EDITORS: Following are some holiday trivia items for your use as fillers or for the entertainment of your readers/listeners/viewers. They are based on ideas taken from Discovering Christmas Customs and Folklore by Margaret Baker.
The date of Christ's birth is one of the mysteries of the ages. It is likely that Pope Julius I (337-52) chose Dec. 25 to blend the anniversary with already well-established pagan festivals, including the celebration of the winter solstice.
Dec. 13 is called the Feast of St. Lucia in Sweden. Early in the morning, the youngest daughter in the house dresses in a white robe with a red sash, and puts on a crown holding nine lighted candles. She then presents her family with coffee and cakes.
Apple growers in the south and southwest sections of England used to appear in the orchard at dusk with shotguns, lanterns, bread and cider. The guns were fired into the trees to prompt good spirits to overcome bad ones and ensure a good harvest. The bread and cider were thrust into the branches to feed the good spirits.
In 1830, John Popple of Burnham, Buckinghamshire, England, left 40 pounds in his will to provide ale, tobacco and snuff for workhouse residents on Christmas Day.
Burning a yule log at Christmas was not originally an English custom. It was brought to the island by Scandinavian invaders. The English version of the ritual included selecting a seasoned oak log and decorating it with ribbons. Passersby took off their hats as the yule log went by on its way to the manor house, since seeing the yule log was considered a good omen.
At a church in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, on Christmas Eve, the tenor bell called Black Tom is rung once for each year since the birth of Christ. The tolling also celebrates the passing of the Devil from the earth.
There was an old belief in England that a child born on Christmas Day would never be drowned or hanged. In Ireland it was believed that persons who died during the Twelve days of Christmas were fortunate, because during that time the gates of heaven stood open.
Danes start an eating marathon on Christmas Eve, consuming almond porridge, pork, ducks with apple and prune stuffing, turkey, candied potatoes, red cabbage and jelly. The Christmas Day feast is a cold buffet including pickled herring, caviar, shrimp, meat balls, pate, smoked leg of lamb, cold roast pork, smoked sausages and cheeses -- washed down with schnaaps and beer. No wonder the meal may extend from noon until late evening!
The last meal of Advent in Provence, France, once consisted of grey mullet with olives, salt cod, snails, pasta and eggs. Thirteen traditional desserts followed, representing Christ and His apostles.
Greek Christians eat Christpsomo (Christ's bread) when they return home from mass at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning. The Christmas tree and presents do not appear until St. Basil's Day (Jan. 1).
Ski instructors at Sun Valley, Idaho, carry torches as they race down Dollar Mountain on Christmas Eve.
In England it's considered unlucky to turn down the offer of a mince pie. Eating the pie every day for the 12 days of Christmas promises 12 happy months ahead.
Use of the Christmas tree in Britain was probably inspired by Queen Victoria's consort, a German prince by the name of Albert. The first royal tree of record was put up in Windsor Castle in 1841.
Leaders of the Russian Revolution killed Santa Claus and substituted Father Winter or Grandfather Frost. Their flag-decorated tree was transformed into a New Year tree.
There is a strong relationship between Father Christmas and the white-bearded god Odin, who wore a hooded cloak and rode through the sky, distributing gifts.
Berlin's Free University runs a "Hire a Santa" service. Five thousand Santa visits were booked in 1991 by parents for in-person home gift deliveries.
Probably the most well-known Christmas carol, "Silent Night" was first performed at the old St. Nikolas' Church in Oberndorf, Salzburg, Austria in 1818. Though the church was destroyed by a flood, a memorial chapel was erected on the site.
Firing guns at midnight on Dec. 31 in Philadelphia is called "Murdering the Old Year." The custom was brought to America by immigrants from Germany.
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