Sunday, July 19, 2009

JOY TO THE WORLD!

By Mildred Dooley Cathcart
Jerome, Iowa
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"Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will to me." Thus began the first Christmas carol many many years ago. Angel songs echo across the plains, humble shepherds came to worship the Babe of Bethlehem and Wise Men followed the star and brought rich gifts.

The carols, the star, the gifts are all part of our celebration today. Our customs and Christmas practices have come from many parts of the world.

In England, the first carollers were called Waits. People placed candles in their windows to light these singers on their way. The Yule Log is also a custom borrowed from England. The word "Yule" meant December and at that time of the year people went to the woods to cut great roots of trees for their fires. These roots were called Yule Logs.

The word "Noel" comes from France and means birthday. A French family always builds a creche and children think the Christ Child brings their gifts and fills their wooden shoes with sweets. At midnight the church bells chime, candles are lighted and the people go to church. When the family comes home a feast is served and it is nearly morning before the festivities end.

From Germany comes our custom of having a Christmas tree. According to legend, Martin Luther was walking home through the snow on a beautiful starlit night when he was deeply impressed with the beauty of the trees. He cut down a small fir tree and took it home for his children to enjoy. He put many small candles on the branches to make it glow in beauty like the sky. Each year he did this and soon the custom spread to the surrounding neighborhoods and finally across the world. However, the custom of decorating out door Christmas trees began in America some twenty-two years ago. A couple who lived in San Francisco were decorating their tree and wanted to do something about the many poor people who would not have a tree of their own. A pretty evergreen grew near their front door so it was decorated with many bulbs. The custom spread rapidly so that today even small communities boast out door decorations.

In Sweden the birds are remembered. A sheaf of grain is placed on a pole and put in the yard for the birds. We have copied this custom and tie food on our old Christmas trees for the birds.

On Christmas Eve in Holland a large group of young men go through the dark streets singing songs and carrying a large star made of lighted candles and mounted on a tall pole. Most of our trees are topped with "The Star of Bethlehem." Dutch children do not hang up stockings but put out wooden shoes filled with bits of hay or some carrots for St. Nicholas' horse. Good children received presents but naughty ones get a birch rod. No doubt it is the knowledge of this custom that makes the little girl at our house be very good about this time of year.

And to the Dutch, our children are ever thankful for the custom of jolly old Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was a very wealthy man and his main source of delight was making others happy. He would walk about town carrying bags of gold. If he saw a poverty-stricken family, he would throw coins through open windows or slip them under the doors. Although he tried to keep his work a secret. It was found out and little children followed the good man about town. Legend tells us he once dropped a bag of gold down a chimney and it fell into a stocking which was drying on the mantle. Thus originated the custom of hanging stockings or placing wooden shoes by the mantle. When Nicholas died, he was made the patron saint of little children. Santa Claus is the Dutch name of this Saint.

So once again as the Christmas season draws near may we say with Tiny Tim, "God bless us everyone" and whatever our customs may be let us be ever listening to the angels' chorus as through the ages it echoes, "Peace on earth, good will to men."
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From The Seymour Herald, Thursday, December 23, 1948.

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