As I type this in May 2003, the November 1988 newsletter is still missing. Presumably we delved into some piece of Americana, and perhaps even found more to say about Thanksgiving. (Our best guess, as of now, is that we visited the Lost Mine of Pegleg Smith.)

Now it was December again, time for the third Christmas folklore column. I returned to our first Christmas column, to continue the tale of how our Yule customs originated. I would not specifically return to the subject again until December 2000, when I would complete the "origins" trilogy with a look at the Darker Side of Yule Tide . . .

Ahhh, Christmas! That most wonderful of holidays, both for sheer merriment and the folklorist alike! Have you ever stopped for a moment, in between kisses under the mistletoe, hanging ornaments on an evergreen, placing a wreath on the front door, drinking from a wassail bowl, singing carols, or just plain feasting, and wondered just where all these accepted traditions surrounding this season actually came from?

So began my very first Christmas column, from our very first Christmas issue, way way back in 1986 - a whole whopping TWO YEARS AGO!

In a recent fit of nostalgia (TRANSLATION: I'd run out of ideas) I took out my old timeworn copy of that issue, and began to peruse my first attempt at Christmas Folklore, only to discover to my great chagrin and dismay that after describing all these wonderful quaint and curious Christmas customs I managed to completely ignore them for the rest of the column!

After I had regained my composure, unsettled as I had no doubt become at having so inadvertently neglected such a treasure trove of topics, I knew I could forestall no longer. Here, then, is my First Christmas Column - - Part 2.

Origins of Christmas - Part 2


As noted in part 1 (1986), Saint Nicholas got himself posthumously associated with Christmas by virtue of having had December 6 declared his "day", which is just something they used to do to saints and means nothing in these cynical modern times . . .

The interesting part is that the yearly visitation to good little dutch children, complete with gifts for the good and lumps of coal or switches for the not-so-good originally took place on December 6 and had nothing to do with Christmas! Of course, the Saturnalian revelry that Christmas was supposed to supplant had from Roman times a long tradition of gift giving, so it was inevitable that the two December "gift holidays" should eventually merge.

Another day occasionally set aside for gifts was "Twelfth Night", January 6, which traditionally ends the period of Christmas festivities ("twelve days of Christmas" and all that). It is traditional in some cultures to set aside one gift for each child to be opened on that day.

Also on the subject of Twelfth Night, you should never remove Christmas decorations before then, but be sure to take them all down and ditch the tree the very next day, or bad luck is sure to follow. (It used to be safe, until around the mid 1800's, to leave them up until February 2 if you so desired, but we are captives of our time and must adhere to its dictates.)

As far as "our time" is concerned, the ease with which we take for granted the 25th of December as a Holiday belies its not-too-ancient status: at the time Dickens' "Christmas Carol" was written it was not acknowledged as such (except for the very rich), and not until 1871 was Christmas made a day of rest in England!

A final note concerning everyone's favorite Yuletide custom: mistletoe. Each time one steals a kiss under it one must pluck a berry from it - when the berries are gone, so are the kisses. Also, after Twelfth Night the mistletoe must be burned, for if it is not those who kissed under it are fated never to marry!