Yes, it’s August 10th, and some events are in the rearview mirror.
Like the anniversary of the Emancipation of 500. On August 1, 1791, Virginia planter Robert Carter III shocked his family and friends by filing a deed of emancipation for his 500 slaves. Not all at once, but the document established a schedule such that 15 slaves would be freed each January 1 over a 21-year period. Children would be freed when they reached adulthood: age 18 for women and 21 for men.
In addition, Carter made legal provisions to care for freed slaves who were elderly or infirm. Before being emancipated, people were taught trades and set up with bank accounts and legal identity papers. The lands that had made up his multiple plantations were rented or sold cheaply to freedmen.
He wrote, “I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true principles of Religion and Justice and therefore it is my duty to manumit them.”
Robert Carter’s “Deed of Gift” is believed to be the largest act of emancipation in US history, and it predates Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by 70 years.
But some things are celebrated all month long, so there is plenty of time to observe the various “holidays” at your own convenience.
Outdoor adventures are a great way to maintain social distance while we wait for Covid to die out completely. I might add, doing so would raise awareness that the United States is not equivalent to America.
Six months after Black History Month, the point of Black Business Month is to boost awareness of black owned and operated businesses. The month is dedicated to starting, maintaining, and buying from black owned businesses. Maggie Walker (founder of the Penny Bank, among other things) and Oprah Winfrey didn’t start at the top!
This is a relatively new one, dating only to 2010. Many organizations, including the AARP and Senior Living Magazine, arrange events to encourage those in the Boomer generation to volunteer in their communities. Some also celebrate baby boomers who have made special efforts to help others in need improve their lives.
Bystander Awareness Month
The Bystander Effect is a social psychological phenomenon: the more people who witness a person in need, the less likely that person is to get help. Everyone assumes someone else will step in. The purpose of this month’s awareness is to encourage people to be active bystanders and step up when witnessing injustice, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. Even traffic accidents and house fires cause this effect. It’s far better to have too many people call 911 than to have no one call.
Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month
The American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages parents, doctors, teachers, and anyone working with children to look for signs of poor eyesight or eye health in August. In addition to near-sightedness or far-sightedness, children’s vision development is commonly affected by lazy eye, crossed eyes, color blindness, drooping eyelids, and astigmatism.
This is closely related to Children’s Vision and Learning Month, established in 1995. Because 80% of learning is dependent on vision, parents and educators need to be alert. Just before starting a new school year is the perfect time to schedule an eye exam. Estimates are that 25% of children have an undiagnosed vision problem.
Support the happy transition to Kindergarten. Nearly 2 million children in the US enter kindergarten each year, changing not only their lives but the lives of their parents siblings, and teachers.
This year will be especially challenging for families and teachers making the change back from online school while trying to avoid new Covid outbreaks.
August is a good time to get kids adjusted to a new sleeping and eating schedule, ensure new students are up to date on all their doctor visits and vaccines, and buy a giant pair of sunglasses to hide your tears when your little one skips off to the classroom.
The Secret Society of Happy People breaks their solemn vow of secrecy every year to sponsor this event. The goal is to encourage people to express their happiness and discourage raining on anyone’s parade.
Many people do not realize how their actions affect others. They live their lives selfishly, not realizing the impact of their life choices on present and possibly future generations. So, the point of this month-long celebration is to have people reflect on ways to make make positive changes that will affect generations. Start by planting positive seeds in the children in our lives.
NIAM is part of an outreach program by the CDC, the WHO, local hospitals and health organizations. It’s a chance for researchers and health providers to focus on the critical role immunizations play in preventing life-threatening diseases among people of all ages and cultures. Each year in the US, tens of thousands of people die because of vaccine-preventable diseases or their complications—and that doesn’t include those who suffer pain or disability.
The subtle, quiet displays of merchants in the area may have hinted at it, but just in case you didn’t notice: Christmas is coming! Yes, I know, it’s easy to overlook the slight adjustments in advertising décor and to miss the odd carol or two playing on radio stations. Santa Claus will be coming to town in approximately twenty days (depending on when you read this).
