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Gender: Male
Hometown: Northern VA
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 09:34 AM
Number of posts: 35,932

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FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 14: How did coal become the gift choice for the naughty kids?

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

From http://mentalfloss.com/article/31910/why-does-santa-claus-give-coal-bad-kids

Cat-proof Christmas Tree


FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 13: Creation Myths of the Candy Cane

The origin of these popular Christmas treats is murky. A typical story goes:

A story says that a choirmaster, in 1670, was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service. So he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet! As he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made them into a 'J' shape like a shepherds crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus at the first christmas. However, the earliest records of 'candy canes' comes from over 200 years later, so the story, although rather nice, probably isn't true!


A candymaker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols from the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the Church, and firmness of the promises of God.

The candymaker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the “Good Shepherd” with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray.

Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life.

The candy existed, originally as a white stick, for a long time and became popular in the 1920s when Bob McCormack (Bob's Candies which later became Farley and Sathers) started making them with the bend. However,

22% of the candy canes produced by Bob and his crew were ending up in the trash, because they broke during the bending process. (Catholic Priest Father Gregory Harding Keller) Keller’s machine automated this process and shortly thereafter was perfected by Dick Driskell and Jimmy Spratling, both of which worked for Bob McCormack. This made it so the candy canes came out perfect nearly every time.

So while it’s unlikely Christians invented the candy cane, but they might have perfected it.



FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 12: Who invented electric Christmas lights?

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the first successful practical light bulb, created the very first strand of electric lights. During the Christmas season of 1880, these strands were strung around the outside of his Menlo Park Laboratory. Railroad passengers traveling by the laboratory got their first look at an electrical light display. But it would take almost forty years for electric Christmas lights to become the tradition that we all know and love.

Before electric Christmas lights, families would use candles to light up their Christmas trees*. This practice was often dangerous and led to many home fires. Edward H. Johnson put the very first string of electric Christmas tree lights together in 1882. Johnson, Edison’s friend and partner in the Edison’s Illumination Company, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and wound them around his Christmas tree. Not only was the tree illuminated with electricity, it also revolved.

However, the world was not quite ready for electrical illumination. There was a great mistrust of electricity and it would take many more years for society to decorate its Christmas trees and homes with electric lights. Some credit President Grover Cleveland with spurring the acceptance of indoor electric Christmas lights. In 1895, President Cleveland requested that the White House family Christmas tree be illuminated by hundreds of multi-colored electric light bulbs.

On Christmas Eve 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the country’s celebration of Christmas by lighting the National Christmas Tree with 3,000 electric lights on the Ellipse located south of the White House.

Until 1903, when General Electric began to offer pre-assembled kits of Christmas lights, stringed lights were reserved for the wealthy and electrically savvy. The wiring of electric lights was very expensive and required the hiring of the services of a wireman, our modern-day electrician. According to some, to light an average Christmas tree with electric lights before 1903 would have cost $2000.00 in today’s dollars.

While Thomas Edison and Edward H. Johnson may have been the first to create electric strands of light in 1880/1882, it was Albert Sadacca who saw a future in selling electric Christmas lights. The Sadacca family owned a novelty lighting company and in 1917 Albert, a teenager at the time, suggested that its store offer brightly colored strands of Christmas lights to the public. By the 1920’s Albert and his brothers organized the National Outfit Manufacturers Association (NOMA), a trade association. NOMA soon became NOMA Electric Co., with its members cornering the Christmas light market until the 1960’s.

Today we expect to see the holiday season become aglow with electric strands of light. Think of the variety and range of Christmas lights available in today’s market. We can be grateful to Thomas Edison, Edward H. Johnson and Albert Sadacca for illuminating our holiday season.

The first National Christmas Tree being set up.

Pic of the 1st GE lights offered for sale to the general public, 1930

President Coolidge at the lighting of the first National Christmas Tree on December 24, 1923.

