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.


  1. We used to put our tree up on Christmas Eve. We felt that a live tree should not be up for an entire month! We would go to a "cut your own" on Christmas Eve and take the tree down on January 5th (when we celebrate 12th night and my son's birthday slightly ahead of time).

    1. We keep up our tree through Epiphany, too, Miss Merry. Not every place has that tradition. Though many in my adopted home in California toss their trees curbside for trash pickup the moment Christmas day festivities are over, there are so many here who do keep up their decorations until Epiphany. It was a nice add to our family's "traditions."

  2. I recall we used to get a fresh cut tree just a few days before Christmas, the scent of pine would fill the house while it warmed up and the branches relaxed. Then we would trim it one evening shortly before Christmas eve. It would depart the house the day after Christmas and sit in a snow bank but the birds liked a safe spot to land:)
    Happy Christmas!

    1. It is such a wonderful scent, isn't it, Far Side? And how sweet that the birds got the benefit of your tree afterwards!


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