But why should you care about all these visitors wandering about your town? (Besides the tendency to trespass and child beating, of course?) If society is reflected in its myths, then the writer can illustrate society by mentioning the myths.
Real World Gift-Givers
As discussed before, humans tend to follow the sun. When it goes away, we tend to get a little anxious and want it to come back. The tendency to mark the solstices appears in almost every part of the world that sees the effects of axial rotation. Giving gifts is a common theme at this time of year, often contrasted with giving coal or beatings to the deserving.
Writing teachers are always telling us to “show, not tell.” Referring to a culturally specific Santa-esque figure is a great way to show where and when a story is set. Consider some of these holiday figures with a habit of giving sweets, money, and gifts to deserving believers. Many of them are accompanied by a darker foil who comes to punish those who have been “naughty” during the preceding year.
Today, Father Christmas is often depicted as simply the English version of Santa Claus. Look back a few hundred years, however, and you’ll see a very different figure. Oliver Cromwell’s puritan government cancelled Christmas during the English Civil War; the public brought it back during the Restoration of 1660. At that time, Father Christmas was the personification of Medieval customs of feasting and making merry to celebrate Yule. The evolution of Father Christmas since that time follows the changes in common Christmas celebrations in England.
Sinterklaas/ Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas Day is almost upon us! Dutch children will leave their shoes on the doorstep or by the fire so that Sinterklaas can fill them with candy and toys. If children have been naughty, Sinterklaas’s assistant Zwarte Piet beats them with a stick or throws them into his sack and sends them to Spain. The historical Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) and patron saint of children and travelers. He arrives by steamboat and parades through town on a white horse, wearing his traditional bishop’s attire, accompanied by his assistants. Sinterklaas carries a huge, red book with a list of all the naughty and nice children in the area. The modern American Santa Claus owes much of his current fashionable ensemble to Sinterklaas.
Zwarte Piet, Black Peter, is a very controversial figure in modern Sinterklaas festivities and worthy of a separate discussion all his own.
Three Kings or Three Wise Men
In many traditionally Catholic countries, gifts are brought by three figures: the Wise Men from the East mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. On their way to bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Baby Jesus, the Wise Men take a break to deliver gifts to good children in Venezuela, Spain, the Philippines, and many other countries. Very few specifics are actually given in the Bible, but traditions have filled in plenty of details. Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar may have come from Persia, Arabia, Pakistan, India, China, Tibet, Mongolia, Armenia, or Babylon, depending on local custom. Gifts are often given to children on January 4th, the Feast of the Epiphany, instead of December 25th.
Uncle Nowruz gives gifts to children at the Iranian New Year, which occurs at the Spring Equinox rather than the Winter Solstice. He spends the year travelling the world with Haji Nowruz, a soot-covered minstrel. While Haji Nowruz dances and sings, Amu Nowruz gives coins and candy to children.
Seven Lucky Gods (Shichifukujin)
Ebisu, Daikokuten, Bishamonten, Benzaiten, Juroujin, Hotei, Fukurokuju bring their treasure ship Takarabune to Japan on January 2, the beginning of the New Year. Like the early Father Christmas, the Seven Lucky Gods bring good cheer and prosperity to everyone. Those who sleep with a picture of the Shichifukujin under their pillow will have good fortune in the coming year.
Pretty much any setting for a story on Earth has a celebration of midwinter or year’s beginning, complete with a figure who rewards or punishes believers according to their behavior the previous year. But what if the story doesn’t take place on Earth?
Once again, those who have gone before can show us how it’s done. Articles on io9, tv.tropes, and Goodreads show just how commonly a winter festival centered around gifts and the return of light occur in other universes. Tallying the previous year’s sins and distributing charity are common themes.
