new tradition to the United States.  Here the ornaments became larger in size and variety.  However, the tradition did not take off right away.  It was not until the 1880's, when F.W. Woolworth started importing ornaments from Lauscha to the United States and quickly added to his fortune.
   When Queen Victoria of England married Prince Albert of Germany, the tradition of using ornaments instead of fruit and candy spread through England.

   For a while, brightly painted pressed tin and pressed paper ornaments were being made.  While this new type did not become as popular, a variety of ornaments started appearing on the Christmas tree.
   After World War II, Lauscha which was eastern part of Germany, found itself behind the Iron Curtain.  That is when the ornaments started to be made in Czechoslovakia and japan.  Japan had already started to challenge Germany's dominance in the market.  japan offered more variety of colors, styles and designs than Lauscha did.  Czechoslovakia was doing the same thing, but was slower in the production of their ornaments.

   Today, ornaments are made all over the world.  You can find every kind of style, from modern to Victorian style.  Some are glass, some are plastic, they all are beautiful and really add to the benefit of the tree.
   People nowadays have the option of decorating their trees with ornaments that suit their personality or even their hobbies.
  While the history of ornaments is interesting, the pleasure of just looking at a well decorated tree takes precedence.  Ornaments certainly do their job of making your Christmass tree special each and every year.  What better compliment to the people that make them than that.


   How many Christmas commercials do you see where the fruitcake gets passed as a recycled gift from family to family?  No one really likes it!  Finally it's given to the mailman, who gives it back to its original owners.  Have you ever wondered if there is anyone out there that truly enjoys fruitcakes!  But then again not all fruitcakes are created equal.  So here's a little history about the origins and how it became associated with the Christmas holiday.  The story of the recluse, a favorite dessert of some insane person, the CHRISTMAS FRUITCAKE!!
   It turns out that the earliest mention of fruitcake goes back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire (from a Star Wars episode of "The Empire Strikes Back").  Later it was the English, who actually started the Christmas tradition.  It was known back then as plum porridge, and it was eaten on Christmas Eve, as a transitional food after a day of fasting.  Later, dried fruits, honey and various spices were added to the oatmeal mixture, and it was called Christmas pudding.  By the 16th century, the oatmeal mixture was removed and some of the familiar ingredients of cake were added, such as eggs, butter and wheat flour.  This was boiled into a plum cake.  Wealthier families who had ovens, started making cakes using dried fruit and spices.  The discovery was also made at this time, that fruit could be preserved, when soaked in large concentrations of sugar.  It was now called "Christmas Cake", because the spices brought to mind the story of the Wise Men bringing exotic spices to the Christ child.  The English gave out pieces of fruitcake to the poor, who sang Christmas carols in the streets in the late 1700's.  By the end of the 18th century, there were actually laws saying that plum cakes (generic for dried fruit) could only be consumed at Christmas, Easter, weddings, christenings, and funerals.

   Christmas cakes are made in a variety of ways, but are all some variation of the classic fruitcake.  Some are leavened, some unleavened, some are dark, and others light.  There are moist fruitcakes, and dry ones.  Some are plain, and others are glazed, frosted or sprinkled with sugar.  They also come in many different shapes. (Remember the brick shaped ones the schools used to sell?).
   The cakes usually have red and green candied fruit, pineapple, raisins, and other dried fruit, citron, and pecans or other nuts, in addition to the spices.  There is just enough batter to hold it all together.

Assorted candied fruits

   Some cakes also have a reference of adding some alcohol to the fruitcake.  Christmas cakes are made well before Christmas, usually in November, and the cake is stored upside down and put into an airtight container.  Then a small amount of whiskey, brandy, bourbon, rum, or sherry is poured over the cake.  This is called "feeding" the cake (more like getting it drunk).  These "pickled" or "aged " cakes last quite awhile.  It is said that the Crusaders carried them in their saddlebags, on their long journeys.
   Despairing of ever being able to eat fruitcake without breaking teeth, some have used it for a doorstop.  Comments have been made that "fruitcake congers up something rock hard and easier to cut with a welding torch than a knife".   There is also another that says "Egyptian fruitcake was considered an essential food for the afterlife, and there are those who maintain that this is the only thing they are good for"!

   In Europe, the fruitcake was associated with the nut harvests of the 1700's.  The nuts were collected, and then added to a fruitcake, which was saved until the next year.  At that time, it was eaten as a symbol of the hope for another plentiful harvest.
   The Victorians loved their fruitcakes, and there is a rumor that Queen Victoria once waited a year to eat her favorite birthday fruitcake, because she felt it demonstrated discipline.  Even today there is a custom in England, that if single wedding guests put a slice of dark fruit cake under their pillow, they will dream of their future marriage partner.
   There are people that say " there is something wrong, wrong, wrong, with any thing that requires no refrigeration, and that birds, mice, rats, ants, and cockroaches won't eat". 

   Even though bakeries report that fruitcakes continue to be a good selling item, some are not being eaten.  People are publicly throwing them away at the annual "Great Fruitcake Toss" in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and if don't have one to throw, you can rent one for 25 cents.
   The fact is, the popularity of the fruitcake has steadily declined in America.  So here is a closing quote, from the late Johnny Carson-"The worst gift is fruitcake.  There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other".


   The Christmas gift shopping season is now in full swing.  The gifts are wrapped in pretty paper and placed under the Christmas tree.  It all looks so beautiful.  The tree looks complete and perfect.
   Then comes Christmas morning and it's time to pass the gifts around.  Hopefully, everyone will be happy with what they have gotten from Santa. With all of the time, effort and thought that goes into each and every gift.

   It's now over, the paper and the boxes that the gifts came in are in the garbage (hopefully some of it made it into the recycling bin).  The living room has been cleaned up and under the Christmas tree, it looks empty and a bit naked of its gifts.  The gift giving is over.  How did it all get started??
   Tradition dictates that it started back when the three wise men came from the east, bearing gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh to honor the baby Jesus, the King of Kings.  Traveling many miles and dealing with King Herrod.
   The tradition of giving gifts at this time of the year started even before that.  The Romans gave gifts in celebration of the winter solstice festival of Saturnalia.  They believed that the gift of giving would bring them good fortune next year.

   When paganism was replaced by Christianity in Rome, the two holidays merged.  The gifts that were once given at Saturnalia were now given at Christmas.  The same "give and you shall receive" message remained and when the Roman Empire expanded, the tradition followed throughout its Empire.
   The tradition of Santa Claus giving gifts to children came around the 4th century.  It started with St. Nicolas, a loved and respected priest, who was traveling through Asia Minor at that time.  During his travels, he gave presents to poor children.
   In the 10th century, King Wenceslas further added to the tradition.  Rather than receiving gifts from his people, he started giving food and clothing to the poor in his kingdom.

   The Puritans, who believed that Christmas was a worldly tradition not worth celebrating.  They had the celebration of Christmas band in the United States until the 1800's.  However, once the holiday finally took off in the United States it gained momentum year after year. 
   With the commercial aspects that Christmas has been put under, it is easy to forget the real meaning and the message of those who had started the tradition in the beginning.  The giving of gifts has been a time honored tradition throughout history, no matter what nationality or of what race a person is from.  If you get only one message from this article, no matter if you are religious or not, "it is better to give than to receive"!