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Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

December 24, 2003, Page 16

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Good Old Days

“Christmas Traditions & Folklore” 

By Dee Zimmerman



“To learn your luck for the year they say: Burn a bayberry dip on Christmas day.  If the flame burns bright and if the light shines clear, Good luck will be yours through the year.”


This old verse was believed by many lands around the world and is said to be one of the reasons that candles in homes are still traditional around the world.


The custom is believed to have started in Ireland.  As the Irish put it; “Who knows on some Christmas Eve, Jesus and Mary and Joseph may come again, not to Palestine, but to the Holy Isle on the farthest edge of Europe.”  And it is a custom that the candle can only be snuffed out by one named Mary.


Candles first use for Christmas is recorded in the annals of many nations, but that the “Christ Child Candle,” burned in the window on Christmas Eve is, according to an old legend, placed there to light His way.  If He makes an earthly visitation in atonement for the night of His birth when there was no room for Him.


German immigrants, homesick for the traditions of their native land, were the first to decorate Christmas trees in their homes in the United States, according to tradition.


Historians believe it was about the end of the Revolution that the practice began to grow in the colonies.


Before that, the Pilgrims forbade Christmas celebvrations on the grounds they were pagan.  Also a Massachusetts law in 1689 subjected anyone to a fine who observed the day by feasting, refraining from work or in any other manner.


Historians also believe that Martin Luther was the first to decorate and light a tree.  He was fascinated by the evergreen trees as they glistened with starlit-snow, which appeared as pointing to the heavens at Christmas time.  So he brought an evergreen into his home and lighted it with candles for his children.




The Puritan government of England outlawed Christmas in 1643.  With the restoration of the Stuarts Christmas, customs and traditions were revived, but Christmas never regained its former prestige in England.


It is observed religiously in the churches and as a day for family reunions and social gatherings, in contrast to the lavish feasting and boisterous merrymaking of olden time.


Merry-making and gift-giving come in for their share, however, on December 26, which is Boxing Day.  The origin of Boxing Day antedates Christmas and can be traced to the custom of gift-giving during the Roman festival of Saturnalia.


In Christian liturgy December 26 is observed as the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and during the centuries when journeymen and apprentices were in the habit of levying upon their masters’ customers, “Christmas Boxes” were collected on St. Stephen’s day.



Pleasant as it is to dream of a “White Christmas” with its carols and gifts, feasting and merry-making, the sparkling eyes of children delighting in Santa Claus and the wonderful Christmas trees, these things never can symbolize the tremendous significance of the day.


The birth of the Savior was the greatest event in the history of the world.




The reindeer has become a tradition in America.


Once upon a time, there was a reindeer with a built-in flashlight bulb for a nose.  You know, Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer.  From a small beginning in 1938, the little animal with a built-in beacon has become as familiar as other fairy-tale characters. 


First invented as a sales give-away promotion for Montgomery Ward by Robert L. May, Rudolph was featured in many free booklets before he became associated with Christmas.  Songwriter Johnny Marks liked the title “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” when he wrote a song about it.  He was so sure he had a success that he started his own Publishing Company, using “Rudolph” as his first release.  Gene Autry made the initial recording and that one record sold 2,000,000 copies.


The following year, there were 16 different recordings of the song for sale, ranging from boogie-woogie by Sugar Chili Robinson to Bing Crosby and country western singers.


The Little Stranger


Most children have seen a Christmas tree and many know that the pretty and pleasant custom of hanging gifts on its boughs comes from Germany but perhaps few have heard or read the story that is told to little children, respecting the origin of this custom.  The story runs thus:


In a small cottage on the borders of a forest lived a poor woodcutter.  He had a wife and two children who helped him.  The boy’s name was Valentine, and the girl was called Mary.  One winter evening, with the snow and wind raging outside, this happy little family was sitting quietly round the hearth while they ate their supper of dry bread, when a gentle tap was heard on the window and a childish voice cried from without.  “Oh let me in, pray!  I am a poor child, with nothing to eat, and no home to go to and I shall die of cold and hunger unless you let me in.”


Valentine and Mary jumped up from the table and ran to open the door, saying, “Come in, poor little child!  We have not much to give you, but whatever we have we will share with you.”


The stranger-child came in and warmed his hands and feet at the fire, and the children gave him the best they had to eat, saying, “You must be tired, poor child!  Lie down on our bed; we can sleep on the bench for one night.”  Then said the little stranger-child “Thank God for all your kindness to me!”


They took their little guest into their sleeping room, laid him on the bed, covered him over and said to each other, “How thankful we are!  We have warm rooms and a bed while this poor child has only heaven for his roof and the cold earth for his sleeping place.”


When their father and mother went to bed, Mary and Valentine lay quite contentedly on the bench near the fire, saying, before they fell asleep, “The stranger-child will be so happy tonight in his warm bed!”


These children had not slept many hours before Mary awoke and whispered to her brother, “Valentine, wake and listen to the sweet music under the window.”


Then Valentine rubbed his eyes and listened.  It was sweet music indeed and sounded like beautiful voices singing to the tones of a harp.


Oh holy Child, we greet thee!

Bringing sweet strains of harp to aid our singing

Thou, holy Child, in peace are sleeping.

While we our watch without are keeping.

Blest be the house wherein thou liest,

Happiest on earth, to heaven the highest.



The children listened; then they stepped softly to the window to see who might be without.  In the east was a streak of rosy dawn and in its light, they saw children clothed in silver garments and holding golden harps in their hands.  Amazed, the children were still gazing out of the window when a light tap caused them to turn around.  There stood the stranger-child before them, clad in a golden dress with a gleaming radiance round his curling hair.


“I am the Christ child,” he said, “who wanders through the world bringing peace and happiness to good children.  You took me in and cared for me when you thought me poor, and now you shall have my blessing.”


A fir tree grew near the house; and from this he broke a twig, which he planted in the ground, saying, “This twig shall become a tree and shall bring forth fruit year by year for you.”


No sooner had he done this than he vanished and with him the little choir of angels.  But the fir branch grew and became a Christmas tree and on its branches hung golden apples and silver nuts every Christmastide.


Such is the story told to German children.  Yet we may gather from this story the same truth the Bible plainly tells us: that anyone who helps a child, it will be counted unto him as if he had indeed done it unto Christ himself.  “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”


(‘The Little Stranger’ is a Christmas story as written by Hans Christian Andersen. D.Z.)


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