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Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

December 22, 2004, Page 14

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Good Old Days

“Christmas Folklore & Traditions” 

By Dee Zimmerman



Did you ever wonder about the origin of the custom of displaying the Christ Child in the crib at Christmas time?  The manger scene displays can be seen inside of, or outside of churches and other outdoor locations.


Credited with the idea of the first display is St. Francis of Assisi, who is reported to have said to one of his followers: “I wish to celebrate Holy Christmas night with you.  In the woods, near the cloister, you will find a cave where we shall arrange a manger filled with hay.  We shall have an ox and an ass just as at Bethlehem.  I wish to see how poor and miserable the Infant Savior became for us.”


This was in the small village of Garcia, in Italy, in, or about, the year 1200.  St. Francis and his followers celebrated mass at the cave and sang hymns in honor of the Christ Child.




Christmas was once like Easter in that it was a movable feast, celebrated on a different date each year.


St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, is responsible for establishment of the universal date we celebrate today.  In 337 A.D. with the permission of Pope Junius 1, St. Cyril appointed a commission to determine, if possible the precise date of Christ’s nativity.  The theologians of the Church finally agreed upon December 25 and since 354 this date has been celebrated.




Saint Nicholas lived some 1600 years ago in Turkey where he was Bishop of Myra for 17 years.  Today, the place is known as Demre, province of Antalya, where his church may still be found and one may yet hear of the generous acts. These acts made his life a great legend and gave him the “Santa Claus” character we all know today.


It is said that Saint Nicholas, a man of great virtue and piety, became the patron saint of boys when he restored to life the sons of a rich Asiatic, who had been murdered by a robber-innkeeper while they were enroute to school at Athens.  It is said that he was warned of the crime in a dream, but was unable to reach the inn in time to prevent the murders.  He restored the boys to life through prayer and the murderer confessed his crime.




Many writers say the mince pie originated in Germany, while others claim that its beginning is lost in annals of history.  Nonetheless, it was an essential part of the Yuletide celebration in early England.


Old superstitions held that any person refusing to eat mince pie would be unlucky for the coming year.  Should he accept the invitation and partake of mince pie during the holiday season, he would have the same number of happy months during the year as the number of houses at which he ate mince pies.


The present day custom of giving a kiss of love, or peace, beneath the mistletoe; although, a relatively modern one; is derived from the fact that down through the centuries the mistletoe has been recognized throughout the whole world as a symbol of lasting peace.



The delicate beauty of the Christmas rose (helleborus niger) is hallowed by legend.  A poor shepherd girl, the story goes, wept bitterly as she watched the Wise Men on their way to the Christ Child bearing rich gifts when she had nothing.  An angel appeared.  Upon learning the reason for the girl’s distress, the angel caused the ground to be carpeted with shining white flowers.  The young shepherdess gathered some blossoms.  When she presented her gift, the Infant smiled and as His fingers touched the white flowers the petals became tinged with pink.




Christmas is traditionally held as a day of universal good will.  Even in times of war, the battlefronts are often quiet and serene, by mutual consent, on Christmas Day.


It was also on December 25, 1888, that President Johnson issued his Civil War amnesty.  In an attempt to heal the wounds left by the Great War, Johnson issued an amnesty proclamation, which did not exclude any persons or classes of person, not even the highest officials of the Confederacy.  Previous amnesty proclamations, issued both by Johnson and his predecessor Lincoln had not been “total” amnesties.


At the time, President Johnson expressed the belief that universal amnesty would tend to secure permanent peace, order and prosperity throughout the country and would renew and restores respect for an attachment to the national government.


The proclamation pardoned all persons who participated directly, or indirectly, against the United States in the Civil War “with restoration of all rights, privileges and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have also been made in pursuance thereof.”


December 1954


A copy of a church bulletin of First Methodist Church of Fullerton, Calif., received here recently contains an interesting story of the Rev. Austin N. Chapman, former pastor in Loyal.  Although Rev. Chapman is 85 and retired in 1936, he still continues in the work by calling on the homes of new folks in the community.  On these calls, he inquires of the religious preference of new families and, if they are of his faith, he invites them to the services.  Those people of other faiths, he welcomes to the church of their choice.  By January 1, he will have completed more than 2,500 calls.  He receives no remuneration for this work.




The Clark County Forestry department has realized a gross income of nearly $5,100 through the sale of Christmas trees this year, the largest amount to date.


This was the work of Clark County Clerk Mike Krultz, Jr. who said that the department sold 9,005 trees during this season.  The sales exceed those of last year, the previous peak year, by approximately $1,000.


In making this report, Mr. Krultz expressed the belief that this year will mark the peak in Christmas tree sales by the county.  One reason is that the thinning of the plantations, which has been one of the purposes of the Christmas tree program, has been largely carried out.  Trees will be harder to find in quantities next year, he said.




Jesse E. Hagen, of Greenwood, has enlisted for three years in the Army Quartermaster Corps.  He will take eight weeks’ basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., and then be transferred to the quartermaster center at Fort Lee, Va., for an additional eight weeks’ training.



A sturdy and important figure on the Wisconsin frontier was the justice of the peace, who held his office by constitutional direction.  He was the most important judicial officer in the early society of the state when the higher courts were few and remote form most of the settlers.


But in recent decades, the justice has declined in importance, in function and in numbers.  Under the literal terms of the state constitution, there could be more than 3,000 justices in Wisconsin, two for each township, one for each city and village ward.  Today, there are only about 960 of them and only a handful of them handle more than a case a month.


Some of the survivors, however, have banded together in the Wisconsin Justice of the Peace Association to take political action in their own interest.  One of their first objectives will be to fight the proposed reorganization of the Wisconsin State Court System which, as submitted by the judicial council, would set up a uniform system of circuit courts in each county and do away with all the inferior courts in each county, including the justice courts, through an amendment of the Wisconsin Constitution. 



The deer kill in Wisconsin was below the hopes of many of the deer hunters, according to the common complaint, but it was better than that of last year.


Deer kill figures are now credible, although those of earlier years were doubtful because they were statistically estimated.  Last year, the conservation commission required each hunter to register his kill.  The registration figures are now the kill totals.  The figure for this year is 19,887, or about 25 percent higher than the bag of last year, the conservation department has officially reported. 


The above scene was captured in the early evening hours, a northward view of Hewett Street, Neillsville from the intersection of Fourth Street.  Wires of electric lights were intermittently strung across Hewett Street, within the three-block downtown area.  This was done in the decorating theme for Christmas, along with evergreen trees placed on the sidewalks, near the curbs.  The style of automobiles, parked along the street, reveal the time frame to be that of the 1930s.  (Photo courtesy of Tom and Betty (Ylvisaker) Barr, from their family collection.)


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