With Xmas 2005 becoming a memory, and the only things that may still remind us of this Christmas time gone by being the long lines at the return counter of the local big box stores, needling trees at the curb, and the decorations some homeowners have yet to remove from their houses and box up for next year's usage, a lot of the holiday spirit is also being boxed up. Yet, do you know why you set up a manger in your front yard around Christmas time? Are you aware that Ebenezer Scrooge, whose exploits have been made into a large number of television shows, has not been around very long? What about Christmas cards, do you know what inspired them?
The manger scene is quite possibly the easiest to explain traditions. It is reminiscent of Jesus Christ's birth, which took place in a humble stable; but, did you know that the tradition of the manger scene did not take hold until one very famous monk set up the first display? It is said that St. Francis of Assisi sought to find ways to inspire awe in the flock of believers to whom he ministered and thus, right around 1223 AD, he set up a realistic display of a stable complete with hay, ox, and donkey. It is unclear if he actually had any depictions of the holy family, but it appears that he only prepared the setting and did not go further than adding some animals to the display. It is said that onlookers were moved to tears by this display. Of course, modern day manger scenes include all the people who were present, and sometimes the holy family has been crafted as a family of bears, cats, or other animals.
Another favorite tradition involves the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. Many celebrants use the Christmas time to set up little lighted holiday villages that remind us of Great Britain's Victorian cityscape of about 1850 AD. Of course, most folks know that Mr. Scrooge is the brainchild of Charles Dickens, quite possibly England's most famous writer. He penned this story in 1843, and it literally changed the spirit of the holiday! Instead of the public celebrations that used to accompany Christmas time, the holiday became family centered, and involved a carefully prepared family meal. It became a time to mend strained family relationships, and to forgive past slights. Further, Christmas is pictured as a magical time that will allow even curmudgeons to turn over a new leaf.
Christmas time in general, and Xmas 2005 was no exception, is a time when cards are sent to and fro. As a matter of fact, this is the time of year when people who have not spoken to one another for an entire year, nor have sent any kind of greeting for the entire three-hundred sixty-five days, will go out of their ways to purchase, inscribe, and adorn with special stickers and also postage stamps, beautifully crafted holiday cards. It is interesting to note that Christmas cards were following on the heels of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol. London boasts of being the origin of the first commercially available Christmas cards in 1843. John Callcott Horsley is said to be the designer of the first ever card which simply read "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You." Since then, Christmas cards have evolved to be either as simple or as extravagant as the designer chooses. They come in many shapes, colors, and may even feature portraits of the sender's family! As you can see, Christmas traditions are constantly evolving. Who knows what this year will add to the celebration?