More at Library Of Congress website: https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/christmaslights.html

* This is credited to Martin Luther who saw the stars thru the trees on his nightly walks and wanted to duplicate it for his tannenbaum (Christmas Tree). He wired candles onto the tree for children. Was it really his idea? Who knows.

Note: Library of Congress articles are in the public domain, so I am not limited to 4 paragraphs.

FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 11: Origin of the Christmas Tree

The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the Devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime. It survived further in the custom, also observed in Germany, of placing a Yule tree at an entrance or inside the house during the midwinter holidays.

The modern Christmas tree, though, originated in western Germany. The main prop of a popular medieval play about Adam and Eve was a “paradise tree,” a fir tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. The Germans set up a paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it (symbolizing the Eucharistic host, the Christian sign of redemption); in a later tradition the wafers were replaced by cookies of various shapes. Candles, symbolic of Christ as the light of the world, were often added. In the same room was the “Christmas pyramid,” a triangular construction of wood that had shelves to hold Christmas figurines and was decorated with evergreens, candles, and a star. By the 16th century the Christmas pyramid and the paradise tree had merged, becoming the Christmas tree.

The custom was widespread among the German Lutherans by the 18th century, but it was not until the following century that the Christmas tree became a deep-rooted German tradition. Introduced into England in the early 19th century, the Christmas tree was popularized in the mid-19th century by German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. The Victorian tree was decorated with toys and small gifts, candles, candies, popcorn strings, and fancy cakes hung from the branches by ribbon and by paper chains. Taken to North America by German settlers as early as the 17th century, Christmas trees were the height of fashion by the 19th century. They were also popular in Austria, Switzerland, Poland, and the Netherlands. In China and Japan, Christmas trees, introduced by Western missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries, were decorated with intricate paper designs.

Blown-glass ornaments were offered for sale in Britain and the United States as early as the 1870s, many produced in small workshops in Germany and Bohemia, which also created decorations made from tinsel, cast lead, beads, pressed paper, and cotton batting. In the United States, F.W. Woolworth was selling $25 million in ornaments annually by 1890, by which time strings of electric tree lights were also available. In the 1930s, artificial trees made of brush bristles were developed in the United States, and the 1950s and 1960s saw the mass production of aluminum and PVC plastic trees. Artificial trees gained significant popularity, particularly in countries where fresh trees were hard to procure.

More at:

FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 10: Dreaming of a Green Christmas

The real versus artificial tree debate crops up every year, but environmentalists have come to a pretty clear-cut consensus: Natural is better. About 450 million trees are currently grown on farms in the U.S., according to the National Christmas Tree Association. “Buying a real tree is not depleting the forests,” says Rick Dungey, a spokesman for the association. “It’s like buying any food or fiber product.”

Environmental experts also point out that tree farms provide oxygen, diminish carbon dioxide and create jobs. While 85 percent of fake trees are imported from China, the U.S. Christmas tree industry creates more than 100,000 U.S. jobs. And although fake trees can be used year after year, most are made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. When produced or burned, they release dioxins that can cause liver cancer and developmental problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Those trimming the tree can also make other holiday decorations more environmentally friendly. Aside from the energy-saving LEDs, organic ornaments are available at fair-trade companies, which work to ensure that artisans get equitable compensation for their labor.

As with all other waste, environmentalists stress the importance of recycling Christmas trees, which can be turned into compost or mulch. But they caution that a tree with tinsel or fake snow spray cannot be recycled. Most “treecycling” is done on a local level and regional extension agencies are the best resources for that information. But Earth911.org and the National Christmas Tree Association keep a national database.

More at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dreaming-of-a-green-christmas-8557020/#8t1d9goQst6OVeI5.99

FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 9: Things you might not know about tinsel

Christmas in the 1950s and 1960s was much shinier. Aluminum Christmas trees — illuminated blue, green and red by a rotating color wheel — sparkled in American living rooms. The trendy fake trees were a Midwestern creation, first manufactured in Chicago in 1955. They were all the rage for a decade, as the natural evergreen in 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas is credited with killing off the trend.*

The decoration of choice for these twinkling Tannenbaums, of course, was tinsel. Perhaps no holiday decoration better captures a retro Christmas than tinsel. Many of us share memories of draping strands of the thin, reflective strips with the family. Then again, some of us had to pick the strands off one by one to save for the next year.

