The Christmas season, so we are told, officially begins on Black Friday (now it seems Dark Thursday or Thanksgiving), the day ones inner savage is unleashed as herds of shoppers take to the stores like Bluto (depicted by John Belushi in the motion picture ``Animal House’’) takes to a college dining hall to howl ``Food Fight!’’
After viewing YouTube videos over the weekend of shoppers involved in scrapes with the law either through shootings, stabbings, fist fights, and other acts of gang warfare for something as trivial as a flat screen TV-I couldn’t help but think we might be missing the point of this festive holiday season-a time when we should be exhibiting signs of peace on earth and good will toward others.
Consequently, I thought I would highlight the origins of some Christmas traditions we used to treasure before Black Friday came rumbling into to town.
Here are some of my favorites:
- The original Saint Nicholas was a wealthy 4th century bishop of Myria in Asia Minor (now Demre, Turkey), known for his kindness and works of charity.
- St Francis of Assisi, Italy constructed the first Nativity scene in a cave near Greccio, Italy on Christmas Eve, 1223.
- In Scotland, The Kirk (The Church of Scotland, or the Presbyterian Church influenced by the Scottish Reformation) beginning in 1560 produced the First Book of Discipline (later adopted by an Act of Parliament) abolishing Feast Days, including Christmas, which did not become an official holiday in Scotland until 1958.
- In 1647, under Oliver Cromwell, an Act of Parliament prohibited the observance of Christmas. The holiday was restored by Charles II after the Restoration in 1660.
- The Puritan government in Massachusetts made it illegal to celebrate Christmas between 1659 and 1681.
- By the end of the 16th century, indoor Christmas trees were a common fixture in most German homes; by 1610, thin strips of silver, later to be known as tinsel, began to be used as decoration.
- J.S. Bach’s Christmas oratorio premiered in Leipzig, Germany in 1734.
- The world premiere of Silent Night was performed in the Nikolaus-Kirche (Church of St. Nicholas) in Oberndorf, Austria on Christmas Eve, 1818.
- Sir Henry Cole, an English civil servant and founding director of what is now the London’s Victoria & Albert Museum approached a painter in 1843 to devise a series of holiday cards which would read: ``A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.’’ By 1860, Christmas cards became wildly fashionable in England.
- In 1847, Placide Cappeau, a wine merchant, amateur poet, and mayor of the village of Roquemaure in Rhone Valley wrote the lyrics to what would eventually be known as ``O Holy Night’’ a French carol, titled: ``Cantique de Noёl’’ or literally, ``Song of Christmas’’; the carol was set to music by Adolphe Adam and first performed at the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass of 1847 in Roquemaure with Madame Laurey performing the solo.
- Jingle Bells was first published by Oliver Ditson and Company in Boston in 1857 under the title: ``One Horse Open Sleigh’’, but was later reissued as ``Jingle Bells’’ or ``One Horse Open Sleigh’’ in 1859. Today, the song is simply known as ``Jingle Bells’’ written by James Lord Pierpont, a native of Meford, Massachusetts.
- ``O Little Town of Bethlehem’’ a sacred carol written by the Rev. Phillips Brooks, pastor of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Philadelphia , was first performed by children of the Holy Trinity Sunday School on December 27, 1868.
- Edward H. Sears, pastor of First Church Unitarian in Wayland, Massachusetts wrote the lyrics to America’s first prominent carol ``It Came upon the Midnight Clear’’ , which was originally a five verse poem first published in the Christian Register on December 29, 1849. The poem was set to music by Richard Storrs Willis who later became a music critic for the New York Tribune.
- George Frideric Handel’s ``Messiah’’, a composition so firmly fixed to the Christmas season, was actually first presented as an Easter oratorio at Dublin’s New Music Hall in Fishamble Street on April 13, 1742.
- In Ethiopia, Christmas Day is celebrated on January 7th on a day called ``Ganna.’’ Worshipers are given a candle and walk around the tree three times before standing for the remainder of the three-hour service.
- Filipinos celebrate the Christmas season with nine pre-dawn masses known as Misa de Gallo or ``mass of the rooster.'' It begins on December 16 and ends on the midnight mass of December 24.
- The first image of the St Nicholas sliding down a chimney appeared in the New York Mirror on January 2, 1841.
- In 1836, Alabama became the first state to declare Christmas a legal holiday.
- The first department store to feature a Santa Claus was in Philadelphia on December 24, 1841 at the J.W. Parkinson's store. The next Santa Claus wouldn't be spotted again until 1890, this time accompanied with his own white beard at the Boston Store in Brockton, Mass.
- In a poem published in Harper’s Weekly on December 26, 1857, ``The Wonders of Santa Claus’’, the poem makes one of the first references to elves making toys.
- Thomas Nast, a German immigrant, age 22, published his first depiction of Santa Claus speaking to Union troops in the January 3, 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly.
- Based largely from the German and French models, the first English gift book or literary annual, ``The Forget me Not: A Christmas and New Years Present for 1823. was published by R. Ackermann, a publisher of illustrated books.
- The first illustration of a Christmas tree was in an American book, published in 1836, ``The Stranger's Gift. A Christmas and New Year's Present’’ written by a German immigrant, Herman Bokum.
- The London Illustrated News in 1848, published a woodcut print of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children gathered around a Christmas tree.
- Charles Dickens first wrote about Christmas in ``Sketches by Boz’’ (1836). His last chapter, ``A Christmas Dinner’’ is undoubtedly a foreshadowing of Cratchits’ Christmas Dinner in a Christmas Carol.
- On June 26, 1870, Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States.
- In 1883, Sears, Roebuck & Company began offering the first artificial Christmas trees – 33 limbs for 50 cents and 55 limbs for $1.00.
- In 1897, an 8 year-old girl, Virginia O'Hanlon, who lived at 115 West Ninety-Fifth Street in New York City, wrote a letter to her local newspaper, The New York Sun, asking if there really was a Santa Claus after some of her friends told her there is no such thing as Santa Claus. The editor, Francis B. Church, responded to her letter, which was published on September 21, 1897, with the heading: ``Yes Virginia There is a Santa Claus.''
- Great Britain’s King George V delivered his first Christmas broadcast by the BBC radio in 1932 with the message reaching an estimated 20 million people; the first televised broadcast of a Christmas message was delivered by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957.
- John Adams was the first U.S. president to celebrate Christmas in the White House; while Calvin Coolidge was the first president to light the National Community Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in Washington D.C. on Christmas Eve, 1923.
- The First Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show was launched in 1933.
- In 1939, Chicago retailer Montgomery Ward introduced Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.
- The radio broadcast of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel was the first opera to be broadcast by radio from New York City’s Metropolitan Opera on Christmas Day in 1931.
- On December 7th, 1898 Canada issued the world's first Christmas stamp, showing a map of the world in 1569 by the Flemish cartographer Gerhardus Mercator inscribed with ``Xmas 1898.''
- Eggnog originated with the British from posset, a hot drink consisting of eggs and milk with nog (strong ale) or wine added.
- The motion picture ``A Christmas Carol’’ premiered as a silent film in 1914 starring Charles Rock as Scrooge; the first sound version was made in the United States (1938) starring British actor Reginald Owen as Scrooge.
- The televised broadcast of the Midnight Mass from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome has been an annual tradition since 1948.
- In January, 2003, President Hosni Mubarak issued a presidential decree authorizing the celebration of Christmas as a national holiday, making it the first time that the Egyptian government recognized a Christian holy day.
December 1, 2013