For a writer, midwinter festivals offer a chance to showcase family bonds, strengthen relationships, demonstrate local superstitions, or just have characters party.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether to include Moș Gerilă as a real gift-giving figure or a fantasy. This “Old Man Frost” was created by the Romanian Communist Party in 1947 as part of an attempt to shift Christmas celebrations from the Orthodox Church and the private family to the state. Moș Gerilă was portrayed as a handsome, bare-chested, young man who brought gifts to factory workers. All celebrations were held on December 30th, the national Day of the Republic. Festivities with decorated trees and patriotic music were held in public spaces, and Moș Gerilă would come bearing gifts of nuts and sweets from the Communist Party to well-behaved children. The fate of badly-behaved children is not clear, but I would imagine a gulag was involved. After the fall of the Romanian Communist Party in 1990, Moș Gerilă disappeared and Moș Crăciun (Father Christmas, similar to the Russian Grandfather Snow) took his place.
Futurama, set in the year 3000, has an Xmas episode each season. Celebrants decorate a palm tree with lights and barricade themselves indoors. Santa Claus has been replaced by a robot with a programming error. He judges everyone to be naughty and attempts to exterminate everyone on Earth every year. Kevlar vests and body armor are common gifts.
According to fan gossip, George Lucas attempted to find and destroy every copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special after it aired for the only time in 1978. Life Day is a Wookie holiday centered around the Tree of Life, celebrating children and death. The holiday is traditionally observed by family gatherings, preparing special foods, singing in red robes on Kashyyyk, and exchanging gifts. Also, Bea Arthur runs a cantina on Mos Eisley for some unexplained reason.
Terry Pratchett’s 20th Discworld novel, Hogfather, is essentially a satire of modern Christmas customs. Hogswatchnight is described by the narrator as “bearing a remarkable resemblance to your Christmas.” The Hogfather rides his sleigh pulled by magically flying boars around the Disc delivering toys by climbing down chimneys. Children leave pork pies and brandy for the Hogfather, essentially a wild boar dressed in Father Christmas robes, which raises some disturbing questions about why he eats pork pies.
In the beginning, “Most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves, and then wondered where the stories went.” Over the course of the book, there are zany hijinks and wacky shenanigans involving Tooth Fairies, elegant parties, the Auditors of the Universe, a governess, the Death of Rats, and various other Terry Pratchett wonders. Ultimately, Death (a seven foot tall skeleton with glowing blue eyes and a scythe) has to save the day. In doing so, he explains to his granddaughter (genetics are complicated) why celebrations of the sun’s return and surviving through winter are so important.
According to the team of editors at nationaltoday.com, they “love celebrating 196 October holidays.” I’d guess that there are even more than that. For example, my calendar showed Monday, October 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but it didn’t show up on this website. But, basically, the point is that the things people want to celebrate—or at least observe—approaches the infinite. The purpose of this blog is to give my readers a two-day sample, for October 16-17, 2020.
Three durations: party down for a day, a week or all month. I’ve put some of my personal favorites in all CAPS. I recently posted a blog on the value of knowing your characters’ holiday behavior. Would any of your characters be celebrating these October holidays?
You can check out any of these holidays on-line to learn more about the rationale and goals for the observance, along with suggestions for activities and the means to get involved locally or nationally.
Week-Long Observances That Include October 16-17, 2020
Keep in mind that this is only one month, focusing on only two days. So, clearly, there are a ton of holidays and observances out there. But if your passion isn’t represented, what can you do about it?
Fortunately, the brownielocks.com holiday website can answer that question—and I quote:
INFORMATION ABOUT HOW HOLIDAYS & OBSERVANCES GET STARTED and HOW TO START ONE YOURSELF
Through the years, I’ve been asked how these holidays and observances all get started. And, I also get asked how someone can create one and also be listed on my site. Below is what I know about this topic and also what I require in order to be listed on my “Official” holidays and observances listing.
Holidays or Observances are started by the President of the United States as a proclamation.
Holidays or Observances are started by an act of the U.S. Congress as resolution # ___.
Holidays and Observances can be started by individual US State legislatures and/or Governors.
Holidays and Observances can be started as cultural traditions or due to some historical event.
An example is St. Patrick’s Day (Irish culture) or Patriot’s Day (September 11).
They are also started based on a religious belief. Examples are Christmas, Ramadan and Hannukah.
Observances can also be started based on someone’s date of birth or date of death.
This can either be based on their life or something that they invented or accomplished. An example is Tolkien Day or Morse Code Day.
NOTE: Not every famous person’s birthday or death date is an observance!
Observances can also be started by organizations (profit or non-profit).
Observances are also started by commercial companies, and are usually publicized on their websites or on television.
An example was “Potty Dance Day” that we just had in 2011 by Huggies diapers.
Observances are also started by individuals! This is the one that most of you are interested in learning about.
Let me first of all explain the difference between, “create” and “think of.” Lots of us can think of lots of fun things to observe daily. But, that doesn’t make them “official” and valid to be listed on my website.
Any event lists in Chase’s Calendar of Events is considered validated.
If you do not want to submit to Chase’s Calendar of Events, then …. add it to the website you already have. This way, I know the origin. It’s the organization that the page is Linked with at their website. For example, many organizations have their own website. Then they also have a page on that site for the observance that they sponsor. They don’t get a new website domain for their observance when they already have one. So, if you are a dress boutique and you have a website. But, you want to start an observance such as “Wear A Mini Skirt Day.” Just add that page to your current website and send me the Link along with the date etc. and I’ll add it.
BOTTOM LINE: Having your character treasure one of the less popular observances, outside the top 10, can add richness, scenes, settings, and twists entertaining for the reader. And what if your character is motivated to create a special observance—why?
We in the U.S. are highly aware of greeting cards at this time of year—both the receiving and the sending. Dunbar and Hill (2003) conducted a study on social networks by studying Christmas card lists. They found that each household receives about 150 Christmas Cards, and sends an average of about 68 cards. Clearly, people are receiving more than they give! (Don’t ask me to explain how those numbers work.) The study did not include cards for Hanukkah, Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, and New Years, but all of these together make for a very busy Postal Service throughout December.
Since holiday-specific greeting cards are so widespread in the US at the moment, it’s worth taking a moment to think of how they might feature in your writing. If you’re already sick of holiday cheer, just wait for St. Valentine’s Day to be shoved down your throat!
Motivation Behind Christmas Cards
According to my reading, Sir Henry Cole (see above) resorted to creating Christmas Cards because he had too many friends to write individual notes. I venture to assert that the time crunch is still a major factor in sending a greeting card rather than a letter. But that leaves open the question of who gets on someone’s card list in the first place. I seem to recall that once upon a time, cards were for people seldom seen—and thus unavailable to greet personally. Today?
Residents of nursing homes or hospitals
Members of social groups
Those who sent cards last year
That one person you don’t really like but gets a card just so you can use up the last of the 12-pack of cards you bought
This increasingly vague list leaves plenty of room for confusion and accidentally hurt feelings. Consider someone who sends a card but doesn’t receive one in return. Consider a child arguing with a parent over whether online cards are a suitable replacement for paper cards. If you really want to jerk some tears, consider an elderly character sending out cards to peers and seeing the list shrink a little more every year.
What Type of Card?
There is a huge variety of cards available, and the type of card sent could reveal as much about a character as the people they send those cards to. Religious ones, humorous ones, nature scenes, musical ones, pop-up ones. The first personalized Christmas card was sent in 1891 by Annie Oakley. She was doing sharp-shooter exhibitions in Scotland and sent cards back to friends and family in the U.S. featuring her picture—wearing tartan!
