Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s look at Christmas through the alphabet takes us from L through P.
• The tradition of using small candles to light up the Christmas tree dates back to at least the middle of the 17th century. Candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch.
• In 1882, the first Christmas tree was lit by the use of electricity. Edward Johnson, an inventor under the supervision of Thomas Edison, lighted up a Christmas tree in New York City with 80 small electric light bulbs.
• Until 1903, when General Electric began to offer pre-assembled kits of Christmas lights, stringed lights were reserved for the wealthy. The wiring of electric lights required the services of a wireman, now our modern-day electrician. To light an average Christmas tree with electric lights before 1903 would have cost about $2,000 in today’s dollars.
• Albert Sadacca was 15 in 1917, when he first got the idea to make safety Christmas lights after a tragic fire with candles. The Sadacca family sold novelty items including lights. Young Albert adapted some of the products into safe electric lights for trees. The first year only 100 strings of white lights sold. The second year Sadacca used brightly colored bulbs and a multi-million dollar business took off.
• The Christmas (mincemeat) pie came about at the time when the Crusaders were returning from the Holy Land with a variety of spices. It was important to add three spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) for the three gifts given to the Christ child by the Magi. In honor of the birth of the Savior, the mince pie was originally made in oblong casings (coffin or cradle shaped), with a place for the Christ Child to be placed on top. The baby was removed by the children and the manger (pie) was eaten in celebration.
• “Minced” pie and its follow-up, “mincemeat pie,” began as a main course dish with more meat, often mutton, than fruit (a mixture of meat, dried fruits, and spices). As fruits and spices became more plentiful in the 17th century, the spiciness of the pies increased.
• In 1659, many towns in New England banned mincemeat pies at Christmastime. Christmas, considered by many Puritans to be a pagan celebration, was actually banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681.
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• In the first century, the Druids in Britain believed that the parasite mistletoe could perform miracles, from providing fertility to humans and animals to healing diseases and protecting people from witchcraft.
• Vikings dating back to the eighth century believed that mistletoe had the power to raise humans from the dead.
• One French tradition holds that the reason mistletoe is toxic is because it was growing on a tree that was used to make the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
• The origin of the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is vague. However, the tradition may have stemmed from either the Viking association of the plant with Frigga (the goddess of love) or from the ancient belief that mistletoe was related to fertility.
• The correct mistletoe etiquette is for the man to remove one berry when he kisses a woman. When all the berries are gone, there’s no more kissing permitted underneath that plant.
• Burning a mistletoe plant is thought to foretell a woman’s marital bliss, or lack thereof. A mistletoe that burns steadily prophesies a healthy marriage, while fickle flames may doom a woman to an ill-suited partner.
• At the North Pole, where the sun rises and sets only once per year, and all lines of longitude, and hence all time zones, converge, no particular time zone has been assigned.
• As any child (and most adults) can testify, Santa Claus and his elves live and work at the North Pole, planning the annual Christmas Eve worldwide trip and making toys.
• The United States Postal Service recommends mail to Santa’s workshop be sent to North Pole, Alaska, ZIP code 99705.
• As Santa prepares to pack up, he makes a ‘Naughty or Nice List.” Here are some of the most important questions circling around the North Pole about every child. Does he or she play nicely with friends? Does he or she listen to the teacher? Does he or she do chores well and on time? Are the directions given by parents and other adults obeyed?
Operation Christmas Child
• The concept of Operation Christmas Child began in October 1990, when Dave and Jill Cooke of Wales were watching a broadcast on Romanian orphanages. Wanting to do somethiing for the children, they filled a convoy of nine trucks with medical supplies, food, clothing and Christmas gifts, and headed into Romania, which had recently been devastated by war.
• In 1993, Franklin Graham, international president of Samaritan’s Purse, adopted Operation Christmas Child. Since then, shoe boxes have been delivered to children in more than 152 countries.
• This year (2012) the 100th million shoe box filled with everything from small toys to socks to hard candy and flashlights will be shipped.
• The poinsettia derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.
• The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as a medication to reduce fever.
• The plant’s association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson “blossoms” sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias.
• To keep the plant healthy, the red blooms should be pruned, and the plant moved outdoors after the last frost. It should be returned indoors before the first frost, to a room which is not lighted after sunset. The plant requires a period of uninterrupted long, dark nights for around two months in autumn in order to develop flowers.