Merry Christmas DU. Hope your day is filled with Peace, solitude, and friendship.
Now for the final installment, the origin of the nativity play. Born in the '60s, my parents drug us to Sunday School where we colored pictures of bible scenes and learned bible stories. At Christmas time we were forced to memorize a few lines and put on a Christmas play. Like Shermy, I was always a Shepard, never destined for a bigger part. If I had been born earlier, it might have been a public school forcing me to participate in this play. Where did it start?
St. Francis of Assisi and his followers acted in the first play in 1223 to remind the local population that Jesus was born for them, as he was born into a poor family like theirs and not to a rich family.
St. Francis told the part of each character in the story himself using wooden figures in the play. After a couple of years, the play had become so popular that real people played the parts of the characters in the story. Songs were sung by the people taking part and they became what we call Christmas carols today.
In some countries such as Italy and Malta, and many South American countries, the crib (the manager baby Jesus was placed in) is the most important Christmas decoration. The city of Naples, in Italy, has used cribs to decorate houses and Churches since the 1020s That's even before St. Francis of Assisi put on his play. Naples is also the home to the world's largest nativity crib scene. It's in the 'Museo Nazionale di S. Martino' and has 162 people, 80 animals, angels, and about 450 other smaller objects.
National Museum of San Martino in Naples
A Visit from St. Nicholas was the original title and the poem is
It was not until 1837, in The New-York Book of Poetry (edited by Charles Fenno Hoffmann), that the poem was first attributed in print to Moore. Moore claimed authorship by including it in his Poems, an 1844 anthology of his works. His children, for whom he had originally written the piece, encouraged this publication. At first Moore had not wished to be connected with the popular verse, given his public reputation as a professor of ancient languages. By then, the original publisher and at least seven others had already acknowledged him as author.
Handwriting analysis experts argue over whether it was really written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr., a New Yorker with Dutch/ Scottish roots,who was related to Moore's wife. Livingston's family maintains he wrote it, but Livingston never made the claim.
Moore published it anonymously, because he felt it was foolish and could damage his professional scholarship and publications. The irony is that all of his other works are largely forgotten and he lives on because of a poem he wrote to entertain his kids.
Since the poem is now in the public domain and not subject to DU's copyright rules, here's the entire poem:
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap??
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call'd them by name:
"Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
"On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
"To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
"Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys??and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish'd with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look'd like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes??how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh'd when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill'd all the stockings; then turn'd with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight??
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
PS. If you are wondering why 2 of Santa's reindeer are named Dunder and Blixem, see
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Hope you find some peace, solitude, and friendship this season.
The origin of Santa Claus starts in 4th Century Turkey with St Nicholas. The Greek Christian was Bishop of Myra (Bishops robes are red.) He was known for doing good deeds and was charitable, especially to children. His miracle was saving a pair of children from a butcher although some versions credit his with bringing the pair back from the dead. He died on December 6, 346 AD and was named a saint. In 1807, his remains were moved to a basilica in Bari, Italy. He is depicted with a flowing white beard and red robes. In 12th century Russia, a holiday was created for him. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 . His day promoted gift-giving and charity. He is the patron saint of Russia, the patron saint of sailors in Greece, and the patron saint of children and travelers in Belgium.
St Nicholass tomb in Bari, Italy
Present day New York City, once called New Amsterdam, was a Dutch trading post during the 17th century and thus had a large Dutch influence during that period and in ensuing years. In 1804, the New York Historical Society was founded in America with St. Nicholas as its patron saint. In 1809, famed American author Washington Irving, a member of the Society, mentioned St. Nicholas in his satirical work A Complete History of New York written under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. In his revised version of the book which was published in 1812, Irving describes St. Nicholas: "the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings his yearly presents to children."
Another New Yorker, printer William Gilley, published a poem in 1821 by an unknown author titled A New Year's Present. In this poem, "Santeclaus" is portrayed as the bringer of gifts to good and virtuous children on Christmas Eve, while leaving birchen rods for those who are naughty. Santeclaus soars over chimney tops being driven - for the first time in written accounts - by a reindeer.
Father Christmas from 1684
Clement C. Moore published the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, in New York's Troy Sentinel on Dec 23, 1823. He published it anonymously. Some scholars say the work was really written by Major Henry Livingston, jr. (Livington was an American with Dutch origins), but I stick with Moores account.
Santa illustration from 1864 version of A Night Before Christmas
A No-pants Santa from a 1864 ad
Political cartoonist, Thomas Nast (German immigrant) helped depict the modern American Santa. St. Nicholas and Sintrklaas were both depicted as tall, thin men. Nast drew Santa as jolly and plump with white beard, fur-trimmed coast, and pants with a black belt and boots. He published a Santa drawing in 1862 and then again for the next 24 years. Overall, he did 76 engraving depicting Santa.