Should a character send a generic card with vaguely wintry scenes and vague wishes for general well-being? What about a character sending explicitly religious cards to recipients of a different faith or no faith at all? Why would a character choose to make dozens of cards by hand rather than grabbing a box off the drugstore shelf? Some families include newsletters with the card, letting friends and families know what they’ve been doing since last year’s holiday card. Why would a character send newsletters or photo collage cards?
Meaning of Holiday Cards for the Recipient
When I was growing up, my mother, aunts, etc., knew exactly how many cards they received and how many they sent—sort of like being able to cite how many trick-or-treaters came by on Halloween. Christmas cards were typically displayed on stair banisters, windowsills, archways, mantels, etc.
Could receiving holiday cards be a bad or unpleasant experience? What about a character receiving a card from someone they dislike? How about siblings or friends who see messages of boasting and rivalry in personalized cards? What might a character think after sending out dozens of cards and receiving none in return? How would someone who hates the entire holiday season react to all those reminders in the mail?
According to anthropologists, the number of holiday cards you receive reflects how many people care about you. That’s the premise of a 2003 study of social network size carried out by evolutionary anthropologists Robin Hill of the University of Durham and Robin Dunbar of Oxford and published in the journal Human Nature. “In Western societies…the exchange of Christmas cards represents the one time of year when individuals make an effort to contact all those individuals within their social network whose relationships they value.”
Maybe I’m just being defensive, but I refuse to measure my circle of caring family and friends by the handful of seasonal greetings I receive. Just saying.
Holiday Cards are Big Business
Getting a definite count is tricky, depending on the year and what cards are included in the count. For example, one study asserted that 6.5 billion greeting cards are bought each year, at a total cost of more than U.S. $7 billion. On the other hand, sales of holiday cards in the U.S. dropped from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 1.5 billion in 2011. Christmas Cards account for 61% of seasonal greeting card sales, followed by St. Valentine’s Day at a distant second of 25%.
And that doesn’t even include the USPS revenue! Imagine what a postal worker, especially a letter carrier, thinks about all that extra volume moving around the country. Both of the holidays most frequently celebrated with extra paper and postage happen during some of the most unpleasant weather. Do the holiday bonuses outweigh the extra weight in the satchel?
And FYI: only 15% of cards are bought by men. Millions of dollars are raised for charities by Christmas Cards each year. For example, UNICEF launched their charity Christmas card program in 1949. Schools, research institutions, hospitals, food banks, and lots of other community organizations raise funds by selling holiday cards.
Some organizations also send cards to donors to encourage continued support the following year. Does it really count as a holiday greeting if it’s a reminder to send a check?
Well, I seem to have been caught up in a seasonal issue. But bottom line for writers: what are your character’s attitudes and behaviors regarding holiday greeting cards? Any phenomenon as ubiquitous as this can contribute to your characters and/or plots.
Here in the US, we tend to associate the entire month of December with celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Bodhi, and other holidays celebrating family, giving, and the days finally getting longer again. But there are a lot of other holidays in December! Some are international, like World AIDS Day (December 1st), and some are relatively local, National Illinois Day (December 7th).
Many of the major religious holidays celebrated in December feature lights, reminding us to hope for spring in the northern hemisphere. Yule logs are burned, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah candles are lit, Christmas trees are wrapped in strands of LED bulbs, just like in days of yore. In the southern hemisphere, similar holidays take place in June. Some anthropoligists estimate that Australian Aborigines may have the been the first people to recognize and celebrate the turning of the seasons in June.
You can also celebrate your favorite causes or interests all through December. Not only is December International Human Rights Month, it is also Stress-Free Family Holiday Month (seriously?!) as well as Quince and Watermelon Month.
There are plenty of serious holidays and observances in December. There are too many to list here, but this is a sampling from around the world.
