Christmas is just a few days away people, so that should mean one thing: discovering and nurturing the true meaning and spirit of Christmas. I guess if you said eggnog or awesome Christmas season jams, that’s acceptable too.
Speaking of Christmas season jams, like my old time fave “Christmas Don’t Be Late” by Alvin and the Chipmunks, I think there’s no better way to dig deep into the true spirit of the season by analyzing some expressive poetry. Just when you thought there would be an examination of the roots of “Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer” or the sweet simplicity of “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” by my childhood love, ‘N Sync, it gets better. We’re getting really Christmasy, my friends. I’m going to answer all of your most pondered questions surrounding the meaning of Christmas with a little inspiration from:
“‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”
Clement Clarke Moore, author of this fine piece of literature from 1823, will provide you with his classic words, while I explain a little bit of the meaning and history behind common Christmas traditions.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
Who is St. Nicholas, or Santa?
St. Nicholas. Father Christmas. Kris Kringle. Sinterklaas. Santa.
The dude has as many aliases as Diddy, so that means he’s got to be rolling as a VIP. Put as simply as possible, he’s the world-renowned figure who is said to bring gifts to the homes of good children during the late night hours of Christmas Eve. According to legend, Santa Claus is said to have originated from the Dutch gift-giving character known as Sinterklaas. Similar tales from Greek and Byzantine folklore suggest the story stemmed from Basil of Caesarea’s feast day, a special day for exchanging gifts in Greece.
What’s the meaning of the stocking?
Sure, it’s a cool vessel for Santa to stuff your goodies into, but its true meaning originates from an old tale about St. Nicholas. A very long time ago, St. Nicholas overheard the sad tale of a poor man and his three beautiful daughters, none of whom had enough saved for a dowry. In an effort to help, St. Nick crept through the family’s chimney at night, placing three bags of gold coins in stockings that were drying on the mantle. So wouldn’t you know, this kind of thing caught on. Now, children across the globe hang stockings or put out shoes in the hopes of receiving gifts from the visiting St. Nicholas.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.
How does Santa travel via sleigh across the globe so quickly?
We may never understand the magic that helps the big guy’s sleigh fly, but I’ll tell you one thing: I will not risk getting coal in my stocking just to reveal his modus operandi. The answer to this brain teaser is simple: TIME ZONES and the EARTH’S ROTATION, people. The mystical thing about time zones and the earth’s rotation is that when moving east to west, Santa can extend a measly 24-hour day an extra seven hours! Not even Jack Bauer can do that! Sure, he has to travel nearly 75.5 million miles and deliver presents to 92 million households, but when you’re St. Nick and you’ve got the technology of 2011 on your side, anything is possible.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!
“Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
Where did the use of reindeer originate?
Well wouldn’t you know: this little poem we’re dissecting is largely recognized for having started the Christmas tradition surrounding those eight airborne creatures. What? There are nine, you say? Ahh, you must be referring Rudolph, our misfit red-nosed friend. The legend of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer blossomed in 1939, when the verse was originally written as a book for Montgomery Ward department store chains to hand out to children during the Christmas season. I won’t tell the story of Rudolph, since I’m sure you’ve heard it in sing-song, television special, and movie forms.
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.
His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
Where did the description of Santa’s jolly, rosy-cheeked, and plump characteristics originate? And how about the red suit?
Blame it on Clement Clarke Moore again, but it’s believed the poem sparked the belief that Santa appears as a stout, festive, white-bearded man. He wears an ensemble that includes a black leather belt and boots, and a red outfit with white fur trim. The image was reinforced further with caricaturist and political cartoonish Thomas Nast’s drawings, and as per usual, through radio, television, books, songs, and films. Almost 200 years later, Santa’s timeless wardrobe is still in style!
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”
Surely, you must have other questions, right? Here‘s a little Q&A for your reading delight.
What is the meaning of the Christmas tree?
Whether yours is small or large, artificial or straight out of the forest, or even decorated with Disney ornaments circa 1988 as my family’s is, the Christmas tree is a beloved tradition. The earliest accounts of evergreen tree decorating were recorded in 15th century Livonia (or modern-day Estonia in Latvia, not to be confused with the Detroit suburb). Town folk would set up a decorated spruce at the market square, where young men did crazy stuff like: “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame.” Nuts! Over in Germany during the same time period, mystery plays of the Christmas season often included an evergreen “Paradise tree” from which apples were plucked. Adorned with goodies like apples, nuts, dates, pretzels, and paper flowers, Christmas trees began popping up at schools, inns, barracks, and hospitals. At the turn of the twentieth century, Christmas trees appeared in churches and homes in their new festive and luminous form.
What’s with the North Pole?
Remember that cartoonist dude, Thomas Nast? Being the illustrative and creative genius he was, he is said to have created the story that Santa resides at the North Pole. In an 1866 issue of Harper’s, Nast included a collage of engravings entitled Santa Claus and His Works, which was highlighted by the caption “Santa Claussville, N.P.” Not a convincing tale, right? To make things more official, George P. Webster piggybacked off Nast’s brainchild, writing a poem of the same moniker and stating Santa’s home was “near the North Pole, in the ice and snow.” It’s cold up there, but I can’t think of something more awesome than living in an arctic paradise with baby seals, baby polar bears, baby reindeer, and elves!
And what about those elves?
Nast and Moore aren’t stealing the spotlight in this Christmas tradition. Enter Louisa May Alcott, who in 1856 penned the book entitled Christmas Elves. The diminutive, pointy-eared creatures also appear in 1873’s Godey’s Lady Book, where they are illustrated surrounding Santa while he works. Just three years later, Edward Eggleston put together “The House of Santa Claus, a Christmas Fairy Show for Sunday Schools.” The late 1800s were a popular time for elves, it would seem. So, what’s on the list of requirements to be a Christmas elf? Well, an elf must be rather tiny in stature (unless you’re Buddy the Elf) with pointy ears, and a long nose, and he must sport head-to-toe Christmas-colored clothing and a cone-like hat. Most significantly, an elf’s profession lies in tending to the ever-so-important reindeer and of course, creating toys in Santa’s workshop. It’s a tough job being an elf, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Quicken Loans wishes you and your family a festive and joyous Christmas. And remember, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!