Archive for December 2012

December 31, 2012

December 31, 2012

Have you ever heard of first-footing?  This is a Scottish and Northern English custom, established in folklore, and the first-foot is the first person to cross the threshold of a home on New Year’s Day.  This person is regarded as a bringer of good fortune for the coming year.

 

Although it is acceptable in many places for the first-footer to be a resident of the house, they must not be in the house at the stroke of midnight in order to first-foot (thus going out of the house after midnight and then coming back in to the same house is not considered to be first-footing).

 

The first-foot usually brings several gifts, perhaps a coin, bread, salt, coal, or a drink (usually whisky), which respectively represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, and good cheer.

 

Happy New Year’s Eve to our readers!

 

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December 30, 2012

December 30, 2012

In the days after Christmas, children will often spend hours enjoying the new toys that Santa Claus brought them.  What were toys like for children in the Victorian era?

 

Long hours spent churning butter, fetching firewood, and helping with laundry left children of the late 1800s with little time for fun and games. When precious moments could be found, children of the Victorian era entertained themselves with toys and games made from natural products and left over materials, such as small bits of wood, pieces of string, fabric scraps, fragments of ribbon, and corn husks. Wood was used to make building blocks and Jacob’s Ladders. Pieces of string went into thaumatropes and whirligigs. Corn husks were crafted into dolls who were clothed in scarps of fabric and ribbon. Games and toys like duck duck goose and dumb crambo required no materials at all!  Toys and games not only provided pleasure and entertainment but also enhanced many skills children used daily, including fostering a health imagination, strengthening hand-eye coordination, increasing physical fitness, and improving memory. Jacks and the ball in a cup game strengthened hand-eye coordination while hoops and tug of war increased physical stamina and vigor.

 

Victorian Toys in the Oshawa Community Museum Educational Artifact collection

Victorian Toys in the Oshawa Community Museum Educational Artifact collection

December 29, 2012

December 29, 2012

The poinsettia plant was brought into the United States from Mexico by Joel Poinsett in the early 1800s. Contrary to common belief, poinsettia plants are non-toxic.

 

From the Oshawa Community Archives

From the Oshawa Community Archives

December 28, 2012

December 28, 2012

During Christmas celebrations emphasis was mainly on the meal. In 1874 one family describes a meal of salt herring, mashed vegetables and tea.

 

Henry House Dining Room table

Henry House Dining Room table

December 27, 2012

December 27, 2012

Jingle Bells was originally titled “One horse open sleigh” was written for Thanksgiving not Christmas.

 

Postcard from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Postcard from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

December 26, 2012

December 26, 2012

From the Oshawa Community Museum, in Ontario, Canada, we wish all of our readers a Happy Boxing Day!  We’ve prefaced this greeting with our location, knowing that some of our readers may not be located in Canada or may not be familiar with Boxing Day, a statutory holiday in our country.

 

The origins of this holiday are based in England, where ‘boxing’ referred to the distribution of small gifts of money.  Some historians trace this back to the Middle Ages when parish priests would open up alms-boxes on December 26, the feast of St. Stephen, and distribute the money collected within to the needy.  By the 17th century, this tradition of giving boxes of money to adopt the practice of daving tips they had been given in clay boxes and opening them on December 26.  Because of the popularity of this tradition, people had taken to calling the day Boxing Day, and it was declared a holiday in England in 1871.  By the late 19th century, the custom of ‘boxing’ had faced a decline and slowly disappeared from the English holiday customs.

 

The day itself has survived as a holiday, and for many it may signify the day to ‘throw away boxes that presents came in,’ for others, it is a day for major savings in stores (the Canadian equivalent to America’s Black Friday), or perhaps it is a day many will spend with family, relaxing after a busy Christmas Day.

December 25, 2012

December 25, 2012

From the Oshawa Community Museum, we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful Holiday Season!

 

Ever wondered how other countries around the world say Merry Christmas?