International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (December 2nd)
Pearl Harbor Remembrance (December 7th)
Kazakhstan Independence Day (December 16th)
South African Day of Reconciliation (December 16th)
Remembrance Day for Roma and Sinti killed by Genocide (December 19th)
Yes, March 3 is International Ear Care Day. It’s also Bonza Bottler Day—the day of the month when the number of the day is the same as the number of the month—which is as good an excuse for a party as any. But it is so much more than these! March is rife with awareness and celebration, and these are golden opportunities for writers. Celebrations make excellent background for conflict, humor, intrigue, and the revelation of character.
Here, for your writing and partying pleasure, is a list:
Allport Syndrome Awareness Month coincides with National Kidney Month to raise awareness of kidney disease and the benefits of organ donation.
American Red Cross Month, to make people aware of the activities and programs of approximately 600 offices nationwide.
Celebrate Your Name Week (first full week in March), to honor your name and make sure it is a respected part of your personhood.
Colic Awareness Month, to educate parents on safer soothing techniques. Colic is defined as an otherwise healthy baby crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks in a row.
Colorectal Cancer Education and Awareness Month, focusing on the need for early diagnosis, education, and treatment.
Credit Education Month, designed to remind people of the need to develop skills needed to manage their finances efficiently and effectively.
Employee Spirit Month urges employers to do things to raise the spirits of their employees. Duh! Apparently holiday office parties aren’t enough.
Expanding Girls’ Horizons in Science and Engineering Month is exactly what it sounds like, focusing on middle- and high-school age girls.
Humorists Are Artists Month (HAAM) is, basically, asking people to appreciate the role of humor in their lives.
International Ideas Month, to encourage people to develop the skills needed to communicate their ideas for consideration and/or action.
International Listening Awareness Month, to promote the study, development, and teaching of effective listening in all settings.
International Mirth Month encourages more mirthful moments to help people deal with not-so-funny stuff.
Irish-American Heritage Month is self-explanatory.
Mad For PlaidMonth: We think of plaid as originating in the British Isles, but it was really in Central Europe in the sixth century BCE. Consider more than Black Watch. Go for madras, gingham, check, as well as tartan.
Malignant Hypothermia Awareness and Training Month: Malignant hypothermia is is a reaction to commonly used volatile gaseous anesthesia, and untreated can kill a person within minutes.
Music in Our Schools Month to increase public awareness and support of music as part of a balanced curriculum.
National Caffeine Awareness Month is intended to reduce dependence on caffeine.
National Cheerleading Week (1-7)—exactly what the name says.
National Clean Up Your IRS Act Month is to focus on resolving problems with the IRS.
National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month—exactly what the name says.
National Craft Month lauds the fun and creativity of crafts and hobbies.
National Eye Donor Month: You can figure this one out! Coincides with Save Your Vision Month and Workplace Eye Wellness Month.
National Frozen Food Monthtouts convenience, quality, and nutrition.
National Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month: The aim is compassion as well as awareness.
National Nutrition Month—as if anyone doesn’t know about the importance of nutrition for good or ill!
National Peanut Month promotes peanuts in all their glory, from in the shell to pie. (I have an excellent recipe for peanut pie from ThePeanut Cookbook.)
National Procrastination Week (1-7) celebrates the benefits of procrastination—but might also interfere with other activities of the month!
National Umbrella Month honors one of the most versatile and underrated inventions of all time.
National Women’s History Month celebrating women’s contributions and achievements that are too often overlooked or ignored.
National Write A Letter of Appreciation Week (1-7), though I suppose in this day and age, an email of appreciation is more likely.
Optimism Month: Research documents that optimists have better health, greater prosperity, and are happier than pessimists.
Play-The-Recorder Monthbrings public performances in places such as libraries, bookstores, museums, and shopping malls. You might even find a workshop on playing the recorder.
Poison Prevention Awareness Month is for the prevention of accidental poisoning.
Professional Pet Sitters Week (first full week in March): Yes, people really do make a living this way. Imagine the opportunities for everything, from romance to murder!
Read an E-Book Week:Self explanatory. Why not try Different Drummer?
Return the Borrowed Books Week: Think personal loans as well as libraries.
