"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Three Days to Christmas: Toys and Games

From Old Christmas by Washington Irving:

“The family meeting was warm and affectionate; as the evening was far advanced, the Squire would not permit us to change our travelling dresses, but ushered us at once to the company, which was assembled in a large old-fashioned hall. It was composed of different branches of a numerous family connection, where there were the usual proportion of old uncles and aunts, comfortably married dames, superannuated spinsters, blooming country cousins, half-fledged striplings, and bright-eyed boarding-school hoydens.

“They were variously occupied; some at a round game of cards; others conversing around the fireplace; at one end of the hall was a group of the young folks, some nearly grown up, others of a more tender and budding age, fully engrossed by a merry game; and a profusion of wooden horses, penny trumpets, and tattered dolls, about the floor, showed traces of a troop of little fairy beings, who having frolicked through a happy day, had been carried off to slumber through a peaceful night.”

From “Reindeer Games” in The Old Magic of Christmas by Linda Raedisch:

“We know that Santa Claus took his name, if not his character, from the fourth-century St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. His headquarters, therefore, really ought to be in Turkey, perhaps among the outbuildings of some crumbling mountain monastery….

“There, elves bearded and hooded like orthodox monks would whittle away by the light of the beeswax candles, all the while conversing quietly in New Testament Greek. Under the smudged gaze of the icons, they would keep themselves busy boxing up batches of Turkish delight to distribute to the world’s children. Or, Santa might have placed his enterprise further to the east, amid the snows of Mount Ararat, where the wrecked stalls of Noah’s ark would be put to good use again as workshops and warehouses….

“What better setting for the elves as they carve all those toy animals?”

From Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, edited by Donald J. Gray:

“For some minutes Alice stood without speaking, looking out in all directions over the country — and a most curious country it was. There were a number of tiny little brooks running straight across it from side to side, and the ground between was divided up into squares by a number of little green hedges, that reached from brook to brook.

“‘I declare it’s marked out just like a large chessboard!’ Alice said at last. ‘There ought to be some men moving about somewhere and so there are!’ she added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. ‘It’s a great huge game of Chess that’s being played all over the world — if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is! How I wish I was one of them! I wouldn’t mind being a Pawn, if only I might join — though of course I should like to be a Queen, best.’”

Four Days to Christmas: Winter Solstice/Candle Night

From Why Was the Partridge in the Pear Tree?: The History of Christmas Carols by Reverend Mark Lawson-Jones:

“As winter approaches and the days get shorter and darker, the shops and streets begin to fill with Christmas decorations and lights, and before we have managed to think of cards and presents, we start hearing Christmas carols all around us — on the radio, in TV commercials and as we shop in the supermarket. Christmas carols have become part of our culture and carol services are still popular in our churches and cathedrals….

“Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, although they were pagan songs and people danced as they sang and celebrated the Winter Solstice feast, the shortest day of the year.”

From “An Offering to the Elves” in The Old Magic of Christmas by Linda Raedisch:

“[Elves] are bearers of light, so if you cannot manage a full moon for your feast, a waxing crescent is better than a waning three-quarter moon.

“They have left their usual haunts and howes in order to join you, so greet them warmly.

“You don’t know how far some of them may have come in space or time, so it’s a good idea to turn off the television and most electric lights, which the oldest of the company may find glaring. If you have a fireplace, make a fire. Otherwise, light plenty of candles.”

From “Take Something Like a Star” in Complete Poems of Robert Frost by Robert Frost:

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud —
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.

Five Days to Christmas: Yule Frogs!

From “A Hearty Christmas Greeting” in Vintage Christmas Traditions edited by Linda Davies:

“We don’t associate Christmas with frogs today, [but] the verse on this Victorian card comes with a strict lesson:

Four jovial Froggies a skating would go;
They asked their mamma,
But she’d sternly said, ‘No!’
And they all came to grief in a beautiful row.
There’s a sweet Christmas moral for one not too slow.
Just so!”

From Christmas: A Biography by Judith Flanders:

“In the 1880s German-imported ‘dresdens’ came into fashion, embossed boxes of pressed cardboard, lacquered to look like polished metal, in shapes that included ‘dogs, cats, suns, moons… frogs, turtles… a whole sea full of fish… a virtual zoo of exotic creatures, including polar bears, camels, storks, eagles and peacocks’, as well as items from the modern world: bicycles, skates, sleds and ships. Unlike the cornucopias, dresdens were luxury items, many costing more than their contents: in 1882, golden dresdens shaped like angels cost a whopping 12¢ each.”

From “A True Tale” by John Berwick Harwood in The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, edited by Tara Moore:

“After a short pause my aunt took her part in the conversation, and we found ourselves listening to a weird legend which the old lady told exceedingly well. One tale led to another. Every one was called on in turn to contribute to the public entertainment, and story after story, always relating to demonology and witchcraft, succeeded. It was Christmas, the season for such tales; and the old room, with its dusky walls and pictures, and vaulted roof, drinking up the light so greedily, seemed just fitted to give effect to such legendary lore….

“The huge logs crackled and burnt with glowing warmth; the blood-red glare of the Yule log flashed on the faces of the listeners and narrator, on the portraits, and the holly wreathed about their frames, and the upright old dame in her antiquated dress and trinkets, like one of the originals of the pictures stepped from the canvas to join our circle. It threw a shimmering lustre of an ominously ruddy hue upon the oaken panels. No wonder that the ghost and goblin stories had a new zest….”

%d bloggers like this: