History of Christmas in July

History of Christmas in July

The modern image of Christmas is locked in as a season covered in snow, ice and frosty images of evergreens. Ironically, the actual setting for Christmas should take place in the dry desert heat. Christ, after all, was not born on December 25th. Historians usually place His birth in the Spring. The seasonality of St. Nicholas bears explaining as well. Historically Nicholas of Myra was a year-round figure, placed in not-so-frosty like places in the Middle East. How he came to wear red is easily explained but how he took to sleighs and snowmen is a bit more complicated. But even more complex is the advent of Christmas in July, an odd seasonal celebration of what is typically associated withRead more

Understand Easter to Understand Christmas

Understand Easter to Understand Christmas

In a world growing more secular by the day there seems to be a serious decline in the understanding of what makes Easter so significant. A quick Google search about the “facts” of Easter reveals stunning statistics on how many chocolate eggs are consumed, how much fake grass is purchased and how many dollars are spent on baskets and bunnies. But hiding behind the commercialized accounting of Easter are real disturbing numbers about Easter itself. A 2014 survey by the Bible Society reveals that only one in four school-aged children can explain Easter. In fact, 71 percent of parents with children ages 2-16 did not even think their children had ever read, seen or heard the story of Easter. PerhapsRead more

Tale of a Presidential Christmas Tree

Tale of a Presidential Christmas Tree

Christmas in 1902 was celebrated much as it is today. But the centerpiece of it all was the Christmas tree. Christmas trees were not always part of the American Christmas tradition. Christmas in America is well documented for decades before the American Revolution but Christmas trees did not enjoy wide spread popularity until well after the Civil War. Like many popular icons of the 19th century Christmas the tree was made popular by British Royals, who publicized their use of a Christmas tree indoors. German immigrants to the US brought their Christmas tree traditions with them but once magazines published the royal trend in holiday celebration it took off in American culture. With the advent of electricity and thus theRead more

History of the Tradition of Elves

History of the Tradition of Elves

Lost in the romance, fantasy and some would say mystery and myth of Christmas is the concept of elves. Most folks today think of Santa’s helpers, often in the form of little people, who work at the North Pole busily making toys for good children everywhere. But elves in that vein are a relative recent invention, stemming from 19th century minds full of fantasy as the modern character of Santa Claus was developed in the Americas. Elves have their origins deeply staked in ancient mythology and their history, unlike St. Nicholas, is completely lacking any relation to deity or the divine. In fact, most elves with ancient pedigrees in Scandinavian folklore are downright naughty, if not outright evil and nasty.Read more

Santa Claus of the 19th Century

Santa Claus of the 19th Century

While Christmas in America predates the American Revolution Santa Claus did not make a splash in America until 1810. He arrived, as many Americans do, in New York City. Local merchant and leader of a local historical society by the name of John Pintard objected to the roughness of Christmas as it was celebrated in the early 19th century and proposed a solution. Drawing on New York City’s Dutch origins, he promoted Saint Nicholas as the city’s patron saint – having a pamphlet printed in 1810 that’s the earliest known American image of Santa. Pintard suggested that the celebrations should be private and family-oriented rather than public and brawling. His brother-in-law, Washington Irving, picked up on St. Nick in hisRead more

New England’s Flying Santa

New England’s Flying Santa

In New England, home of hundreds of lighthouses and the families who worked them, there lived a man who in the early 1920s depended upon them in a different way. The emerging technology at the time was the industry of flight. As one of America’s first pilots, Bill Wincapaw was known around Penobscot Bay for his skill and bravery as a floatplane pilot. The hundreds, if not thousands of islands along New England’s coast, provided plenty of business for the Curtis Flying Service. As a first-of-its-kind service Bill was not only providing flight for cargo between the islands but he often served as an air ambulance in saving the lives of many islanders who needed medical attention on the mainland.Read more

Christmas in the Crosshairs

Christmas in the Crosshairs

The phrase “war on Christmas” has become so tiresome in the ongoing dialogue about Christmas that it tends to trigger instant eye-rolling disdain. The media attention to it all just makes one weary at the mere mention of it. Gerry Bowler’s new book, Christmas in the Crosshairs, settles rather emphatically the question of whether or not the modern “war on Christmas” is unique – or even worthy of all the eye-rolling. It’s not. It has been around forever and will be around forever. So stop the eye-rolling. In fact, as Bowler almost gleefully notes in his new book, it is as entertaining as can be. Bowler – a Canadian historian – has quite the fascination on the topic of Christmas.Read more

History of Christmas Greetings

History of Christmas Greetings

Lazy historians typically date the advent of Christmas cards to the 1840s, a time when postal services in modern western societies were well established and became more affordable. The truth is that the sending of holiday greetings is centuries old. Commercial Christmas cards got their start in the UK in the 1840s, suspiciously around the same time as the explosion in popularity of all things Christmas — from trees to holly, as spurred by popular Christmas-themed works such as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The tradition of holiday greetings, however, dates back centuries, most famously noted in the Bible when angels conveyed “glad tidings of great joy” to the shepherds abiding their flocks by night. Christmas greetings have been conveyed inRead more

Santa Claus at War

Santa Claus at War

Christmas is a traditional season of peace but even Santa straps on the uniform of a soldier when called to duty. Over time Santa has been “enlisted” in the cause of one side or another in periods of war. Not surprisingly, most of the images of Santa associated with war are American and date from the 19th century forward. The earliest known connection between Santa and war has to be through the artwork of 19th century illustrator Thomas Nast. Born in Germany in 1840, Nast had been brought to New York by his mother at the age of 6. He had studied art, become a draftsman in 1854 at age 15 for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, then moved to theRead more

Christmas at Beacon Hill

Christmas at Beacon Hill

A 1929 newspaper article from Boston tells the story of a boy named Alfred Shurtleff, who in 1893 began a tradition in his Boston neighborhood that reads a lot like the spirited Christmas enthusiasts of our day who festively decorate their homes with lights each season. What did Alfred do? On a snowy Christmas Eve Alfred lit a single candle and put it in the bedroom window of his home in the Beacon Hill area of Boston. Nobody seemed to mind, though Alfred was sure that a neighbor or at least an adult somewhere would ask him what he was doing and why. But nobody said a thing. But the actions of the boy, unspoken though they were, inspired hisRead more

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