Monday, December 24, 2018
On Christmas Eve
It's the twenty-fourth day of December. By now, most Americans who have prepared for the upcoming holiday are likely suffering from Christmas fatigue. Whatever happened to enjoying the Christmas ambience starting with the celebration on the twenty-fifth?
In searching for artwork to include in this post, I paused for a while to consider an artist's illustration of the Bavarian market where cut evergreen trees were being sold for Christmas. Not likely anyone now can relate to that concept at this late date—we've long since put up our tree decorations, wrapped our packages and munched those holiday treats.
Still, I can remember, not that long ago, going home for one Christmas vacation and discovering that my mother had just the day before put up her fresh-cut tree. She had been so busy during the prior week—at the time, she worked as a substitute teacher for two school districts where, I imagine, there were lots of "sick" calls placed that last week before the winter recess—that she hadn't been able to go find a tree.
It was a challenge, trying to find a place where trees were still being sold at that late date, but she managed to find one—the last tree on the lot. The relieved proprietor sold it to her at a discount, making both of them happy for the transaction. And home she scurried, to put all the traditional trinkets in their accustomed places before our arrival.
Now, at least around here, it is the rare person who dares to attempt purchase of a live tree any time beyond the Thanksgiving weekend. Quite the turnaround from a season whose iconic children's story— portrayed in the ballet which has since served to provide forty percent of many companies' annual ticket revenue—was based on a story which opened with the Christmas Eve decorating of the family's tree.
No matter how much Christmas traditions have morphed over the generations, many of them still have their long-held roots in history. Whether you tend to agree with the recent articles declaring the Tudor reign to be the source of all modern Christmas customs, or prefer the versions—either American or British—seeing holiday nostalgia as an outgrowth of the horrors of the American Civil War, we all can link the traditions we will keep tonight and tomorrow to some point in our genealogical and geographical past. The interesting part, at least for us family historians, will be to determine just where our forebears got those traditions we are keeping today.
Above: "Glade Jul," 1891 oil on canvas by Danish artist Viggo Johansen; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.