It was invented as early as 1610 - It should come as no surprise that Germany, Nuremberg specifically, the country that created the Christmas tree, also dreamt up tinsel as an adornment. What might surprise you is just how long ago it was. Tinsel dates back to the Renaissance, the word itself coming from the French estincelle ("spark" ). The Oxford English Dictionary dates the usage of "tinsel" as "very thin strips of shiny metal" back to the 1590s. It's unknown which genius thought to drape some on a fir tree. Some other historical accounts only trace Xmas tinsel back to the 1840s.

It was originally made of silver - Those 17th-century Germans certainly did not skimp when it came to tinsel. While using real silver to make tinsel sounds fancy, anyone with silverware will tell you there is a downside, especially when you put the stuff near candle flame — it tarnishes, turns black. As rubbing strands of tinsel with Tarn-X is time consuming, if not impossible, eventually the material was switched to aluminum. Those purists out there can still buy silver tinsel from its homeland, for about $18 a box.

More (including how much lead was in the version your family had when you were a kid) at:


* This gets said a lot on the net, but I don't believe it. By 1965, the post war boom was over and a more traditional ethos in design was happening. Ecology, nature, and the back-to-earth movement were coming into vogue. Charles Shutlz mocked what was already happening; Aluminum trees were on their way out.

FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 8: Don't Forget Santa's Milk and Cookies

Another case where Norse Mythology makes its way into Christmas celebrations (other examples are mistletoe, flying reindeer, and Santa's delivery methods in general.) More on mistletoe here https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181013422#post2
and here: https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181013422#top

Leaving cookies and milk for Santa—and perhaps a few carrots for his reindeer—took off as an American holiday tradition in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. In that time of great economic hardship, many parents tried to teach their children that it was important to give to others and to show gratitude for the gifts they were lucky enough to receive on Christmas. Some 80 years later, many children still set out cookies and milk for Santa, whether out of the goodness of their hearts or (in less wholesome cases) as a bribe to receive more gifts from the jolly bearded man in the red suit.

The original roots of this holiday food tradition go back even further—all the way to ancient Norse mythology. Odin, the most important Norse god, was said to have an eight-legged horse named Sleipner, which he rode with a raven perched on each shoulder. During the Yule season, children would leave food out for Sleipner, in the hopes that Odin would stop by on his travels and leave gifts in return. Such a tradition continues today in countries such as Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, where children still believe that horses carry Santa’s sleigh instead of reindeer. On Christmas Eve, they leave carrots and hay—sometimes stuffed into shoes—to feed the exhausted animals. In return, they might hope to receive such holiday treats as chocolate coins, cocoa, mandarin oranges and marzipan.

Over the years, different countries have developed their own versions of the cookies-and-milk tradition. British and Australian children leave out sherry and mince pies, while Swedish kids leave rice porridge. Santa can expect a pint of Guinness along with his cookies when delivering toys in Ireland*. French children leave out a glass of wine for Père Noël and fill their shoes with hay, carrots and other treats for his donkey, Gui (French for “mistletoe”). In Germany, children skip the snacks altogether and leave handwritten letters for the Christkind, a symbolic representation of the Christmas spirit who is responsible for bringing presents on Christmas. Though many German kids mail their letters before the holiday—there are six official addresses for letters addressed to the Christkind—others leave them out on Christmas Eve, decorated with sparkly glue or sugar crystals. On Christmas morning, the letters have been collected, and gifts left in their place.

More at: http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/dont-forget-santas-cookies-and-milk-the-history-of-a-popular-christmas-tradition

* My grandfather always maintained that we should leave a glass of Crown Royal for Santa and it would probably be better if we left the whole bottle.

FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 7: Vintage Christmas traditions from the 1950s and 1960s

Do you still follow these vintage Christmas traditions from the 1950s and 1960s?

Christmas traditions have changed significantly over the centuries, which isn't such a bad thing, as that means we no longer have to put a boar's head on the table and eat pies made of mutton and raisins. Even within our lifetimes, popular practices of the yuletide season have come and gone.

Decorations from our childhood may no longer be trendy, but adhering to those traditions is what connects us to our family and our past. That's part of the fun of watching Christmas episodes of classic television shows — seeing how the holiday was celebrated in the mid-century. So as the calendar page again turns to December, let's take a look at Christmas traditions that were all the rage in the youth of Boomers.

How many do you still use? Did we miss anything?

Here's the list:
Aluminum Christmas trees
Bubble lights
Train sets around the tree
Flocking the tree with spray-on snow
Stringing popcorn on the tree
Matching footie pajamas (making a huge comeback this year)
Satin and styrofoam ornament balls

More at:

FSogol's Advent Calendar Day 6: Santa's Home, Workshop, and Mailbox

Santa's home is located in 101 Saint Nicholas Drive, North Pole, Alaska which is east of Fairbanks at milepost 14 on the Richardson Hwy.

In 1953 Davis, Alaska, changed its name to North Pole and adopted the slogan, "Where the Spirit of Christmas Lives Year 'Round." The town hoped to lure a toy factory that could then label its products, "Made at the North Pole."

Nellie and Con Miller, the North Pole's original Mrs. and Mr. Claus.

That didn't happen, but it did attract Con Miller, who would sometimes dress as Santa when he bartered for furs in surrounding villages. As he built his trading post, Miller was recognized by one of the neighborhood kids who yelled, "Hey, Santa! Are you building a new house?" Miller liked the idea and Santa Claus House was born. Con became North Pole's mayor, his wife Nellie was postmaster and marriage commissioner (She married thousands of couples in Santa Claus House). Together the Millers were known as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. When their daughter was born, they named her Merry Christmas Miller.
Con and Nellie are now gone, but their family still runs Santa Claus House

Also outside stands the World's Largest Santa, 42 feet tall with his boots anchored in a base of eight-foot-thick cement. He was built in 1968 by Wes Stanley of Stanley Plastics in Enumclaw, Washington; served as a seasonal display at the Westlake Mall in Seattle; then assumed similar duties outside the old Federal Building in Anchorage. Con Miller bought Santa for $4,500 and stood him permanently outside Santa Claus House with his new cement overshoes in 1984. "We have to be careful not to sweep snow off Santa on a 50-below day when the fiberglass is brittle," said Paul. "One year his arm fell off."


Santa's Workshop is located in Wilmington, New York

A hamlet full of permanent Christmas spirit holds one of the earliest theme parks in the United States. Santa’s Workshop opened its doors in 1949, and it’s been spreading Christmas cheer for six months of the year ever since. From June through December, visitors can expect to find a bustling group of classic North Pole characters—think elves, reindeer, and of course Santa himself—readying themselves for the holiday season.

Little has changed about the park since it first opened in the 1940s, giving it a retro feel. It lacks the high-tech bells and whistles of newer theme parks, giving it a particular vintage charm.


Santa’s Mailbox is located in Nuuk, Greenland.
Thousands of letters to Santa get delivered to this mailbox in Greenland.

Every winter, thousands of letters addressed to Santa are routed to one mailbox in Nuuk, Greenland, where they are opened and read by a handful of volunteers from the small town of 17,000. When possible, the volunteers use Google Translate to deliver a handwritten response to the children (be they naughty or nice) in their native language.

In addition to letters, Santa’s mailbox also receives a handy amount of pacifiers in the mail. (Apparently, many parents ween their kids off of their pacifiers by having them mailed to St. Nick.)

The huge mailbox is located outside the Nuuk tourism office and is one of the major attractions in the city. It is emptied on December 24th each year, ready to receive a fresh batch of correspondence next winter.

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