 

How do you say “Merry Christmas” around the World? (from http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/christmas-trivia3.htm)

  •  Glædelig Jul — Danish
  • Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan — Chinese, Mandarin
  • Joyeux Noel — French
  • Nadolig Llawen — Welsh
  • Mitho Makosi Kesikansi — Cree
  • Buon Natale — Italian
  • Kala Christouyenna! — Greek
  • Nollaig Shona Dhuit — Gaelic (Irish)
  • Shub Naya Baras — Hindi
  • God Jul — Swedish
  • Boldog Karacsonyt — Hungarian
  • Feliz Navidad — Spanish
  • Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva i s Novim Godom — Russian
  • Sung Tan Chuk Ha — Korean
  • Frohliche Weihnachten — German
  • Gesëende Kersfees — Afrikaans
  • Hyvaa Joulua — Finnish
  • Kurisumasu omedeto — Japanese
  • Mele Kalikimaka — Hawaiian
  • Suksun Wan Christmas — Thai
  • Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia — Polish

December 24, 2012

December 24, 2012

We posted this one year ago today, but seeing as today is the night before Christmas, sharing this poem is only fitting.

Happy Christmas Eve to all of our readers.

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas

by Clement C. Moore

‘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 hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads, and Mamma 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 winder 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 lustre of midday 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 called them by name: “Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donder and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

As the dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle mount to the sky, so up to the housetop the coursers they flew, with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas, too!

And then, in a twinkling, I heard of the roof the prancing and pawing of each little hoof. As I drew in my head, and was turning around, down the chimney came St. Nicholas with a bound.

He was all dressed in fur, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, and he looked 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 on his chin was as white as the snow; the stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke of it encircled his head like a wreath; He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed 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 filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, and laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose; he sprang 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!”

December 23, 2012

December 23, 2012

Parlour games were extremely popular as Christmas activities throughout the nineteenth century. Victorians games such as Snapdragon, Charades, Forfeits, Hoop and Hide (Hide and Seek),  Blind Man’s Bluff, Queen of Sheba (a variation on Blind Man’s Bluff), and Hunt the Slipper.

In Snapdragon players gathered around a bowl of currants covered with spirits. A lighted match was dropped into the bowl, setting fire to the alcohol. Players challenged one another to grab a flaming currant out of the bowl and pop it into their mouths to extinguish the flames. Players heightened the effect of the glowing blue flames by putting out all other lights in the room.

In Hunt the Slipper players formed a circle around one person. They held their hands behind their backs and passed a slipper around the outside of the circle. The person in the center of the circle had to guess who had the slipper at any given moment.

Before a Christmas party broke up for the evening, the sleepy guests might play one last game called Yawning for a Cheshire Cheese. The players sat in a circle and yawned at one another. Whoever produced the longest, most open-mouthed and loudest yawn won a Cheshire cheese.

A number of other English Christmas games have now disappeared completely and only their names remain behind with no inkling on how to play them.  These forgotten games include Puss-in-the-Corner, Shoeing the Wild Mare, Steal the White Loaf, Post and Pair, Feed the Dove,  and the The Parson Has Lost His Cloak.

December 22, 2012

December 22, 2012

A popular Christmas carol is ‘Good King Wenceslas,’ but who was King Wenceslas, and why was he ‘good?

 

The carol combines historical fact and speculation.  Wenceslas is likely based around a 10th century Bohemian duke (and later saint) named St. Vaceslav (translated to Wenceslas in English), who supported the spread of Christianity and was known for his personal piety and charity.  He died in tragic circumstances (at the hands of his brother, usurping power), eventually being elevated to sainthood.  In the 19th century, an Englishman named John Mason Neele, wrote the lyrics which would become ‘Good King Wenceslas,’ based on the legends of his good deeds.  The lyrics were paired with 13th century music Neele found in an early book of songs.

 

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing