The traditions of Christmas, or not…!

I was thinking about Christmas stockings for my family and started wondering about how this slightly strange practice came to be, and then I thought – aha, perhaps that’s an idea for a blog. I checked back and saw that I wrote about some of the origins of what we think of as ‘traditional’ Christmas practices THREE years ago! My goodness, I’ve written a lot of blogs and articles since then! Anyway, here are some interesting facts that I didn’t cover last time…

Christmas Stockings

As with so many of these traditions, I have come across various explanations as to how the practice of stocking-stuffing came about and it owes more to myth than fact. We know, thanks to the poem ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’, that hanging stockings by the chimney with care dates back at least to the poem’s 1823 publication. But the story of how stockings came to be hung by the fire is a hazy one. Legend says the original Saint Nicholas, who travelled around bringing gifts and cheer to the poor, came upon a small village one year and heard of a family in need. An impoverished widower could not afford to provide a dowry for his three daughters. St. Nick knew the man was too proud to accept money, so he simply dropped some gold coins down the chimney, which landed in the girl’s stockings, hung by the fireplace to dry, so the tale goes. And so, the modern tradition was born.

Gift giving

Christmas’s gift-giving tradition has its roots in the Three Kings’ offerings to the infant Jesus. Romans traded gifts during Saturnalia, and 13th century French nuns distributed presents to the poor on St. Nicholas’ Eve. However, gift-giving did not become the central Christmas tradition it is today until our friends the Victorians got to grips with it! Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who also gave us the Christmas tree, also popularised the whole present giving ritual.

The X in Xmas

I know a lot of people don’t like to see Christmas abbreviated to Xmas, seeing it as rather disrespectful, but the true origins have a strong basis in Christianity. In the abbreviation, the X stands for the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ. I was amazed to discover that the term X-mas has been used since the 16th century, and became widely used in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the modern world, X has been taken to be used as an abbreviation for any word with the “krys” sound in it. Chrysanthemum, for example, is sometime shortened to “xant” on florist’s signs, and crystal has sometimes been abbreviated as “xtal”. Hmmm…

I’ve got a few more thoughts on our Christmas traditions that I’ll share with you later in the month…

 

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Banana chocolate chip muffins

Muffins, or little fairy cakes, call them what you will, are a good tea time standby for visitors, as well as much loved family fare.

These are pretty straight forward.

Ingredients:

  • 225g self raising flour
  • 125g butter
  • 125g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 200ml milk
  • 75g chocolate chips
  • 2 chopped bananas

Preheat your oven to 180ºc or Gas 4. Then either grease a muffin tin or line with little cake cases.

Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the egg. Add the flour, baking powder and milk. Then gently stir until all the ingredients are combined – don’t over do it. Gently add in the banana pieces.

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for 15-20 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

Easy peasy!

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A picture paints a thousand words…

The other day I was reading about a portrait being removed from the National Portrait Gallery because the person in the picture had ‘fallen from grace’. That set me thinking about who gets their portraits painted – the great and the good and the wealthy generally speaking. And then that set me thinking about what it must have been like before photography came along…

Imagine if you didn’t have your photo albums, or your pictures stored on your laptop, tablet or phone, would you feel lost? I know I would. I often look at the photos of my family (especially my gorgeous granddaughter Grace) and they are inspiring, comforting and often poignant when it is a photo of someone who is no longer with us.

So imagine life before the photograph. Unless you were wealthy enough to have had a portrait painted, or were lucky enough to know someone talented who could sketch a likeness… you would have no record of your loved one. I find that very hard to think about as we have all grown up with photographs creating ‘instant’ images and knowing we can look back and savour an event, or a person.

Photography really began in the first half of the 1800s, but didn’t become commonplace until the second half of that century. So, carrying around an image of your loved one is a relatively recent thing. I am guessing that is why people had locks of hair and other mementoes stored in lockets and the like – there was nothing else they could do.

And so, back to portraits… and of course one of the fascinating things about them is that they are the ‘likeness’ created by the painter and may not be all that accurate. I always smile when I see portraits from certain eras when it seems all women were endowed with incredibly sloping shoulders (sweaters would have simply slipped to the floor!), or swan-like long necks that would have looked ridiculous in real life.

We don’t really know what Jane Austen looked like, but there are enough portraits of people powerful or famous in their day – like Oliver Cromwell for example – to know that he really was a bit of a warty old thing! We know that King Henry VIII had red hair and was a pretty stout chap, but of course no-one who wanted to live a full life was going to portray him as fat and balding, now were they?!

So, we are lucky today in that the arrival of digital photography means we can pretty much take photos any time and any place we like. But are we that lucky? There is, of course, the issue that most of us do not print our photos out, just as we rarely write letters in ink on paper, trusting everything to technology. If disaster ever strikes and the internet fails or we run out of electricity, we would lose everything. The National Portrait Gallery will still be there and libraries and archives of letters will still exist. But perhaps after all, it is the memories we retain in our minds that really count as they stay with us for ever.

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Flowery cards

It’s very hard to buy flowers for somebody in hospital these days, there’s so little space and really the staff would prefer to keep vases to a minimum. So one way round it is to make flowery cards to send.

My poor Mum is in hospital currently with a broken femur which is tough for any age to get over and I visit each day and try and take something new on each visit. Sometimes it is a gardening catalogue that has big bright pictures of flowers. This pictures shows the cards I am taking today for her.

The red rose card is made using a rubber stamped image – but it’s a nice change to have the texture of hessian with it. In my mother’s case, textures are an excellent addition to anything as her eyesight is unreliable and touching things brings her pleasure.

The fan/gardenia card uses our Signature die rose fans – I have incorporated them into many cards since they were designed, I love bending the petals up to give a really 3D effect if it suits the card. The gardenia image comes from the Daphne Brissonet pad 2 collection, again something that I have used over and over again!

There’s no room at a hospital bedside for framed photos so, tomorrow I think the cards could be of groups of family photos decorated with pretty diecuts – it’s fun trying to think of something different each time.

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Wonderful gifts of time, care and creativity…

Today’s post is a lovely picture of a birthday gift to me – our bookkeeping genius, cake maker and all round wonderful member of staff Jo Bridgeman made me this most stunning cake.

I love the concept that it’s a giant cupcake and the hours of work that went into making the chocolate shell as the case for the cupcake and the wonderful layers of chocolate cake inside just made my day! I have added the link to the recipe she used, below. Knowing how many hours of work it was, it may not be something most of us will want to try, but if you are interested – then help yourself!

The main thing I wanted to say is that all through this week that has included my birthday I have had wonderful ‘gifts’ of time, care and creativity. Home made cards are so special, home made cakes are always lovely and all of my favourite things have been from friends (and family) who have sat and thought about me and given me something that I really love – just a phone call or a message means so much when someone has thought about you and wished you well.

The link for details of how to make the cake is here

Have a lovely weekend!

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