When it really comes down to it, Christmas is a plain damn weird holiday in the way we celebrate it. We lop down a tree, festoon it with colorful objects that represent slight personal memories, then string it up to shine brighter than a Yule log. Incidentally, has anyone wondered what on earth a Yule log is before? It may sound like some sort of holy fruitcake (fruitcake’s own personal history is quite far reaching as well), but the Yule log has a long and varied history that likely extends to before Christmas was even a part of the holiday season.
To begin with, just so we’re all clear on the point: Jesus was NOT born on December 25th. That date was added later because of the lovely closeness to the Winter Solstice, which traditionally represented the point in the year that the days once again got longer and, in a sense, “when light begins to defeat the darkness”. Christ’s actual date of birth is fully up for grabs, and has been guessed at many, many times. Some people believed it to be in March, some in November, and my personal favorite: Hippolytus believed that Christ must have been born on a Wednesday. What we do know with relative certainty is that December would not have been the time the census would have happened. Roman censuses would not take place during the Winter months and Shepherds don’t tend in the fields at night during the rainy season of the winters.
Now, as to why we light up Christmas trees with fancy baubles and brilliant displays? Originally, the trees would be coated with candles to brighten the darkest days of winter; until in 1882 when a fellow of Thomas Edison broke out the 80 light display on a tree to show off the power and majesty of electric lights. By 1900, the light displays were popular, but also expensive; advertisements gave readers the idea of “renting Christmas lights” to decorate for the holidays. Within 30 years, there were over 15 companies selling Christmas lights and the business of illuminating trees with man-made lightning had caught on.
The lights of the Christmas tree seem to trace their history to the Yule Log tradition. A tree of exceptional girth would be brought into the celebration grounds and burned over the course of several days, bringing light and warmth to the nights. Eventually it was grafted onto Christmas and the log would be burned over 12 days of Christmas, with any spare bits being used for various purposes. Among the uses, a log could be used for warding off lighting in the year to follow the burning! In Belgium, always the chocolatiers, they make a desert cake/pudding out of chocolate to be shaped like the log and consumed.
Moving on from log shaped cakes, the log shaped roll of candied blobs and sadness that we call the fruitcake also hails from a long tradition. Traced back to Egypt, the fruitcake ancestors would be placed around the mummies as what could have been meant as a food for the afterlife. Later found in Rome, soldiers would use fruitcakes as their rations because of their portability and extreme shelf lives. As sugars and sweeteners became cheaper, fruitcakes became more rich and dark, eventually being banned in England in the 1800s for being “sinfully rich”. The ban was repealed because the cakes were an essential part of teatimes.
Krampus as a topic requires more than I believe my writing skills can muster. Just check it out in the citations section, German children had it rough.
Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different. Next time you chow down on one of those fruitcakes, just remember: the Egyptians used them for mummies because they would survive into the afterlife. It’s the Twinkie of the ancient world.
Citations, cuz it scares the Krampus away:
Jesus has the saddest birthday ever. People show up to his party months late
Edison patented Christmas First!
Fruitcakes and Krampus, who could ask for anything more?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus <– THIS IS THE ONE TO READ ABOUT