Color version of Nasts Santa
Other countries versions of Santa or holiday gift givers:
Father Christmas in England
Pere Noël, Father Christmas or the Christ Child in France
La Befana in Italy
The Three Kings in Spain, Puerto Rico, and Mexico
Christkindl or the Christ Child in Switzerland and Austria.
Christkindl (German for Christ Child) was promoted by Martin Luther who felt Santa displaced Christ at Christmas time. Christkindl is depicted as an angelic child with wings and golden curls. Christkindl came to America with German and Swiss immigrants became known as Kris Kringle and morphed back into Santa Claus. (You cant win them all, Mr. Luther.)
Excellent pictorial source of the origins of Santa:
I've you've been reading all of my Christmas posts, I mentioned before that in Norse mythology, Odin travels the entire world by night on his 8-legged horse, Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for the stead in hopes that Odin would bless the household with good fortune and/or gifts. Odin's son Thor traveled by a chariot pulled by 2 flying goats.
The first known written account of reindeer in association with the legend of Santa Claus occurred in 1821. That year, New York printer William Gilley published a sixteen page booklet titled A New Year's Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III : The Children's Friend by an anonymous author. In the book, reindeer are introduced into the Santa Claus narrative:
Old Santeclaus with much delight
His reindeer drives this frosty night.
O'er chimneytops, and tracks of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you.
When interviewed about his mention of flying reindeer, the author claimed to have not invented it, but was merely repeating the tale. He claimed that native people in Arctic lands believed that reindeer could fly. I myself have spent much time in both the arctic and mountainous areas and understand how such a myth could get started. If you have ever seen a deer make a really long leap, they tuck their legs under them and propel up. In the poor light and snow conditions in the arctic, whiteouts are quite frequent. Any deer leaping away from hunters could go up and completely disappear. hence, you get flying reindeer. The Sámi people, commonly known as Laplanders, domesticated reindeer and used them for pulling sleighs and sleds.
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Dunder and Blixem!
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!
Now, dash away, dash away, dash away all!"
(The Night before Christmas is in the public domain and not bound by DU copyright rules)
You read that correctly, Dunder and Blixem were changed to Donder in Blitzen in later versions. Donder was then changed to Donner. Dunder and Blixem mean thunder and lightning in Dutch.
While May was pondering how best to craft a Christmas story about a reindeer, while staring out his office window in downtown Chicago, a thick fog from Lake Michigan blocked his view giving him a flash of inspiration. Suddenly I had it!" he recalled. "A nose! A bright red nose that would shine through fog like a spotlight.
The cultural significance of a red nose has changed since the story's publication. In 1930's popular culture, a bright red nose was closely associated with chronic alcoholism and drunkards, so the story idea was initially rejected. May asked his illustrator friend at Montgomery Ward, Denver Gillen, to draw "cute reindeer," using zoo deer as models. The alert, bouncy character Gillen developed convinced management to support the idea.
Montgomery Wards gave away 2.4 million of their Rudolph book the first year.
So how did Santa, flying reindeer and leftover Norse mythology make its way to America? Dutch and German immigrants brought these stories and traditions.
The first step towards lighting the yule log was fetching the carefully-preserved scrap of the previous years log from under the homeowners bed. Having done its job of keeping the house safe from fire and lightning since the last festive season, it was now used to light the new log. The new log had to catch fire during the first attempt at lighting it; its failure to do so was a sign of misfortune coming to the family. Such an important duty had to be handled gravely. And clean hands only, please to attempt to light the log with dirty hands would have been an unforgiveable sign of disrespect.
Once lit, the log had to be kept burning for twelve hours. This was not always an easy task, as special caution was given against stirring the embers during the lengthy Christmas Eve supper. The log could not be tended as long as any scrap of the dinner remained on the table, or while anyone was still eating. As the log burned, people told ghost stories and tales of olden times whilst drinking cider. Shadows cast upon the wall were carefully scrutinized, for it was well known that a headless shadow foretold the death of the person casting it within the year.
In later years and in more urban settings, a Christmas Candle was substituted and followed the same tradisitons. A bit of the candle was saved for the next year.
From Snopes: https://www.snopes.com/holidays/christmas/yulelog.asp
Edited to add this is another Christmas tradition that made its way over from Norse mythology. They were originally burned as a prayer to Odin to keep the house safe from lightening and fire thru the year. Odin traveled around the world (sound familiar?) each night and the log was burned on Dec 25 which the Norse, most Germanic peoples, the Celts, and the Romans believed was the Winter Solstice and end of the year.
Priceless. Love the depictions of Gorka, Bannon, Conway, etc.
Profile InformationGender: Male
Hometown: Northern VA
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 09:34 AM
Number of posts: 45,259
- 2024 (6)
- 2023 (27)
- 2022 (51)
- 2021 (45)
- 2020 (5)
- 2019 (25)
- January (25)
- 2018 (241)
- 2017 (181)
- 2016 (155)
- 2015 (291)
- 2014 (155)
- 2013 (232)
- 2012 (283)
- 2011 (23)
- December (23)