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Sunday Newsletter 2001-51Su.
December 23, 2001.
[John] Merry Christmas to you and your family from both of us at FactsCanada.ca. Craig and I have been sliding down the chimney of your Internet service provider for 18 months now! This special Christmas edition of our newsletter marks our 78th week exactly a year and a half of Canadian facts, stories, humour, recipes and more. We would like to say "Thank-you!" for inviting us into your homes and offices, by serving up some Christmas fare in the usual Sunday Newsletter form. I hope you find these stories interesting.
There actually is a tremendous amount of information out there on Christmas its origins, traditions and celebrations and it was very difficult for me to decide on which stories to base my writings. For example, researching just one item (mistletoe) and its role at Christmas brought me more than ten different variations as to its origins and history. What I finally decided was to pick a variety of items and bring you one "spin" on each, mostly sticking to what I know and learned growing up. I hope you enjoy.
\\ TABLE OF CONTENTS //
\ Question of the week
\ Biography Santa Claus
\ Christmas recipe Christmas Pudding
\ Word of the week
\ Christmas humour
\ The most religious day of the year
\ Christmas origins Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
\ Tying everything together
\ Other aliases
\ A newer tradition
\ A few reader recollections
\ Answer to this week's question
\ Links and resources
\ Legal and subscription information
\\ QUESTION OF THE WEEK //
Which province is home to the community of Christmas Island? Answer can be found below.
\\ BIOGRAPHY //
Born, into mind, December 24, 1822, the modern day Santa Claus got his start almost by accident.
When you hear the name "Santa Claus", does the image of a pudgy old man in a red suit come to mind? Do you picture him at the North Pole, loading toys in a sleigh pulled by Rudolph and company? Did you know it was not until the 1930s that Rudolph was introduced? Until he arrived on the scene, there were only eight reindeer. (More on Rudolph below.) Do you imagine Santa trying to squeeze down chimneys? If so, put those images on hold and consider that our modern-day Santa Claus wasn't the same person even a hundred years ago.
First our modern day legend
There is an ever-growing consensus that the person most responsible for shaping the North American version of Santa Claus was one Dr. Clement Clark Moore, a theology and classics professor. What did Moore do to earn this honour? He simply wrote a poem for his children in 1822 originally entitled "A Visit from St. Nicholas" that begins with these now famous words: "'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; / The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, / In the hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there." (You can find the remainder of this poem at our site at this link.)
In Moore's poem he depicted a chubby, tiny, elf-like Santa Claus who glided down from the north in a sleigh drawn by miniature reindeer. On Christmas eve nights Santa would go from rooftop to rooftop, silently sliding down the chimney to fill childrens' stockings with gifts.
Clement Moore was familiar with various European customs and folklore regarding this jolly sole, and his poem about Saint Nicholas was largely drawn from the Dutch tradition of Sinter Klaas. His depiction of Santa Claus was borrowed from Teutonic and Norse notions of an "impish" but jovial figure who presided over the mid-winter festivals of pagan origins. (The Teutonic people lived in Jutland around 100 BC. Jutland is the ancient name for the peninsula of northern Europe, now comprising Denmark and parts of northern Germany.)
Although Moore wrote the story for his childrens' amusement, it was anonymously published a year later. It has since been reprinted many times as "The Night Before Christmas". This purely imaginary tale rooted in the Dutch Sinter Klaas tradition has since become a very popular, enduring and beloved myth in North American culture and many of those around the world.
Now for the more traditional origins
The term "Santa Claus" can be said to mean, simply, "love" love between one another. As a dear friend (Julie) told me, Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus. In this instance then we could say that Santa Claus, or at least what he represents, was born on December 25, about 2001 years ago (depending on what calendar you are using).
During the 1600s and 1700s, children in Holland put their shoes by the fireplace for Saint Nicholas, known to them as Sinter Klaas. Each year on December 5, the eve of the feast day of Saint Nicholas, Sinter Klaas was said to gallop from rooftop to rooftop on his white horse. Not wanting to soil his white robe, he'd drop candy down the chimney into the shoes of the children. Meanwhile, it was his Moorish assistant Black Peter who popped down the chimneys to leave gifts behind. (The Moors were a Muslim people from north-west Africa.)
The story of Sinter Klaas was brought to North America by Dutch settlers of New York, which was then called New Amsterdam. His name gradually changed from Sinter Klaas to Sint Klaes, and eventually to Santa Claus.