Sing With Your Child Month promotes families singing, dancing, and making music together.
Social Work Month celebrates the services social workers provide to vulnerable populations.
Telecommuter Appreciation Week focuses on the benefits to workers, families, employers, and society.
Vascular Anomalies Awareness Month includes hemangioma, malformations, and tumors. Who knew?
Youth Art Month promoting the value and importance of art and art education for children and youths.
Should you accept the challenge of writing a March scene, story, or poem based on something in this list, you can find out more about any or all of them online. Cheers!
I’ve never been a fan of February. For one thing, the weather can be all over the place. And then there’s the question of whether to pronounce that middle R. As far as I am concerned, the best thing about February is that the days are getting longer.
But in all fairness, I must admit that many people and organizations feel otherwise. February, in fact, is a very popular month. You can celebrate any of the following for the entire 28 days.
American Heart Month
An Affair to Remember Month (Is there any other kind of affair??)
Black History Month—more widely celebrated than any of the others
Canned Food Month
Creative Romance Month
Great American Pie Month
National Cherry Month
National Children’s Dental Health Month
National Grapefruit Month
National Weddings Month—which is odd, given that February is one of the least popular wedding months. (The most popular is June, followed by August, September, and October.)
If—for some reason—you prefer weekly celebrations, the 3rd week in February is International Flirting Week. And FYI, the internet makes international flirtations available to virtually everyone.
February Writing Prompt
Your assignment is to write a story involving as many of the romantic aspects of February as you can work in: an affair, creative romance, Valentine’s Day, an international flirtation, and/or a wedding!
Alternatively, write an essay on the theme of why any of these things should be tagged to February!
This post is part of a series that might be characterized as Darwin’s Christmas. I will be taking a number of our current traditions and tracing their evolution.
There are those, for example David C. Pack writing in The Real Truth magazine, who denounce the pagan origins of Christmas trees and other greenery. Pack cites Jeremiah 10:2-5 to support his assertion that we should have nothing to do with Christmas trees.
I am not among those. The reality of the world is that things morph and change—the meaning of words, clearly, but other symbols as well. So let’s take a look at the consensus around the evolution of the Christmas tree.
Long before the advent of Christianity, evergreen plants had a special meaning for people in winter. Ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries, people believed that these would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. The Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Today, Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God. Why can’t it symbolize all those things?
Although evergreen trees are the through-line, in parts of northern Europe, cherry or hawthorn plants or branches were brought inside in hopes they would bloom in time for Christmas.
Many early Christmas trees were hung upside down from the ceiling.
The first documented use of tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations was in 1510, in Riga, the capital of Latvia. After the ceremony (involving men wearing black hats) the tree was burned. This is sometimes associated with the yule log.
The first person to bring a tree into the house, in the way we know it today, is thought to have been the German preacher Martin Luther in the 1500s. The lore goes that he was walking home in winter, was impressed with the stars shining through tree branches, and cut a tree to take home. He put small lit candles on the branches to share his vision with his family. There are other stories, for example about St. Boniface of Crediton leaving England to travel to Germany. But this isn’t an encyclopedia, so I’ll move along.
But another point of consensus seems to be that Christmas trees took hold in Germany and spread across the world from there. In Germany, early trees were decorated with edible things like gingerbread and gold-covered apples. But by 1605, they were decorated with paper roses, apples, wafers, gold foil, and sweets.
The Christmas tree came to Britain sometime in the 1830s, and became popular in 1841 when Queen Victoria’s German husband had a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. From England to the United States, from candles to electric lights, the evolution continued. Artificial Christmas trees have long been popular, from the trees made from colored ostrich feathers in the Edwardian period on. Over the years, artificial trees have been made from feathers, papier mâché, metal, glass, and lots of plastic. Now lawns sometimes sport inflatable trees!
So, if pre-Christians and Christians both found good in the green of midwinter, fine with me! I plant hellebores and other evergreens where I can see them on the shortest days of the year.