“Then hang the green coronet of the Christmas-tree with glittering baubles and jewels of flame; heap offerings on its emerald branches; bring the Yule log to the firing; deck the house with holly and mistletoe.”
“The streets were full of motion, and the shops were decked out gaily. The New Year, like an Infant Heir to the whole world, was waited for, with welcomes, presents, and rejoicings. There were books and toys for the New Year, glittering trinkets for the New Year, dresses for the New Year, schemes of fortune for the New Year; new inventions to beguile it.”
“The huge fir tree in the center carried many gold and silver apples, and, like buds and blossoms, the sugared almonds and colorful bonbons and goodness knows what other tidbits emerged from all the branches. However, the loveliest and most praiseworthy feature of the wonder tree was the myriad of tiny lights that twinkled like tiny stars in its dark boughs….
“And the tree itself, shining in and out, warmly invited the children to pick its blooms and fruits. Around the tree, everything shone very grand and bright — what gorgeous things there were — why, who could describe them all?”
“[In Ukraine] … the holidays start on December 4th with the Feast of the Presentation, through to Malanka, a New Year’s celebration.
“A Ukrainian legend is shared about a family who were so poor they couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree. They went to bed feeling sad, but during the night spiders came out of the woodwork, and wove intricate webs on the tree as decorations….
“The following morning, the sun’s rays shone through the windows, turning the spiders’ webs into sparkling silver and gold.”
“The 6 December is the Feast of St Nicholas, a saint whose real history — the little that is known of it — would seem to make him unlikely material for one of the best loved of all Christian saints…. He became a monk, an abbot and eventually the archbishop of Myra and … also became the patron saint of an extraordinarily diverse number of people including the Russian nation, virgins, children, Aberdeen, parish clerks, pawnbrokers, boatmen, fishermen, dockers, coopers, brewers, scholars, travellers, pilgrims, those who had unjustly lost lawsuits and even thieves.
“His transformation into Father Christmas — aka Santa Claus — was a gradual one. Because of his own generosity, he was very much associated with the giving of presents. So on the eve of his feast day, children would put out hay and carrots for his horse and, in return, they would receive a present from him the next morning….
“Present giving in the depths of winter was not just a Christian tradition. The Romans did the same thing during their Saturnalia festival and the Vikings’ Woden would deliver presents in mid-winter, too. And, in Britain, there was the ancient character of Father Christmas, familiar from the mummers’ plays. The Church pragmatically decided to continue the tradition but under the guardianship of a Christian saint. St Nicholas fitted the bill. In fact, there was nothing very saintly about the earlier Father Christmas who was a drinker, fighter and lover!
“But the Victorians reinvented him, spliced him together with St Nicholas, changed his robe from pagan green to cheery red and brought in the reindeer and sleigh.”