The practice of celebrating during the "un-harvesting season" is very old indeed. People needed something to look forward to, as well as a launching point for their beliefs for the following season. Even during prehistoric times, people celebrated a festival that coincided with the winter solstice, lighting fires and making ritual offerings. During the height of the Roman Empire the festival of Saturnalia, held in December, was a time of feasts, gambling, dancing and singing. These mid-winter feasting, drinking and religious rituals were also celebrated by the Germanic tribes of northern Europe.
So it was perfectly natural for the Christian church of the fourth century, as it rose in importance, to adopt its own mid-winter celebration. To Pope Julius I, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ at that time of the year was ideal, and December 25 seemed an appropriate time to do so. He wanted to include a Christian element in the long-established mid-winter festivals. As a result, Christmas today is a mix of both pagan ritual and Christian celebration of Christ's birth.
The real Saint Nicholas lived in Turkey, long before Dutch children thought to leave out their shoes for him. Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra in southwestern Turkey during the early fourth century. Little is known about him, but he is remembered for good deeds and miracles involving children and sailors. Saint Nicholas is illustrated in several medieval and renaissance paintings, stained glass windows and carvings, as a tall, dignified and severe man. He definitely wasn't the jovial father figure in our modern Santa Claus mythology.
By the sixth century, Saint Nicholas was well established as patron saint of children, unmarried girls and sailors, in Roman and Orthodox churches. His feast day on December 6 was celebrated as a holiday in Europe. Eventually his feast day moved to December 25, the day established by Pope Julius I during the fourth century to celebrate the birth of Christ.
During the Reformation in the 16th century, when Catholic ways were being challenged in Protestant countries, the popularity of Saint Nicholas and his association with Christmas started to decline. For some reason, however, he continued to be revered in Protestant Holland, where he was known as Sinter Klaas. Today he has become one of the central characters in the mythology of Christmas.
\\ CHRISTMAS RECIPE //
This recipe for Christmas Pudding is adapted from the "Penguin Cookery Book", published in 1952.
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup suet
1/2 cup sugar
1 pound mixed dried fruit (currants, raisins and sultanas)
2/3 cup bread crumbs
2-4 tablespoons brandy
Prepare ingredients in advance. Use butter or margarine to grease a 1 1/2 to 2-pint, tall-sided bowl. Sift dry ingredients together. Add the rest of the ingredients to the mixing bowl. Combine until it becomes a fairly soft mixture. The texture should be like a drop cookie dough: stiff but soft. The mixing is finished by hand. Each family member (and lucky friends who may pop by) gives the mixture one stir, while making a wish. Put the mixture into the prepared bowl and cover with wax paper. Be sure the put a fold in the top of the wax paper to allow for rising. Place the bowl in a pot of simmering water. The water should only come two-thirds up the side of the bowl. Simmer the pudding for 4 hours. You will have to replenish the water occasionally.
If serving at a later date, the pudding is simmered again for 2 to 3 hours before serving. This Christmas pudding is usually served with a hard sauce, a recipe for which is below.
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons brandy or rum, heated
Melt butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and liquor. Beat until smooth. Serve over bread pudding.
\\ WORD OF THE WEEK //
The Christmas "carol"
The word "carol" comes from the Greek word "choraulien" which means dancing (choros) and playing the flute (aulien). In other words, the carol was a dance to flute accompaniment. Today most of the Christmas carols sung do not involve dancing or the playing of the flute, but are merely done a cappella.
\\ CHRISTMAS HUMOUR //
Q. If athletes get athletes foot, what do artillerymen get?
Q. What nationality is Santa Claus?
A. North Polish.
Q. What do elves learn in school?
A. The Elf-abet, of course.
Q. What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus?
Q. Why does Santa have three gardens?
A. So he can practice his hoe-hoe-hoe.
Q. What do you get when you cross a vampire with a snowman?
Q. Why is Christmas just like a day at the office ?
A. You do all the work, and the fat guy with the suit gets all the credit.
Q. Why does Scrooge love Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?
A. Because every buck is dear to him.
\\ THE MOST RELIGIOUS DAY OF THE YEAR //
The Festival of the Nativity
Christmas day is the only day throughout the year in which Catholic Mass is celebrated three times. This custom, which now is a distinctive feature among Western churches, was established in the seventh century when the Pope celebrated Christmas in a number of different churches around Rome. During Charlemagne's reign, this custom spread throughout his empire, but it was only in the 19th century that it became usual to celebrate the three masses consecutively.
