December 16, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES I • Page 15 ������������������ Popular Christmas symbols and traditions revealed Christmas is a holiday steeped in customs. Year in and year out, you decorate a Christmas tree, sip eggnog, and enjoy a candy cane beneath the mistletoe. But do you have any idea how these customs came about? To fully appreciate a holiday, you should understand its roots. This guide will help you get to the bottom of this festive and sacred holiday. Advent calendars. The first calendar counting down to Christmas dates back to the 19th century. People counted down 24 or 25 days until Christmas (with the last day being Christmas Eve or Christmas Day), by using chalk lines to mark off the days. Later on, the tradition of lighting a candle each night was born. Today, Advent calendars vary. Some have drawers or doors that are opened every day to reveal a religious icon, piece of candy or you may even find ones with cartoon characters. Candles. The first use of candles at Christmas was in the Roman festival of Saturnalia where tall tapers of wax were given as gifts to guests and as an offering to Saturn as a symbol of his light. As Christianity spread, candles were placed in the front window of homes to guide the Christ Child as he went from house to house on Christmas Eve. Candy canes. According to the National Confectioners Association, in the 17th century, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany gave his young singers inside and out, with roses, apples and colored paper. The tradition hit England and America via the German immigrants in Pennsylvania in the 1800s. Of course, a Christmas tree is not complete without ornaments. Decorating trees dates back to the Victorian times. Woolworths department store sold the first manufactured Christmas tree, and the trend spread. Mistletoe. The Scandinavians thought of mistletoe as a peaceful and harmonious plant. And they linked Frigg, their goddess of love, with mistletoe. The combination of these two schools of thought brought about the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. Those who kissed beneath the mistletoe were thought to have happiness and good luck the next year. Poinsettias. America’s first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, is the namesake for this native Mexican plant, which he brought to America in 1828. The plant was likely used by Mexican Franciscans in their 17th century Christmas celebrations. Mexicans thought the plants symbolized the Star of Bethlehem, leading to its association with Christmas. Christmas stockings. A man was so sad over the death of his wife that he spent all his money. Unfortunately, this habit left his three daughters without money for wedding dowries. Saint Nicholas wanted to help the poor girls’ cause, so he anonymously threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney of their home. The coins landed in the stockings of the women who had hung them by the fireplace to dry. sugar sticks to keep them quiet during ceremonies. In honor of the occasion, he had the candies bent into shepherds’ crooks. In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes. By the 1900s, the candy cane got its red and white stripes and peppermint flavors. They were mass-produced by the 1950s, eliminating the laborious task of making the treat, and their popularity spread. Christmas trees. Germans would decorate fir trees, Holiday Extravaganza Filled to the brim with unique gifts. Come visit and explore! 612 N. 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