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Looking Back - Dec. 23, 2012

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 mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

On this last Sunday before Christmas, here is a look at the holiday from Q - Z.

Queens

• During the 18th and 19th centuries, Twelfth Night parties were popular and usually involved games, drinking and eating. A special Twelfth Cake was the centerpiece of the party, and a slice was given to all members of the household. Traditionally, it contained both a dried bean and a dried pea. The man whose slice contained the bean was elected King for the night; a Queen was found with a pea. For the rest of the evening, they ruled supreme. Even if they were normally servants, their temporarily exalted position was recognized by all, including their masters.

• The German custom of the Christmas tree was introduced into England during the Georgian period. Queen Charlotte, German wife of George III, is known to have had a decorated tree for her family as early as the 1790s.

• There is also a record of a tree at a children’s party given by a member of Queen Caroline’s court in 1821.

• For many, the Christmas tree is firmly associated with the Victorians, and indeed with those great advocates of Christmas, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert.

Radio Flyer

• At age 16, Antonio Pasin immigrated to America from Italy. Pasin made his way to Chicago where he looked for work as a cabinet-maker. Though he was a skilled craftsman, he had little success finding work, and eventually became a water boy for a sewer digging crew. By 1917 the young man had saved enough money to purchase some wood working equipment and rented a one-room workshop. In this workshop, Pasin began fashioning wagons by night and selling them during the day.

• By 1923, Pasin’s business grew to include several employees. The Liberty Coaster Company, named after the Statue of Liberty, and soon created their first wagon, the Liberty Coaster. The No. 4 Liberty Coaster was handcrafted in wood and sold directly to stores by Pasin himself.

• In 1930, the company was renamed Radio Steel & Manufacturing. Pasin named his first steel wagon the Radio Flyer, after his fascination with the invention of the radio and Flyer, which reflected his wonderment of flight.

• During the 1950s, Radio Flyer began to design specialty wagons inspired by popular movies and TV shows of the time, such as the Mickey Mouse Club and Davy Crockett.

• Radio Flyer remains a family business, run now by CEO Robert Pasin, who prefers to go by the title chief wagon officer.

Salvation Army Red Kettle

• The tradition of the Salvation Army kettle started in 1891. Captain Joseph McFee resolved to provide a free Christmas dinner to the poor of San Francisco. From his days as a sailor McFee remembered a large donation pot called “Simpson’s Pot.” Taking this idea, McFee asked for permission from city to place a crab pot and tripod at the ferry landing. The kettle — and McFee’s call of “Keep the Pot Boiling!” — drew in passengers and donations.

• The Christmas kettle campaign is traditionally kicked off each year during the half-time of the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game.

• Bell ringers and red kettles are one of the most recognized sights of the Christmas season, mostly manned by volunteers.

• Among treasures found in the kettles: jewelry, rare/valuable coins, substantial checks and gold teeth.

Tinsel

• Tinsel was invented in Nuremberg around 1610 and was originally made from extruded strands of silver. Because silver tarnishes quickly, other shiny metals were soon substituted.

• Before the 16th century, tinsel was used for adorning sculptures rather than Christmas trees. It was added to Christmas trees to enhance the flickering of the candles on the tree.

• By the early 20th century, manufacturing advances allowed cheap aluminum-based tinsel, and until World War I, France was the world leader in its manufacture. Production was curtailed during the war as a result of wartime demand.

• Lead foil was a popular material for tinsel for several decades of the 20th century. Unlike silver, lead tinsel did not tarnish, so it retained its shine. However, use of lead tinsel was phased out after the 1960s due to concern that it exposed children to a risk of lead poisoning.

• Modern tinsel is typically made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film coated with a metallic finish and sliced into thin strips. Coated mylar film also has been used. These plastic forms of tinsel do not, however, hang as well as tinsel made from metals.

‘Up on the Housetop’

• The Christmas classic “Up on the House Top” was written by Benjamin Hanby in 1864 in the town of New Paris, Ohio.

• According to William Studwell in “The Christmas Carol Reader,” “Up on the House Top” is the second-oldest secular Christmas song, outdone only by “Jingle Bells.”

• This tune is also considered the first Yuletide song to focus primarily on Santa Claus.

• In 1992, a 30-minute animated TV special was made using the song title. Curtis Calhoun just isn’t in the mood for Christmas and wishes it would all go away. It appears he will get his wish, until he finds a strange little man in a red suit stuck in his chimney on Christmas Eve.

Virginia

• In 1897, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia, whether Santa Claus really existed. O’Hanlon suggested she write to ‘The Sun’, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time, assuring her that “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”

• One of the paper’s editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, rose above the simple question and addressed the philosophical issues behind it. Although the paper ran the editorial in the seventh place on the page, below even one on the newly invented “chainless bicycle,” its message was very moving to many people who read it. More than a century later it remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language.

• In 1971, after seeing Virginia’s obituary in The New York Times, four friends formed a company, called Elizabeth Press and published a children’s book ,”Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” that illustrated the editorial and included a brief history of the main characters. Its creators took it to Warner Bros., which made the Emmy award-winning television show based on the editorial.

• Virginia gave the original letter to a granddaughter, who pasted it in a scrapbook. It was feared that the letter was destroyed in a house fire, but 30 years later, it was discovered intact. It was appraised in 1998 at between $20,000 and $30,000.

Wrapping paper

• Victorian Period wrapping paper was decorated with flowers, cherubs, and birds. Christmas papers were intricately printed and ornamented with lace and ribbon.

• In 1890, flexography, a printing process using a flexible relief plate, was patented. It made possible the mass production of a foldable, stiff paper which could be printed with colored inks.

• Paper patterns became more stylized due to influences from Art Deco in the 1930s and 40s. Unlike so many other items, wrapping paper was not rationed during the war as a way to keep up morale.

• Wrapping paper began to have movie and television tie-ins in the 1970s.

Xmas

• For about 1,000 years, the Greek word for Christ has been abbreviated as either Xt or XP.

• During the 1500s, “Xian” was used as an abbreviation for Christian. Xianity was used as an abbreviation for Christianity.

• The abbreviation Xmas was not created to demean Christ, Christians, Christianity or Christmas. It is simply a very old artifact of a very different language.

Yule Log

• Though few Americans still carry out the tradition, the burning of the Yule log was once one of the most firmly entrenched customs of Christmas.

• It was considered bad luck to purchase the log, it was best to come from one’s own land. The log was traditionally lit by the girls in the house on Christmas Eve.

• Personal faults, mistakes and bad choices were burned in the flame so everyone’s new year would start with a clean slate. The log was never allowed to burn completely, a bit was kept in the house to start next years log.

• The log brought good luck. Any pieces that were kept protected a house from fire or lightning or hail. Ashes of the log would be placed in wells to keep the water good. Ashes were also placed at the roots of fruit trees and vines to help them bear a good harvest.

Zzzzzzzz!

This is the sound that will be heard throughout Santa’s home after he completes his worldwide, whirlwind Christmas Eve trip.