Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

December 12, 2018

December 12, 2018

Did you know December 12 is Poinsettia Day? The poinsettia plant was brought into the United States from Mexico by Joel Poinsett in the early 1800s; it was known by the Aztecs as cuetlaxochitl. Contrary to common belief, poinsettia plants are non-toxic.


From the Oshawa Museum’s archival collection.


December 11, 2018

December 11, 2018

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

December 8, 2018

December 8, 2018

Looking for a few gift ideas. Perhaps this ad from the Ontario Reformer in 1915 could provide inspiration!

'a few suggestions for christmas presents' ontario reformer 1915.JPG

December 7, 2018

December 7, 2018

From Apples to Griswold: The Tradition of Christmas Ornaments
By Melissa Cole, Curator

For many people, decorating the Christmas tree with ornaments is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend time with family and capture the magic and excitement of the holiday season.

The earliest known Christmas ornaments were apples. The apples represented the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Later added to the tree was cherries in honor of the Virgin Mary. It wasn’t till 1605 in Germany that there was a detailed description of a seventeenth-century Christmas tree. According to the description, the ornaments would be roses made out of coloured paper, apples, wafers, and decorations made of shiny bits of gold foil or sugar. A wide variety of ornaments made from food dangled from these early German Christmas trees, cookies in the shape of hearts, angles, bells and stars.  Ornaments would be made from eggshells that were transformed into baskets that would be filled with candy.  In fact, the traditional German Christmas tree was covered in so many good things to eat that it was nicknamed a “sugar tree”.

Decorated Christmas trees did not become widely popular until people saw the ornaments brought to America by families emigrating from Germany in the 1840s.  Ornaments became a big hit at F.W. Woolworth, of the five and dime fame had reluctantly stocked his stores with German-made ornaments in 1880 that were made of hand-cast lead and hand-blown glass ornaments.  Through time these ornaments became more elaborate and expansive.


Prior to the invention of electricity, candles were placed on the tree. Decorating trees with candles also started in Europe and spread to north America in the 1800s. Candles were placed in candle clip holders.  That would clip onto the tree.  This patent shows an early Christmas Tree candle clip holder with a wax catcher.  Having an open flame by a tree comes with its own inherent problems.  A bucket of water would often be kept close to the tree in case any flames had to be doused. These tree candles are part of the Oshawa Museum’s collection, they are small and would have been placed in a holder that resembles this patent.  Christmas tree candles never really disappeared, but they gradually slipped under the radar as electric tree lights which swept the markets in the 1920s and 30s.  Since then we’ve become a nation of Clark Griswolds, over-illuminating our trees and homes!

Candle Holder Patent

The first Christmas trees in Ontario were decorated with edible products, such as strings of popcorn, nuts and cookies.  During the 1870s the first store-bought ornaments were introduced.  They were made of tin, wax, tinsel, cardboard and glass.  The oldest manufactured ornaments, made of tin, came in various shapes such as stars, crosses and flowers.  Wax ornaments soon followed, the most popular design being an angel floating in the air.  Icicles were introduced in 1878 and still remain a popular decoration.

This originally appeared on our YouTube Podcast:

December 6, 2018

December 6, 2018

December 6, or December 19 for Eastern Christian countries, is the Feast of St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra in Lycia. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.

Santa became popular in Christmas tradition when Sinter Klaus, Dutch for “Saint Nicholas,” was brought over by Dutch immigrants and they honored his death.  New York newspapers reported on this and his popularity grew!

Our common depiction of St. Nicholas may have been inspired by a poem!  In 1837, Clement C. Moore wrote his poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (commonly referred to as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas), and in it, he describes Father Christmas as such:

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
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 pedler 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 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;

St. Nicholas is the patron Saint of the Netherlands.


December 5, 2018

December 5, 2018

In the Oshawa Museum collection is this book, A Christmas Carol.  What makes this artefact unique is its size – it measures 5.5cm by 4cm.



This miniature book, published in 1904, contains the text of Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and how his entire life was changed one Christmas Eve through visiting his past, present and future.

In today’s culture, the time for ghosts and spirits is long past, with Halloween taking place almost two months ago, but in the Victorian era, Christmas was the time to tell ghost stories, and one of the most prolific is still told today.

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

Dickens let his reader know right off the bat what tone his story was going to take, and the reader was immediately drawn in, wanting to know more about Marley and why the fact of his certain death was so important.

December 4, 2018

December 4, 2018

A Victorian Christmas
By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

This article was originally published in the Oshawa Express, November 27, 2015

Christmas was a time of celebration for Victorian families. Many of the traditions that we follow today were also a part of a Victorian Christmas celebration.

For example, it was Queen Victoria who popularized the German tradition of a Christmas tree and made it a part of the celebrations. The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, brought the tradition of displaying a tree during the holidays from his native Germany. A sketch of the Queen and her family posed around a Christmas tree brought this tradition to the British people and it became a part of their holiday traditions.

christmas tree queen victoria

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their Christmas Tree, 1847

Victorians would place a small tree on top of a table in the parlour. It was often decorated with homemade paper ornaments, strings of popcorn, berries and nuts. Occasionally, the family would be able to afford a few ornaments bought from the store. Families also placed small presents on the tree in lieu of using wrapping paper, which was still expensive at that time. Christmas trees were lit with candles and families would places flags from their country of origin atop the tree instead of an angel or star.

Gifts of small toys or candy would be placed on the tree for the children to find Christmas morning. Perhaps, if the family was a little more affluent, slightly larger toys could be found under the tree. The children would be especially pleased to see a toy such as a Noah’s Ark under the tree. The reason for this was rather simple: a Noah’s Ark was a toy that could be played with on any day of the week.


The tree in Henry House

The Victorians also enjoyed the tradition of wassailing during the holiday season. This would see them joyfully going door-to-door singing carols or offering drinks of spiced ale.

December 3, 2018

December 3, 2018

We have been interpreting the Victorian holidays for several years.  The following picture was taken 28 years ago, in 1990.


The parlour of Henry House may have changed a bit, but the traditions from the 1800s remain the same!

December 1, 2018

December 1, 2018

One could theoretically plan a Christmas themed road trip around Canada.  Towns to visit include: Reindeer Station, NWT; Christmas Island, NS; Sled Lake, SK; Holly, ON; Noel, NS; Turkey Point, ON; and, Snowflake, MB.  It would be a long trip, mind, but it would be holly jolly indeed!

December 25, 2017

December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas from the Oshawa Museum.


From the Oshawa Museum’s archival collection

Did you know, even though Christmas is celebrated as the birth of Jesus by Christians, many historians believe he was actually born in the spring.

Other people who celebrate December 25 as their birthday include:

  • Sir Isaac Newton, English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian
  • Humphrey Bogart, actor
  • Jimmy Buffet, singer
  • Sissy Spacek, actress
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his brother Alexandre, a journalist. They are sons of former PM Pierre Elliott Trudeau and, interestingly, they are not twins, but rather siblings who share a birthday
  • Annie Lennox, singer
  • Cab Calloway,  jazz singer and bandleader