The faithful came to call the first mass the "Angels' Mass", the second the "Shepherds' Mass" and the third the "Mass of the Divine Word". The masses are better known as "Midnight Mass", "Dawn Mass" and "Christmas Day Mass".
This first of the three Christmas Masses was originally celebrated by the Pope towards midnight in the chapel of the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome before a small congregation. This celebration of Mass is based on the ancient belief that Jesus was born precisely on the stroke of twelve. We owe this belief to the 13th century Hungarian Saint Elizabeth. She based her belief on the fourth century Latin hymn, "Quando Noctis Medium", which already reflected the belief that the Messiah was born at the stroke of midnight.
The second gathering of the day is that of the Dawn Mass, which usually takes place immediately after the Midnight Mass. Most of the faithful make a point of staying and attending it. This Mass is a substitute for the Mass in honour of Saint Anastasia, which was celebrated by the Pope at dawn in the Roman church of Saint Athanasias. In its current form, the name of Saint Anastasia is hardly mentioned, showing that practically all traces of the origins of this Mass have been lost.
Christmas Day Mass
The most popular of the three modern-day Masses is naturally entitled the "Christmas Day Mass". At one time this was the most public and official celebration of the festival of the nativity and took place on Christmas morning in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. An enormous crowd gathered in the church to attend this Mass, celebrated by the Pope, waiting to receive his communion as well as the papal blessing.
Today, many Christian faithful still make the trek to Saint Peter's to attend this great ceremony.
\\ CHRISTMAS ORIGINS //
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Hi! I'm Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, owned and operated by Santa. Christmas day starts tomorrow morning, and Santa completed his "reindeer flight inspections" earlier this week, ensuring that we can fly high and all night long tonight. Don't worry everyone passed, even Donner who has had a touch a the flu. During the past weeks we have been practicing landing lightly on rooftops. We also practice taking off with a full sleigh. It's very important that we all take off on the same hoof. If the sleigh rocks on take off, even a little, some toys may fall out, and we don't want to miss any child's request.
When we aren't practising our flying we are helping the elves in Santa's workshop. We help them get the toys from the back room to the sleigh, help them test the toys (which is the most fun of all), and help them "test" all the delicious recipes Mrs. Claus makes. Yummy! My personal favourite is her gingerbread house decorated with gumdrops. My favourite colour of gumdrop is red, of course. It matches my nose!
I suppose you're wondering how I become such an important part of Santa's reindeer team. Well, my origins are completely retail oriented. In 1939 Robert L. May wrote the now-famous poem "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" for Chicago's Montgomery Ward stores. Initially the poem was published as a pamphlet and distributed to customers in November of that year. Mr. May based my story on that of the "ugly duckling", substituting me, a reindeer, as the hero of the story. His story was almost not published though, because the bosses (wise men?) at Montgomery Ward thought my red nose might spark images of alcoholism.
Luckily an art department employee saved the day by sketching some portraits of my relatives at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The "wise men" were so taken by these images that they approved the project, and I got my chance to be famous.
Montgomery Ward continued to hand out this pamphlet for many years each December to coincide with the Christmas season. It was 1947 that my tale (tail?) was printed as a book, and a short cartoon was shown in theatres, increasing my popularity. As all this was happening, May's brother-in-law, songwriter John Marks, set my poem to music and in 1949 Gene Autry recorded and sold over two million copies of my story. In 1964 a television special was created and was shown to millions with Burl Ives narrating.
I hope you enjoyed my brief biography. Look for me tonight!
\\ TYING EVERYTHING TOGETHER //
As I have said, the North American version of Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, originally came from the Dutch version called Sinter Klaas. The Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (now New York) brought this fun and lively tradition (some even say cult) to America. This version of Santa has given the current myth its visual form and these most curious traditions:
- A merry old man with red and white clothes.
- Eight flying reindeer, later joined by Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
- A home located at or near the North Pole.
- The habit of filling socks or stockings with presents on the night of December 24.
- The habit of entering houses through the chimney.
As also mentioned, it seems the most important single source for our modern day version of Santa Claus comes from the Christmas poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Dr. Clement Clark Moore. This family-oriented poem was later published for the general public and included what became the famous picture of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast. This can been seen at the link below.
The old "cult" of Santa Claus incorporates many traditions as well, including those of Christian, Pagan, old Catholic, Scandinavian, Dutch, German and English origins.
Santa helps bring us all together. Kids all over the world know who Santa is and, although he may be a little commercial, who can help but love the jolly old elf, turned jolly fat man? It is the idea of giving that reminds us we are all on this planet together, for the long run. So let's be kind to one another. This is the lesson taught to children through Santa Claus.
According to legend, Saint Nicholas was born in the city of Patara, and traveled to Palestine and Egypt when he was young. He was later imprisoned during persecutions by the Emperor Diocletian, but was fortunately released by the more humanitarian Emperor Constantine. He attended the first council of Nicaea in 325 AD. In Greek legend, Saint Nicholas is known as Hagios Nikolaos, Bishop of Myra (which is in present-day Turkey). Saint Nicholas reportedly died about 350 AD.
His fame spread rapidly during the Middle Ages and thousands of churches are dedicated to him. He has been the patron saint of Russia, Moscow, Greece, children, sailors, prisoners, bakers, pawnbrokers, shopkeepers and wolves.
His gift-giving role in Christmas rites probably follows from his fame as the friend of children. The story also goes that he used to give anonymous donations of gold coins to people in need. His cult spread in Europe, and Christmas presents were distributed on December 6 when the celebration of Saint Nicholas took place.
In many countries December 6 is still the day of Christmas gift-giving, although there is mounting pressure in many places to conform to the custom of observing December 24 and 25. The relics of Saint Nicholas are in the basilica of Saint Nicola in Bari, Italy. (They were stolen from Myra in 1087 AD.) For this reason he is sometimes known as Saint Nicholas of Bari.
Today, this character is still alive and well and is known all over the world as Nicholas of Myra, Santa Claus or just plain "Santa".
"Hello! Santa Claus!" by Thomas Nast
\\ OTHER ALIASES //
Santa Claus, is also known as Santa Clause, Saint Nicholas, St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Beard, Beards, Real Bearded Santa, Père Noel, Father Christmas, Papa Natale, Jultomten, Budda Claus, Allah Claus, Santa O'Claus, Mac Santa, St. Nick, Kolya, Saint Nick, Jolly Old Elf, Chanukah Claus, Hanukkah Claus, Kriss Kringle, Santa San, The Man in the Red Suit, and commercially as Cartier Santa Claus, Neiman Marcus Santa Claus, AT&T Santa Claus, The White House Santa Claus, Saks Fifth Avenue Santa Claus, Lord & Taylor Santa Claus, Filene's Santa Claus, NFL Santa Claus, Avon Santa Claus, Learn & Play Santa Claus, United States Postal Service Santa, Hollywood Santa Claus, Star Santas, Beverly Hills Hotel Santa, and on and on.
Besides being called Santa Claus in Canada and the United States, he is known in China as Shengdan Laoren, in England as Father Christmas (where he has a longer coat and a longer beard), in France as Père Noel, and German children get presents from Christindl, the Christ Child.
Customs of the Christmas Season in Spanish-speaking countries have many similarities, and many variations. All of Latin America and Spain are predominantly Catholic. For many of these countries Baby Jesus, el Niño Jesus, brings gifts for children. In Costa Rica, Colombia, and parts of Mexico, the gift bearer is also el Niño Jesus, "the infant Jesus", and in Brazil and Peru he's called Papa Noel.
In Puerto Rico, children traditionally receive gifts from the Three Kings on January 6, also called the celebration of the Epiphany. Each child puts grass under their bed for the camels, and in the morning the grass is replaced with gifts. However, as Puerto Rico is part of the United States, they do their major gift-giving on December 25 along with the Christmas tree and Santa Claus. In this sense Puerto Rico is almost totally Americanized. Epiphany still remains a part of the holiday season in Puerto Rico and is a day off from school. Giving gifts on that date is more for traditional values than the actual gift-giving celebration, unless one wants to make a specific statement about the importance of maintaining traditional purity (anti-commercialism) and disassociation from American influence.
However, the celebration of Epiphany is not just in Puerto Rico. Some nations say it is the Three Kings who bring the toys, while others credit Baby Jesus, since it was he who received and wants to share.
In Spain children leave their shoes under the Christmas tree the night of January 5 and presents from the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos: Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar) appear the next morning. Santa Claus is called Papa Noel and some children receive presents on both days December 24 (from Papa Noel) and January 6 (from the Three Kings).
In Morocco he is known as Black Peter.
In Japan, Santa Clause is called Santa Clause or just "Santa". Children often call him "Santa no ojisan" which means "Uncle Santa". (This information comes to you via Mr. Kazuo Miyasako of Dokkyo University in Japan.)
In Italy he is called Belfana or Babbo Natale.
In Sweden, Jultomten visits the evening before Christmas day, pulling a big bag of julklappar (Christmas presents) in the deep snow.
På Norsk (in Norwegian) "Julenissen" arrives on the evening of December 24.
In the Netherlands, he is called Kerstman.
In Finland, he is called Joulupukki.
Dutch tradition, as mentioned above, brings us Sinter Klaas, riding a white horse and leaving gifts in wooden shoes.
In Russia he is called Grandfather Frost.
He is also called Kris Kringle, which comes from the German term "the Christ Child".
\\ A NEWER TRADITION //
For 45 years, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has been broadcasting updates every Christmas eve as they track Santa's progress around the world. For the last few years they have also been broadcasting on the Web. Their sophisticated radar helps them generate a map of Santa's travels, and the "Santa Cam" gives you a snapshot of where he is over the globe at any given minute. Video reports are also issued at the top of every hour. In fact, since it is already early Christmas day in some parts of the world, some video reports have already been issued. Check it out for yourself at the link below.
NORAD Tracks Santa Claus
\\ A FEW READER RECOLLECTIONS //
A couple of readers took me up on the offer of sharing their stories of Christmases passed. All can be read at this link. Here is one of my favourites, unabridged.
"First, the turkey tips brought back memories of my sister-in-law's attempt to prepare a grand Xmas feast. She was always envious of my mother's organization and capability to seemingly pull off a fabulous dinner each and every holiday season, even the year the stove quit and we had to move the dinner to my grandmother's house. My brother's wife is a good person, and she really tries hard, but sometimes her results are monumental disasters. For example, the first birthday cake she tried to bake for my brother came out looking like a volcano, complete with uncooked batter spewing out of the crater, a result which, though spectacular, was unintended. So a couple of years ago, after Mom had passed away, she wanted to try her hand at the big turkey dinner.
"The grocery store where she regularly shops rewarded her loyalty with a free turkey, about 20 pounds, which turned out to be a really good thing. I was invited to join them for Xmas dinner, so we would be a complement of five. Both she and my brother like to research their tasks and prepare detailed lists and instructions, and they had settled on one particular recipe for the bird and stuffing. I arrived mid-afternoon and settled in to watch their kids open my gifts to them and tell me about what Santa had brought. I casually asked about dinner and was puzzled when I was told the turkey had just gone into the oven and we would eat at 5:30. I remarked that I had clear memories of Mom having to get up at 7:00 am one year to prepare our turkey for the oven (I think it was the size of a Volkswagon Beetle we were having the whole clan over for dinner) and most other Xmases she had almost always started cooking the bird right after lunch. They both pulled out their notes and re-read them, positive in their belief this recipe had said it would take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours total cooking time for a turkey that size. I asked to see the recipe, thinking it might have been designed for cooking the turkey in a microwave oven, but they had read it in the newspaper, which was now long gone to recycling. We read through all the cookbooks in the house to check cooking times, but found nothing. With some trepidation, and much hunger, we phoned our eldest sister, herself a veteran of many large family dinners and she confirmed our fears this bird would not be ready to eat until at least nine o'clock!
"We discussed our alternatives, but beans on Xmas just didn't have much appeal, so we decided it should be safe to raise the cooking temperature a little, give it some more time, then slice off enough well-cooked white meat from the breast to feed us all and toss out the rest. That free turkey really paid off a tasty but tardy Christmas repast and a cooking lesson well-learned!"
\\ ANSWER TO THIS WEEK'S QUESTION //
Located on the secondary Highway 223, Christmas Island is found in the province of Nova Scotia and is not really an island. For a map, see the link below.
FactsCanada.ca map of Christmas Island, Nova Scotia
\\ PREVIEW //
Next Sunday I profile Florence Nightingale Graham (you are probably more familiar with her by another name... Elizabeth Arden), tell you how each province and territory was named, give you a pet peeve from a reader, and make fun of people in Ottawa. I'm looking forward to it, and I hope you are too.
[John] Once again, a merry Christmas to everyone.
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