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Christmas a blend of traditions

| December 24, 2020 1:00 AM

After morning coffee and cinnamon rolls (no calorie-counting on Dec. 25), after presents and Christmas dinner, we have a firm tradition chez Patrick: Watching the Griswolds’ Good-Old-Fashioned-Family-Christmas. For probably the 501st time.

‘Tis the season for Tradition with a capital T.

Tradition derives from the Latin “traditionem” or “traditio” — a giving up, a delivering. And ours were delivered from all over the world:

·“Xmas” is OK: The “X” in Xmas wasn’t meant in disrespect. In Greek, the language of early Christian texts, “X” is the letter chi and the symbol for Christ.

·O’Mistletoe: It’s probably Celtic. Ancient Druids believed mistletoe had mystical powers and could ward off evil. In Scandinavia, mistletoe symbolizes Frigga, the goddess of love.

·Elven spirits: Europeans of old believed spirits both good and evil were active during the Twelve Days of Christmas. These spirits evolved into Santa’s elves.

·It’s Ms. Reindeer: Reindeer are native to Europe and Asia (Alaska’s probably migrated from Siberia). Both male and female reindeer have antlers, but males shed theirs in winter, so Rudolph and her pals have to be girls.

·Stockings: Cha-ching! Commemorated in a 14th century Italian painting by Lorenzetti is the story of a thoughtful Saint Nicholas who placed gold coins in the stockings of three poor girls, hung by the fire to dry, to help fund their dowries.

·Yule logs and a cup of wassail: Yule logs are from a pagan Norse tradition celebrating the winter solstice and the connection of nature (plant life and fire) with spiritual power. The Nordic “Wassail” — a toasty hot drink — comes from “ves heill,” meaning in good health. Later the English traditionally went “wassailing” on Christmas Eve, singing carols and drinking to neighbors’ health.

·Sleighbells ringing? Watch out if you’re on the naughty list. The German god Oden — feared, not revered — flew his sleigh on winter nights to observe his subjects, deciding which would prosper or perish.

·Good witches bring presents: A lot nicer is Italy’s “La Befana,” the kindly witch who delivers presents to children.

·Wreath? Or web? Wreaths have too many historical meanings to list — some Christian (crown of thorns), pagan (victory in ancient Rome), and some both (circle of life, or eternity). But it gets really interesting in Ukraine and Poland, where they decorate with an artificial web and spider — said to spin tinsel. Spider tree ornaments are also traditional. Finding a real web on Christmas morning is good luck.

·Last-minute shopping: You can thank Macy’s. In 1867, they defied tradition by staying open until midnight Christmas Eve. The protracted shopping season began during World War II, when the military reminded folks to mail early so boxes reached troops on time.

·Christmas tree snack: Pine needles are a good source of vitamin C and pine nuts (in pinecones) are nutritious. But not if they’ve been sprayed or collected dust, so just forget this one.

·Christmas ham: Traditional Christmas dinner in jolly old England was the head of a pig prepared with mustard. In the Middle Ages they feasted on swans and peacocks. But check this out: Thanks to an aggressive ad campaign in the 1970s, in Japan a popular Christmas dinner menu is KFC — yup, Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFCs in Japan take bucket reservations up to two months in advance. Easier than ham.

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”Bob Hope


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network with one Christmas wish: A Bob Hope-style 2021, every single day.